Success can seem like a great mystery — some people are destined for it while others aren’t.
But that’s probably not the case. While luck and genetics may play a role, there are certain learnable behaviours which make success more likely.
Over on Quora, there’s a thread dedicated to sharing some of those learnable behaviours. We rounded up 11 intriguing ones below.
You’ll notice that none of these habits require major life overhauls. Instead, it’s about making small tweaks to your daily routines that could potentially result in huge payoffs.
Read on to find out what makes successful people tick:
1. They talk to themselves
“At the highest level of professional sports they consider skills and techniques a given. You can’t reach that level without them. What allows them to beat their opponents is not more time spent honing their skills, but more focus on perfecting their internal dialogue.”
Meanwhile, research suggests that talking to yourself like you’d talk to someone else in the same situation can help you deal with stressful experiences. Specifically, use the pronoun “you” or your first name instead of “I.” For example, “You can do it, John.”
2. They keep a journal
Stawicki points out that several historical figures kept journals, including Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.
But you don’t have to aspire to world domination to benefit from keeping a diary. One recent study found that journaling about thoughts and emotions helped college students deal with stressful events.
3. They meditate
Two Quora users cited meditation as a primary habit of successful people.
Indeed, research has found that meditation has a number of mental and physical health benefits, from improving memory to increasing compassion to boosting the immune system.
4. They manage their emotions
As psychotherapist Amy Morin told Business Insider, mentally strong people are acutely aware of how their emotions influence their thoughts and behaviours, and they monitor the fluctuations in their emotions throughout the day.
5. They read
Investing legend Warren Buffett reportedly spends about 80% of his day reading. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg pledged to read a book every two weeks in 2015. Tech billionaire Elon Musk has said that he learned how to build rockets by reading books.
Ahmed’s advice for becoming a bookworm? “Just read what you are interested in” and start with a few pages a day.
re:publica/flickrSuccessful people work at being better communicators.
6. They communicate clearly
You can start improving your communication behaviours by checking out these seven key skills of master communicators, including using the appropriate tone and body language and being direct and candid.
7. They practice self-control
Butevics highlights another point from the Lifehack article: Successful people “understand the importance of discipline and self-control.”
In fact, the classic “marshmallow study,” led by psychologist Walter Mischel in the 1960s, found that kids who were able to delay the delicious gratification of eating a marshmallow wound up more successful as adults.
8. They stick to morning routines
A bunch of Quora users pointed to the importance of morning routines in particular. For example, Nela Canovic says developing a morning routine can “give structure to your day and energy to do everything that is important to you.”
Billionaire John Paul DeJoria dedicates a few minutes to quiet reflection and executive Kat Cole guzzles 24 ounces of water.
9. They value solitude
In a since-deleted answer, Amy Yeole mentioned that successful people “have some ‘me-time’ every day.”
According to Morin, the psychotherapist, mentally strong people don’t fear alone time because it’s a chance to reflect and replenish their energy. She recommends taking a few minutes every day to be alone with your thoughts to process what’s happening around you.
10. They’re conscientious
Kyriacos Antoniou writes that successful people are typically highly conscientious.
That means that they’re organised, responsible, and hardworking, and are able to control their impulses.
Research has found that conscientiousness is the only major personality trait that consistently predicts success, in terms of factors like income and job satisfaction. That’s partly because conscientious people are better at setting and achieving goals, especially in the face of obstacles.
11. They’re persistent
Smitaa Balaji highlights persistence as a top habit of successful people.
Tobias Greener gets more specific: Successful people are persistent about coming up with ideas. According to Greener, “The idea muscle can be enhanced if it is trained regularly. The highly successful are great masters in the field of generating new and great ideas. Just because they do it on regularly.”
That observation goes along with theories from neuroscientist and a psychologist David Eagleman, who says that your first thought is hardly ever your best one. Successful people know that, so they keep coming up with ideas until they finally hit the jackpot.
Successful people aren’t overconfident.
12. They’re self-aware — or at least they’re not overconfident
Dean Yeong says successful people are self-aware: “They know who they are, they have defined vision, and they know their strengths and weaknesses.”
Interestingly, research suggests that leaders who underestimate their own competence are the most effective and have the most engaged employees. Perhaps unsurprisingly, leaders who overestimate their own competence are the least effective.
13. They practice gratitude
William Hurst highlights the importance of gratitude among the super successful.
Gratitude was especially important to Doug Conant, the former CEO of Campbell Soup. As Janice Kaplan writes in her book “The Gratitude Diaries,” throughout Conant’s tenure at the company, he sent more than 30,000 handwritten thank-you notes to staffers and clients.
Apparently, the move paid off: When Conant took the reins at Campbell Soup, the stock price was falling and it was the worst performer of all the major food companies in the world, according to Fast Company. By 2009, the company was ahead of the S&P Food Group and the S&P 500.
14. They make time for ‘deep work’
Canovic says successful people block out time for “deep work”: They “have rituals that help them maximise concentration,” such as taking walks in nature, and “work in an environment undisturbed by distractions.”
Georgetown professor Cal Newport wrote a book titled “Deep Work,” a term he defines as “professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit, [which then] create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to duplicate.”
As Business Insider’s Richard Feloni has reported, deep work helped fuel the success of people like Bill Gates, who said he used to stay in the office for days at a time without thinking anything of it.
Feloni writes that “[a] dedication to deep work requires setting aside stretches of time each week (of say an hour or two) when you work with urgency and your concentration is not disrupted by anything, not even a brief moment of daydreaming or getting up for a cup of coffee.”
15. They can say ‘no’
Greener writes: “The progress comes from saying no to things that do not matter and do not add value.”
That observation recalls something psychotherapist Amy Morin previously told Business Insider: “Every time you say yes to something, you’re really saying no to something else.” And that something else might be the more important thing.
Just as important, successful people know how to say no to themselves. Warren Buffett’s famous productivity trick — that he reportedly taught to his pilot — involves listing the 25 most important things you want to do with your life and circling just five that you’ll devote all your attention to.
16. They exercise regularly
Lukas Schwekendiek says successful people stay fit and active by exercising for at least an hour a day. Personal finance author Ramit Sethi agrees: He previously told Business Insider that exercise is the No. 1 habit successful people have in common.
“This is due to them knowing that to perform at their top level they need to be in top shape!” Schwekendiek writes.
17. They don’t spend all day in the office
Atulit Shankar points out that successful people aren’t in the office all the time. That doesn’t mean they’re slacking, Shankar says; it means they have found somewhere else they can be really creative and productive.
Research backs him up: Apparently, the most innovative employees split their time between remote and in-office work. According to one survey, 80% is the ideal proportion of the work week to spend in an office — the rest should be spent working remotely.
18. They listen to others
If you want to be successful, says Deependra Dobriyal, “Listen more, talk less. Be attentive in every meeting. Hear everyone out, no matter how useless you think their ideas are.”
Meanwhile, Dave Kerpen, founder and CEO of Likeable Local, says listening is the most important — and most underrated — skill in business and in life.
“Remember that people care more about themselves than they care about you,” Kerpen writes in his book “The Art of People.” “People want to talk about themselves. Listening and letting people talk is key to winning them over in life, in business, and in all human relationships.”