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Characteristics of Extraordinary People

What makes the "winners" in the game of life different than the rest of the population?

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Do you ever wonder why some people are exceptional? They're the ones others look to for leadership, comfort and advice. They never seem flustered or afraid, always on top of the moment. What makes the "winners" in the game of life different than the rest of the population?

While some have built fortunes large enough to support generations of descendants, most are not extraordinarily rich. Some are smart with PhDs in their field, but most have no more than a bachelor's degree. They are not great athletes or famous actors/actresses. With a few exceptions, they appear to be ordinary people.

Related: How Ordinary People Become Extraordinary

Attitude is critical

How you feel about yourself and your surroundings reflects your attitude. Coaches and personal motivators like John Wooden, who said, "Remember this, the choices you make in life, make you" and Zig Ziglar, who said, "When you focus on problems, you get more problems. When you focus on possibilities, you get more opportunities," understand the link between attitude and personal success.

Unlike aesthetics, physical ability and other innate characteristics, our attitude is our choice. Psychologists teach that life isn't about what happens to you but how your respond when good or bad events occur. Tony Robbins notes, "You can't always control the wind, but you can control your sails." Exceptional people accept that the future is uncertain but treat the inevitable setbacks and surprises as challenges, each as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Related: 4 Ways to Cultivate a Better Attitude About Your Life

Successful people purposely cultivate specific qualities that enable them to cope and thrive in ever-changing conditions. These qualities are not innate but learned and practiced diligently. Robbins refers to "attitude" as a "mindset" available to each person who truly wants to reach their full potential. In his words, "When you view life as happening for you instead of to you and are able to believe that you have the potential and drive to succeed, you can truly accomplish anything."

Leaders learn and practice many qualities that enable them to reach their objectives and receive the respect of their friends and associates. The same attributes can be intentionally developed by anyone seeking a happy, more fulfilling life with a bit of effort and diligence. Here are seven characteristics of extraordinary people:

  1. Perspective: This is sometimes called "self-awareness" or "self-examination." It is the sense of knowing oneself. Perspective requires honesty and humility, identifying one's strengths and weaknesses without prejudice or excuse. It enables acceptance of realities and recognition of the obstacles ahead.

  2. Purpose: Extraordinary people focus on the goals most important to them, not what others think. Pleasing others or amassing fortunes are byproducts of their pursuit rather than objectives to be achieved. Passion is critical to purpose. We commit to the most meaningful, enjoyable and important activities, spending our time and money to participate in them. Combining passion with purpose in life motivates our psyche and refuels us when setbacks occur.

  3. Confidence: Belief in one's abilities is a powerful asset and essential in pursuing goals, physical or emotional. Confidence is the combination of self-belief and self-esteem. Jim Rohn, the noted life coach, says, "For if we truly knew ourselves — our strengths, our abilities, our resources, our depth of feeling, our sense of humor, our unique accomplishments — we would never again doubt our ability to create a better future."

  4. Courage: Courage is more than being heroic and more than participating in dangerous activities. Courage is also visible in everyday life around us — to forge ahead despite obstacles or standing up for the persecuted, disadvantaged and overlooked. Courage is about facing your fear to fulfill your responsibilities. Breast cancer survivor, Mary Anne Rademacher, describes courage best by saying "Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, 'I'll try again tomorrow." 

  5. Preparation: Winning is more than showing up and participating. The value of an accomplishment directly correlates with its difficulty. Joggers understand the difference between being first in a 3K and finishing a marathon. Preparation is an ongoing process of being ready for opportunity or disaster, an endless visualization of "if, then" to act decidedly with confidence. Preparation encourages action when necessary, so Noah began building the ark before the rain started.

  6. Persistence: Accomplishment is rarely a straight-line process, more often resembling a cyclical monthly graph of Bitcoin prices. Setbacks accompany victories. Learning opportunities (failures and disappointments) are more common than success. Winners overcome uncertainty with the confidence that they will succeed eventually. Persistence is the greatest force in the universe, evident in the flattened mountains and great canyons carved out by rain and wind.

  7. Sense of humor: Events and situations occur without logical explanations or seemingly unrelated causes (the "Butterfly Effect"). Many expect randomness – the element of chance – is always negative ("Murphy's Law"), overlooking that the unexpected is sometimes positive. Treating setbacks as unfortunate, neither personal nor conclusive, is crucial when pursuing a goal. A wise person once said, "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning how to dance in the rain." Sometimes, the only response is to laugh at yourself, get rid of your negative emotions and plunge ahead with renewed energy. Remember, it's not over until the Fat Lady sings.

Related: How to Live an Extraordinary Life

Changing your attitude opens new doors to new possibilities. The cliché, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life," is repeated because it is true. Who and what you are matters less than who you could be. When you are discouraged and worried about your future, remember the prophetic words of Dr. Seuss in Oh, the Places You'll Go:

"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go..."

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