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The 2 Mental Factors That Determine If You Succeed or Fail

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Each of us has had successes and failures in life.

Sometimes things go incredibly well, other times insanely wrong. I recently had the chance to talk with a guy who knows quite a bit about both. Jon Acuff is a New York Times bestselling author, highly-sought speaker, career guru and self-described “chronic job quitter.” 

His latest book, Do Over, describes the four transitions that every career professional faces as well as the four resources necessary to overcome each of those transitions. But during our conversation about careers and jobs, he shared some interesting insights into the two keys that ultimately drive everybody’s success, and failure.

Related: Define Yourself With the Expectations You Set


According to Acuff, one of the two critical success factors for work is manifesting a positive attitude rather than a negative one.

“This is the career killer. I say that from experience, as someone who’s had a bad attitude before. I’ve been fired for my bad attitude,” said Acuff. “If I had to sum it up, bad attitudes ruin good opportunities for great people all the time.”

That last statement is  definitely tweetable, if not suitable to embroider on a throw pillow, because it’s true and has much broader relevance. 

One of the most helpful points that Acuff makes is the distinction between choosing an attitude versus changing an attitude.

“Changing an attitude takes forever, but choosing an attitude can be done at anytime. The key is to consciously choose your attitude everyday until one day it chooses you back.” 

Related: 10 Surefire Ways a Positive Attitude Increases Success


The other often overlooked aspect that has just as much impact on your success or failure in life is your expectations. Acuff asserts that just as we choose our attitudes every day, we need to adjust our expectations as well.

“The challenge is that a lot of times we bring secret, unspoken expectations into our jobs and we expect them to be things that they’re not going to be, and that doesn’t serve anybody very well -- not you, your co-workers, your boss or the overall organization,” said Acuff.

One of the ways he recommends adjusting expectations is to articulate and identify to yourself exactly what your expectations are for your job, career or any area for that matter.

“Honestly ask yourself, what do I expect from my work? Is it money, recognition, creative expression, flexibility, interaction with others, meaningful activities or what?”

The same way that no one can do push-ups for you or lose weight on your behalf, nobody can answer those questions about your expectations. You have to do it. You have to question yourself and honestly answer. 

Regarding the workplace, Acuff says once you identify those expectations for your job, you can take the necessary steps to fill any gaps that may exist.

“For example, if your job isolates you from others, when you really want interaction, you might consider volunteering outside of work, possibly applying for a different job within your company that provides more opportunity for engagement or do some part-time consulting to scratch that particular itch,” said Acuff, “but the first step is honestly assessing and understanding your personal expectations.” 

While attitudes and expectations apply to professional success or failure, it’s not difficult to see they apply to every aspect of life. So much of our dissatisfaction and unhappiness is self-induced from faulty attitudes and defective expectations.

Regardless of the area of life -- personal relationships, family interactions or friendships -- we can all benefit from a reboot of attitudes and expectations. 

There’s an ancient proverb that states, “A situation can only change with a change in perception.” If you want to change, but don’t know where to start, consider reaching out to a mentor, a professional counselor or a trusted friend to serve as a sounding board and begin a dialogue.

The only things you have to lose are self-limiting expectations and attitudes.

Related: 4 Keys to Shedding the Attitudes Keeping You Stuck

Tor Constantino

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Tor Constantino is a former journalist, consultant and current corporate comms executive with an MBA degree and 25+ years of experience. His writing has appeared across the web on Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fortune and Yahoo!. Tor's views are his own and do not reflect those of his current employer.