Two Principles for a Psychology of Success
Two key principles make up the Psychology of Success. There are a multitude of details for how you achieve success, but here are two important principles, which when you apply them, puts success, however you choose to measure it, within your grasp.
My father had lived through the Great Depression, and when he spoke of success he meant that someone had made a lot of money. Much to his consternation, he was never very successful at making money himself, and in his later years came to depend on my mother. Like many people who never fully realized their dreams, he found ways to mask his disappointment. As a child I rebelled against his singular notion of success; in part because his disappointment was so painful to witness.
The dictionary tells us that the word success started its life meaning that something was concluded, something was done. Good or bad, intended or not, when a thing is finished it has arrived at its own successful conclusion. You could say the we all live the life of our dreams. Consciously or unconsciously we all strive towards our own desired outcomes, and we achieve them according to our own internal capacity (or otherwise) for inner congruence and focus. So, in the broadest sense, we are all successful.
Success now means something more specific; a desired outcome, rather than just any old conclusion. We always have a choice in how we do things. The criteria and the necessary actions for our success is something we must determine ourselves. Some people have the mindset that allows them to regularly fulfill specific goals and ambitions decisively — whether it’s to climb a mountain, or to be the first to climb a particular mountain, or to climb many mountains. Whatever our mountain might be, each of us, deep down, has our own measure for our own specific success, regardless of whether we attain it or not.
So, what does success mean for you? Is it an abstraction, or do you have specific goals, your own specific mountain? Perhaps you have learned to live with disappointment. Perhaps you are afraid of failure, or perhaps you are afraid of success. What picture do you have of your life ten years from now, twenty years, fifty years? Maybe you have heard that you should simply let things ‘unfold by themselves’? You know, even a blank slate, or an open door, is effectively a picture too.
What about happiness? Is happiness the measure of your success? As a child, questioning my father’s correlation of success with money, I looked for an alternative to his version of success, and began to equated success with creativity, beyond mere happiness, towards ecstasy and creative abandon. I was a romantic even then! I was uncomfortable with, and confused by my father’s notions of success because he provided no role model, other than his own failure. I did not yet have any idea that I might be responsible for my own outcomes, let alone how I might go about achieving them.
Success implies measurement. It involves assessment and comparison. We measure ourselves against others, and against what was and could have been. You might say that looking for happiness by comparing yourself to others is madness. Yet, we do it anyway, out of habit, because it is how we first learned to live in the world. It is how we learned to make the choices that now define who we are.
On our journey from infancy to adulthood it was by comparing and judging ourselves against others that we formed our core values and identity.
But success has very little to do with finding happiness outside of yourself by comparisons with others. Assessment is necessary, but judgment and comparison may be optional extras.
Assessment begins with having clearly defined outcomes. This is the first of the two principles of success. When you have clearly defined outcomes, you either fulfill your intention, or you learn that you missed something on the way. You ask yourself why, you can even go a step further by saying, “This is the best thing that could have happened.” The mindset you create with that statement helps you put your next clearly defined outcome into action, whether it concerns the moment-to-moment details of your daily life, or addresses the big picture, call it your destiny.
By having clearly defined outcomes, by asking what lessons there are for you to learn, even when challenged by impossibly difficult situations, you are no longer a victim of circumstance. You are now living at cause, choosing your own life. And isn’t choice the key ingredient here, the key to your success? You move freely, assessing what you have gained or missed, and self-correcting as you go. You are learning to say, “This is the best thing that could have happened!”
The second of these two principles for the psychology of success concerns how you focus your attention. Your focus can be like a zoom lens. You can magnify small details, or you can have a wide view. You can be specific, or you can be more abstract. When you move through varying degrees of abstraction and specificity, you evaluate your options in ways that are impossible when you hold to a single perspective.
By zooming out to greater degrees of abstraction you are often asking, “Why? For what purpose?” By zooming in to greater specificity you are asking, “How? What specifically .. ?” You can even direct your awareness in another direction outside of your immediate range of view to find analogies, and a broader context. You ask, “What are other examples of this?”
Some people are caught in details, and never get to see the big picture. Others are lost in abstraction and never get to apply their larger vision. Many people rely on only one singular point of view. When you know the difference between the vision and the details, when you learn to move easily between the two, when you learn to take another tack to find new perspective, then you have an edge that allows you to give what meanings you choose to such notions as success or failure.
There’s another element, a theme more essential than any psychological principle of success. It has to do with the simple capacity to focus, to sustain awareness. Combine that with the principle of well formed outcomes, and the principle of choosing your level of abstraction, within a hierarchy of possible perspectives, it becomes the glue that allows you to navigate your life with a proficiency that will let you define your success entirely on your own terms.
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