8 tried and tested tips for success

written by Stephanie Osfield

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Complacency can sometimes keep you stuck in a holding pattern. That was the philosophy of acclaimed theatre director and acting teacher Milton Katselas. Over many years until his death at age 74, he directed actors like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in plays and taught many successful actors including Gene Hackman, Ted Danson, Giovanni Ribisi, George Clooney, Michelle Pfeiffer, Alex Baldwin and Jenna Elfman. To encourage fledgling actors to believe in their ability to be successful, Katselas would often set them a stressful challenge, which he described in his book Dreams into Action. “I give them a six-week ultimatum: get a paying job as an actor or you’re out of class,” he explained.

According to Katselas, his ultimatum forced actors in his prestigious classes to suddenly find energy and sass and direction. “They experienced something equivalent to priming an engine — a direct shot of fuel right into the cylinder,” Katselas observed. “Their psychology? Bypassed. Negativity? Ignored. Fear? No time for it. Doubts? Forget them. They are forced to move, to act, to chase, to innovate, to hustle — all because the stakes are raised. The level of activity towards their career explodes, such that we have a 75 per cent success rate with those assigned the task of getting a job.”

It makes a lot of sense. Sometimes in order to be (and feel) more successful in your relationships, career or personal goals, you need to find the motivator that pushes your “get going” button and then get going. But that’s only the beginning. Success is the end product of a process that begins the moment you actively start pursuing what you really want in life. Not when things are less busy or less stressful, but right now. Beyond that, the ability to embrace success is equally important, because you can’t enjoy what you don’t allow yourself to see. To fully embrace your successes, you need to own them by eight important steps.

Step to success #1: celebrate the small stuff

In life, we can often ignore the importance of little things. So, whether you are sticking to your commitment to stay fit, eat cleaner, save for a trip or spend more quality time with your kids, that goal involves lots of small, deliberate steps that deserve to be noticed. Think of it a bit like taking a trek up a mountain. Every now and then you should stop to take stock — not to see how far you have yet to go, but to look back and acknowledge how far you have already come.

Keeping a journal can be a powerful way to embrace those little successes and the pleasure they bring, and you can always look back on previous entries to remind yourself how far you have come. It’s also good to take the opportunity to pat yourself on the back for being a good person. So, when you manage a difficult client with patience or perk up at your sister’s birthday party, even when you aren’t feeling well, feel good about what you have done. This will help keep those little win-wins at the forefront of your thoughts every day to remind you that you are, in fact, always doing the very best you can.

Step to success #2: cut the comparisons

When you’re too hard on yourself, you lose all objectivity. Whether the focus is on your friend who is always the life of the party or your work colleague who comes up with innovative ideas, in your eyes the person takes on almost legendary proportions. You regard them as almost flawless, so you feel you pale by comparison. It’s a trap. We often mythologise the people we compare ourselves with. We fail to see that they experience the same kinds of insecurities that we grapple with. Ironically, in the end when you’re making comparisons, you are trying to copy a person you have constructed in your own mind, who doesn’t actually exist. In the process, you can make yourself feel self-critical and miserable.

Though you don’t need approval, it is of course good to address things about yourself that you would like to feel more confident about. Do you worry that you don’t come across as being informed enough? Then read the newspaper every day and read more books in your spare time. Do you worry that friends think you are lazy about staying in touch? Then make more of an effort, even if you only have time to send regular texts. Anything you can do to feel better about who you are will help to dissolve your self-doubt about your capabilities.

Step to success #3: practise self-kindness

There’s plenty of evidence that shows altruism can help people live longer, happier and healthier. But don’t just practise altruism with others; make sure you are also kind and giving to yourself. If you snap at your partner and forget an important meeting at work, don’t turn it into the day’s front-page headlines. Instead, try to leave the incident on page three and look for all the good-news stories about yourself. Make a mental list of all the things you got right today or did well or stayed on top of. This will help you feel more optimistic and energised and help you feel more confident and in control.

Step to success #4: recognise that vulnerability is not weakness

Most of us have been through experiences as a child or adult where we were told to just “get a grip” or to “get over it” or “move on” after an incident or life event has shaken us to our very core. Those kinds of “toughen up” statements can make you feel like your emotions equal weakness when, in reality, they simply show that you are human and that you care. “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome,” says shame and vulnerability researcher Brené Brown. “Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

Remember this when you are thinking about the times you took a risk or tried something and the end result was not what you hoped. Those moments were not failures; they were successes, because you gave something your all. In her book Rising Strong, Brown talks about the importance of daring greatly in life in order to connect with others, be our best selves and fulfil important life goals. But, to embrace those successes, you have to try to ignore the naysayers.

“A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor,” says Brown. “The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”

Step to success #5: surf your fears

Don’t just go with that flow when fear of failure hits you like a series of waves. At the time, you may feel like you have no control over those surges of feeling. In fact, your thoughts and reactions can do a great deal to lessen or worsen your tide of worry.

There are many different ways you can challenge those feelings. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, you are encouraged to observe the feelings without judgement to help you distance yourself from them (or you can sing them to a nursery rhyme tune to help them lose their power over you). In stoic philosophy, you are reminded that the most important thing in life is to pursue a virtuous existence and that it is helpful to stop judging the things beyond your control and to judge, instead, the value of your character.

In other modalities, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, you are reminded that, although you can’t always make your life the way you would like it to be, you do have control over the way you view yourself. Keep exploring different ways to overcome those fears until you find the methods that are the most powerful for you.

Step to success #6: stop self-renovation

We live in a world dominated by reality shows about self-improvement through losing weight or cosmetic surgery or learning to be the best cook/island survivor/wannabe pop star. From toothpaste to face cream, products are marketed to us as though they can improve our lives and make us more popular. Our culture is obsessed with how to make yourself into a better version of you, so we’re always looking at what we can change to become sexier, smarter or more successful. Sadly, the cultural zeitgeist often encourages you to look for things to constantly renovate about your appearance or lifestyle instead of supporting you to learn to feel more comfortable in your own skin.

Living up to these impossibly high standards is not only unsustainable, it can’t bring happiness because it prevents you from being truly authentic and it encourages you to make constant negative judgements about yourself. So, even when everything is going well, you can’t own it or enjoy it and you don’t end up enjoying the ride.

The best antidote is not just to lower the bar but to sometimes take the bar down completely. Accept yourself as inherently valuable without question and recognise that you never have to earn your value through your achievements, appearance, possessions, qualifications or your job. Remind yourself that any self-perceived “flaws” are simply a sign that you are human.

Now turn your attention to recognising your value. Write a list of at least 10 things you appreciate about yourself. Ask a friend and your partner to write a list of 10 things they think are your best qualities and write one for them. Finally, write a list of the things you don’t like about yourself and re-frame them in a more positive way. So, for example, your statement “I am often opinionated” might be reframed as “I think about things deeply, which makes me form strong opinions that are great for keeping conversation going.” If this trait really bothers you, work on changing it.

Step to success #7: challenge unhelpful thoughts

How many times have you thought “I’m too tired to exercise” or “I can’t stand any more of this stress” but managed to get through, anyway? This is a good way to remind yourself that your thoughts are not reality and your fears about not being good enough don’t have to control your thoughts (neither do you need to give in to them and allow them to rule your actions). Challenging your assumptions and looking for evidence are great ways to help you realise when things are completely out of perspective. This can then help you turn down the dial on unhelpful self-talk when it tells you that you don’t measure up.

Step to success #8: thank your fear

Instead of feeling like you need to go into battle with your fears that you are not achieving enough or are not good enough, take a gentle approach and thank your fear. That way, it will get less air time in your mind. Find something to thank it for, such as reminding you to always do your best, or reminding you to celebrate your achievements and not take them for granted. This will help you deal with nagging doubts as though they are your friend not your foe.

Meanwhile, remind yourself that you need never be ashamed of your achievements. Being successful does not mean you think you are superior to others nor does enjoying your achievements, big and small, in life make you a show-off. So give yourself permission to enjoy and embrace all that is going well. Otherwise the cringe factor can get in the way of enjoying life’s successes because you worry that people resent your triumphs. Next time you are feeling this tall poppy fear, remind yourself that, as CS Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”


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Stephanie Osfield

Stephanie Osfield is an award-winning freelance health journalist. She is an advocate of nutritional medicine and specialises in all aspects of health, from exercise and disease prevention to stress, depression and women’s health issues.