Success is a Skill

“You know, like nunchuk skills, bow hunting skills, computer hacking skills. Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.” Napoleon Dynamite

“Just one idea can change your life.” Earl Nightingale

“To master one thing is to master 10,000.” Musashi Miyamoto

success [səkˈsɛs] (noun) – an event that accomplishes its intended purpose; the attainment of a favorable or desired outcome; the achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted; an action that immediately and involuntarily results in “the pump.”

Success is a Skill
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We tend to equate success with the attainment of wealth and fame, but success isn’t merely reserved for that tiny sliver of potential. When you boil it down to its very essence, success is simply an event that accomplishes its intended purpose (that’s any event for any purpose).

Today, I successfully got out of bed. I’m not rich or famous because of it it, but nevertheless, I was 100% successful in that activity. In fact, I’ve been practicing success all day long, and whether you’ve realized it or not, you too are a success MACHINE!

You see, there’s no such thing as remaining stagnant. No matter what, we are always either progressing or regressing, succeeding or not succeeding. Regardless, we are constantly practicing success  – either successfully or unsuccessfully (this will make sense later).

The Success Formula

If we’re talking formula’s, and we’re using the above definitions, then success only encompasses a few things:

1) a goal
2) a plan of action to achieve that goal
3) action

I know it sounds cliche, but success is as easy as 1-2-3. Sure, you’ll find people who will tell you “it’s more complicated than that,” but it’s not. If success is the attainment of a desired outcome, then you simply need to 1) identify the outcome, 1) plan a way to achieve it, and then 3) follow your plan and do the work. When you internalize the simplicity of applying success, it’s both liberating and humbling. But don’t neglect any one of the steps. Each is an integral part of the formula. With one element lacking, success is either unlikely or impossible.

Wishing VS Goal-Setting

Now a goal is different than a wish. Wishing is built upon a foundation of inaction. Setting a goal is built upon a foundation of action. Wishing for a million dollars is different than pursuing a goal of making a million dollars. Something my coach, Scott Sonnon, is fond of saying is that success is 1% preparation, and 99% perspiration (I’m paraphrasing). The hard work that gets the job done is action. Planning and preparation is a necessary part of the equation, but action is the clincher that makes or breaks your success. All the planning and preparation in the world doesn’t matter one bit if you don’t take action in the heat of the moment. On the flip side, all the action in the world won’t matter either, if it’s not aligned with your goals and executed as part of a plan to achieve them. Again, you need all three elements to succeed.

The New Perspective That Changed My Life

The great motivational speaker Earl Nightingale said, “just one idea can change your life.” For me, that one idea was an epiphany regarding the power of choice. I hate drama, so I’ll just tell you straight.

Right now, this very moment, the only thing preventing you from succeeding in any endeavor – great or trivial – is choice. On the flip side, the only thing that guarantees your success is choice. Choice is a nefarious two-sided coin. It both guarantees success, and begets inaction. And that’s the enemy: inaction. Authentic, conscious choice is both the angel and the demon. Free will is both the liberator and destroyer.

And that’s what hit me – my own free will is the only thing standing in my way from my life dreams and goals. If all I did was make a choice to take action on my dreams, goals, and desires, each moment of every day – nothing would stop me from having the success I desire. I can’t help but admit that my own free will is my greatest hindrance, and taking responsibility for my actions is the key to success.

This is quite the departure from conventional thinking. Most people are quick to point the finger at someone or something else that has prevented them from realizing success. Humans are relentless excuse-makers, and have a knack for not taking responsibility over themselves and their actions. So, there you have it – the perspective that can change everything if you choose to believe it.

Your own free will is the only thing keeping you from excellence, and right now you can choose to pursue greatness from this moment forward.

Failure = Success

Some people believe that failure is the opposite of success – and if we’re talking literally, then that’s true. Still others believe that failure is just a necessary part on the journey towards perpetual success. But there’s one thing that failure needs before it is officially labeled true “failure” – failure needs the pursuit of success. Failure isn’t even possible without first taking action.

If you don’t pursue your goals, then you will neither succeed or fail. You need to pursue success for failure to even become a possibility. While you’re not seeking success, you’re also not practicing failure – you’re practicing non-success.

With this in mind, failures should be celebrated, rather than grieved. Failure is a stark reminder that you’ve successfully taken action towards your goals. Failure also provides us with objective feedback about whether our plan of action is suitable for our desired outcome. Failure is actually an affirmation that you’re on the right track!

Again, we are never stagnant. You can either successfully achieve a carefully chosen body of your dreams, or you can successfully achieve an unhealthy, unfit, injured body – or somewhere in between. If you choose to work a sedentary job, choose not to get any exercise, and choose to eat too much junk food then you are also choosing poor health and fitness (quite successfully, I might add!).

Success is to be sought, failure is to be embraced, and inaction is to be avoided like the plague.

Make Success THE Habit For Success

Over the years, I’ve been taught about the power of habit, and how it’s important to focus on changing your habits to achieve your goals. Even further, I’ve been taught to only focus on one habit at a time, so as to avoid overloading yourself with too many changes. After all, it should only take 21 days to create a habit, right?. Well, here’s a slightly different take on the conventional wisdom. How about you stop thinking about every little habit that could help you achieve your goals? What if you started making success itself the one and only habit that you absolutely, positively rely on each day? I’ll tell you what would happen. You would start succeeding each and every day.

Like the master swordsman Musashi said, “to master one thing is to master 10,000.” In other words, master success, and you can master anything because you’ve mastered yourself.

So, here’s how you can start practicing success today:

1) Become proficient in setting effective goals (this is a skill in-and-of-itself). Make sure to provide yourself with a clear purpose so that you establish an appropriate direction and focus for achieving it. (If you’d like some recommendations for goal-setting strategies or programs, use the comments below.)

2) Become a master craftsman of planning and preparing for the achievement of your goals. Basically, you want to reverse engineer the achievement of your goals into daily action steps (and weekly, monthly, quarterly, and/or yearly milestones). Be constantly asking yourself if your daily actions are lining up with your goals.

3) Get relentless about taking action on your goals – all the time. This is the hardest part of the success formula. The minute you are confronted with a choice (especially when it’s new to you, challenging, novel or exemplary), you will face resistance to making that choice. It will be hard to make that choice, and it rarely gets easier. Arguably, the most important part of the success formula is becoming efficient at making the hard, right choice instead of the easy, wrong one. (remember it’s 99% perspiration!)

Success is a skill. It can be practiced and trained, and anyone can develop the habit of success.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

“If you want a quality, act as if you already had it.” William James

Read PART 2 of this article here:

How to Model Physical Success in Other Areas of Your Life

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CST, CST-KS, NSCA-CPT
Fitness Professional

P.S. Read part 2 of this article by clicking here, where I show you how physical transformation can be used as a catalyst for life transformation.

12 Responses

  1. “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” is originally from Thomas Edison. What Edison didn’t mention is “get a bunch of low paid lab workers to do your work for you and you take the credit” was part of his success strategy, a favorite of successful middle managers everywhere. :)

    While I agree that there are some fundamentals to successfully accomplishing a chosen outcome, and that those fundamentals do indeed include setting a goal, making a plan, and working the plan, I also think grace or luck is a component. In some contexts, pure willpower and persistence will inevitably achieve your goal–for instance in many fitness goals. If you want to go from 10 pushups in a row to 20 pushups in a row, the only thing likely stopping you is pure persistence through time.

    In other contexts however, grace or luck may play a huge role in one’s success. In competitive games of chance where you are playing against opponents who understand as much as you do about the game, there is almost nothing you can do to tip the odds in your favor. For instance, if you have a goal of winning a particular poker game, it’s largely in the hands of lady luck.

    I think luck or other external context actually plays a large role too in the winning of competitive sports games against relatively equally matched opponents, for instance at the professional or Olympic level. We’d like to think that the winner had better skill or practiced harder or had some other personal qualities in abundance over his opponent, but I think this is a classic example of the fundamental attribution error.

    Another important missing factor in success strategies like this are basic privileges and structural factors that limit potential. Some people are able to turn weaknesses into strengths which is a seeming counterexample to structural inequities in the playing field, but when you look at the details there were other resources they had available to them that were not due to hard work, like having a supportive parent or financial resources.

    The middle path between these views to me is to accept one’s givens—genetics, socioeconomic status, etc.—and to simply do the best you can with the resources you have, neither using the notion of success as a skill to justify one’s priviledge nor using the notion of success in part due to luck or structural inequities as a way to give in to defeatism or give up one’s responsibility, but to recognize the potential for individual and structural changes while also accepting the limitations of such.

    • Thanks for your comment, Duff.

      you wrote:
      “I also think grace or luck is a component”

      This is an excellent point, and could easily merit a whole article on the subject.

      Concerning games of luck such as poker (and also competitive sports that have some measure of luck involved). It’s true that some amount of grace/luck contributes directly or indirectly to success, but that doesn’t mean one cannot develop their poker skills without it. In other words, you can still be successful without grace or luck. In fact, you can still be successful even without winning. It’s just that providence makes it a lot easier (or harder) sometimes. You have to detach yourself from the results, and only apply what is necessary to successfully perform the job.

      This reminds me of something I read recently in Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art:

      “[The professionals] goal is not victory (success will come by itself when it wants to) but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily and steadily as he can.” (page 82)

      It goes on…

      “A professional schools herself to stand apart from her performance, even as she gives herself to it heart and soul. The Bhagavad-Gita tells us we have a right only to our labor, not to the fruits of our labor. All the warrior can give is his life; all the athlete can do is leave everything on the field.” (page 88)

      And that’s exactly the type of success I’m talking about – internal success. That no matter what, regardless of the external circumstances, you did the absolute very best you could with what you had to offer.

      P.S. HA! – had never heard that about Edison. I guess you don’t learn these things in high school history class, though.

  2. I don’t think I’ve seen it summed up so nicely as identify a target and shoot! I love it John!! Please keep it all coming!!!

  3. Great lead in. ;-) Looking forward to part 2

  4. Great stuff John, inspiring as always!

  5. So true. Thanks for writing this post.

  6. I agree with the comments above but would like also to head one important thing that Success is not only a skill that you can learn but it is also an art. Some people are born to succeed, you can see it into their lifes from childwood, they always been in charge, always leaders and none has push them to take responsabilities as they just uncomfortable with mediocrity and want to change things around them and for such people, with or without resources or support. they still gonna make as they are naturally motivated, go getter, never give up peoples.

    For others, they need a mentor, an assistance, a platform to guide them or help them to unleash theirs potentials.

    Talking about lucky, it is not as life is not about the hard runner but the wise one. lucky bring wisdom as it spares you to do unnecessary things, it open your sense to feel when other rely on theirs thinking. lucky is something to immensely consider when we talk about success as it brings blessing and favor.

  7. Great stuff, insightful, thoughtful, and focused. Thank you!

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