Achieve Success in Just One Easy Step: Stop Reading Lists on How to be More Successful

I blame Steven Covey.

Steven Covey’s groundbreaking book the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People is considered by many to the bible of transforming people through adoption of different—and consistent—behaviors. Published nearly 30 years ago, it’s still regarded by many as one of the most influential books ever published.

With the advent of the Internet and sites like LinkedIn, theLadders and other sites dedicated to professionals as well as the profusion of success-related content in online magazines like Inc., Forbes, Fortune, Fast Company and Entrepreneur (among many others), it’s difficult to get through the day without someone publishing a list of sure-fire tips to become more successful.

Some even go so far as to advise “Do these things, and become the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Richard Branson”.

If only it were that easy. The world would be changing even faster than it already is. Billionaires would become the new middle class. And all of us would be living happier, healthier and richer (both literally and figuratively) lives.

But here’s the thing: After reading just a handful of such articles, we can see that these “recipes”:

  1. Rarely agree.
  2. Include some pretty vague direction.
  3. Contradict each other.
  4. Don’t assure anyone of anything, even if they follow every tip to a T.

The “Master List” (from one day of reading)

After doing just a quick scroll through my newsfeed on LinkedIn and a Google search, I’ve compiled a list of more than sixty things guaranteed to make anyone a better leader, happier and, of course, more successful. According to just this handful of articles, all “successful” people do the following.

  1. They read
  2. They pursue things that interest them
  3. They find a mentor
  4. They use dreams to set goals
  5. They write to-do lists
  6. They create multiple streams of income
  7. They avoid time wasters
  8. They take ownership
  9. They stay focused
  10. They fight for what they want
  11. They engage with people they admire
  12. They stay more disciplined
  13. They make happiness a priority
  14. They are grateful
  15. They wake up early
  16. They learn to be great public speakers
  17. They exercise
  18. They network effectively
  19. They accept blame
  20. They learn constantly
  21. They unplug
  22. They confront their fears/build courage
  23. They focus on minutes, not hours
  24. They focus on one thing
  25. They don’t use to-do lists
  26. They prevent themselves from self-sabotage
  27. They come home for dinner
  28. They use a notebook
  29. They check emails only a few times a day
  30. They avoid meetings
  31. They say “no” to nearly everything
  32. They follow the 80/20 rule
  33. They delegate a LOT
  34. They touch things only once
  35. They have a consistent morning routine
  36. They sleep, eat, take breaks, etc., to build energy
  37. They set weekly & monthly goals
  38. They turn off all their devices an hour before bed
  39. They never stop learning
  40. They change the way they network
  41. They set aside time for themselves
  42. They expand their horizons
  43. They change their scenery
  44. They focus on productivity, not being busy
  45. They set SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, timely) goals
  46. They take a leap of faith
  47. They exercise and eat right
  48. They live balanced lives
  49. They are realistically optimistic
  50. They network efficiently
  51. They keep failure in perspective
  52. They log their progress
  53. They drink a glass of lemon water first thing every morning
  54. They set boundaries
  55. They develop absolute clarity
  56. They improve their relationships
  57. They stop being busy, and start being productive
  58. They change their attitudes
  59. They care for their health
  60. They stay organized
  61. They have passion
  62. They act now (and decisively)

Now, I’m not saying that these aren’t good suggestions. In fact, most of them are great, and most of you are probably doing a lot of them every single day! 

But here’s where lists like these annoy me.

They all fail to answer this one key question: How do these list writers define success?

I mean, a lot of these articles are based on research of some sort. How do they set their criteria for who to interview or survey? Is it people who make over a million dollars a year? A set of top-level execs from a select list of “great” companies? Or people who make a lot of money and consider themselves “successful”? How successful are people who make lists about how successful others are? Would the writers consider themselves successful? Should we consider the writers successful?

I mean, who the hell are these people to tell me (or any of us) how to be successful? 

No one can define your vision of success except you. Period.

If I were to survey 1,000 random people, I wonder how they would define what makes a person successful? Make no mistake: I would deem hundreds of my colleagues, contacts and friends successful, but it wouldn’t be based on the same criteriaor say that they’re all successful in the same way. And I wonder: would they describe themselves that way? Maybe. Maybe not.

I mean, there is no way in hell I could get into each of your heads to know whether you believe you’re successful or not. Even if you do consider yourself “successful” (and it’s 100% GREAT if you do!), I’ll bet you still have goals. Or dreams. Or a bucket list. Or things you’d like to improve, or… whatever. How you define your own success is likely to be far different than the way I would define mine.

Make your own list!

Even if you don’t consider yourself ‘successful’ (yet), no one knows better what you need to do to get there better than you–if you’re honest with yourself. Make your own list. Hell, change it every week if you need to. Dream as big as you can. Use these lists for ideas and suggestions, but please don’t delude yourself into thinking that following every last item on a list is magically going to make you rich, or powerful, or the next anybody.

As a final note, there was one list that I didn’t incorporate into my five dozen-plus items from the others. I found it on the Ladders, and was entitled “How to Succeed Like Warren Buffet”. I know a lot of people who do exactly what the article advises, and none of them have as much money or influence as Mr. Buffet. But I will say one thing about them:

They are some of the most fantastic human beings I’ve ever known.


Links to articles/sources for tips and suggestions mentioned in this post.

  1. 7 Things You Should Be Doing if You Want to be Successful –
  2. 8 Uncomfortable Things That Will Make You More Successful –
  3. 14 Things Ridiculously Successful People Do Every Day –
  4. How to Be More Successful –
  5. 10 Things Successful People Do Every Day –
  6. 7 Habits of Self-Made Millionaires –