Posted by: drdata921 | March 21, 2014

The Key to Success in Life Is . . . .

What is the key to success in life? Let’s take your success in a career or business as an example. Is success guaranteed by an education at an Ivy League school? Certainly many of our successful business and political leaders were trained at these institutions. However, they are only a small proportion of graduates. And, there are a lot of counter examples. Take Bill Gates, arguably one of the most successful entrepreneurs of our time. Did you know that Mr. Gates was a Harvard drop-out? So education may help, but it is not a guarantee of success.

How about the idea that successful people are smarter and more knowledgeable than the rest of us? Certainly, there are many examples of smart people who have been successful. However, there are many more examples of smart and knowledgeable people who have not succeeded. In fact, I could argue that being highly knowledgeable could keep you from being successful. How many people have you seen in the business world who are so knowledgeable that the companies that they work for can’t afford to let them leave their roles? So goes the old adage, “if you are irreplaceable, you are unpromotable.” Also, there is the downside of strong expertise. One of the roles of our graduate schools is to socialize people into how professionals in their field think and behave. Often, when the situation calls for “out of the box” thinking, your professional training locks you into the box. So, superior intelligence and expertise do not necessarily guarantee success.

The Key to Success is Simpler Than You Could Imagine

What if I were to tell you that the key to success is much simpler, but less logical than education, intelligence, or knowledge? It simply comes down to attitudes and beliefs. It’s all about self-confidence and breaking free of the mental limitations you impose on yourself. You see, everyone has personal beliefs about themselves that define who and what they are. I am smart or I am average. I have certain abilities and limitations. The interesting thing is that we seldom test these beliefs and limitations. We, in a sense, construct a psychological cage around our mind. It’s a prison without bars. We just assume that the bars are there and we never test the reality. Psychologists have found that you can change not only who you are, but your successes in life by changing these attitudes and breaking free of untested limitations. Just pretend that they don’t exist and see what does or doesn’t happen. My god, where did the bars go?!

William James, the father of modern American psychology, discovered this strange truth in the late 1890’s. His insights were years ahead of their time. James believed that you can become anything you want to be by simply changing your attitudes and beliefs, and playing the role of the person you want to become. Let me give you some William James quotes:

• “Belief creates the actual fact. Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes”
• “Begin to be now what you will be hereafter.”
• “The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes.”
• “Success or failure depends more upon attitude than upon capacity. Successful men [and women] act as though they have accomplished or are enjoying something. Soon, it becomes a reality. Act, look, feel successful, conduct yourself accordingly, and you will be amazed at the positive results.”
• “Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.”

It’s all about what you believe. One key element of success is to remove the self-imposed limitations that lead to a destructive pessimism about what you can accomplish in your life. If you never test these limitations, then they are real – you have made them that way. But, the key to unlocking your potential is to challenge these untested beliefs and limitations. What if you tried to walk out of the psychological cage you have built only to find that the cage didn’t really exist – it was all in your mind? It was just a lot of false assumptions. Think of the pain it has caused you all of these years only to be total nonsense.

Are You Rational or Rationalizing

Now, here is where it becomes really interesting. William James was right and there is a reason. The conventional wisdom about human behavior is that we act in response to internal beliefs or in response to something happening in the external environment. That is, behavior is willful and rational, cause and effect. But, what if the reality was turned around – it’s really effect and cause, behave and then rationalize. The area of “attribution theory” in social psychology has discovered some eye-opening things about beliefs and behavior. When asked why they acted in some way people actually construct an answer on the fly. Rather than saying that I acted because of a certain belief or because something happened externally that caused the behavior, they go in the other direction. “Given my behavior, what must have been the cause?” They search the external environment and then within themselves to construct a reason. You see, people don’t really know the answer. Sometimes we rationalize the behavior not to look dumb and we know that we are doing it. However, more commonly we really don’t know.

Let’s take William James’ advice. If I just start acting like the person I would really like to become, like an actor playing a role, in time the role will become the reality. As I reconstruct the reasons for why I am acting in this new way and I see nothing externally to explain it, I will begin to believe that I must truly be that way. You have reconstructed your own reality and astonishingly, it works! Are people really that malleable or, some would say oblivious? The answer is yes and you can use this to your advantage. As your role playing begins to bring positive results and people start responding to you according to your new behaviors, the role becomes ingrained. Professional actors know this. Many have reported that their persona on stage sometimes spills over to their real lives. Do I know that I am acting a role – yes? Does it stop the role from transforming me into a different person? The evidence would say NO!

Is it really as simple as changing your attitudes, playing a new role and watching the transformation? The answer is yes in concept. However, a lot of work is involved in making this happen. The biggest danger is the tendency is to fall back to the old you. Even if it is not really working, it is something you are accustomed to and the habits have been formed. You need to be ever vigilant against letting old habits re-emerge and take over. However, if you truly want to change, the effort is well worth it and you can make it happen. The key to success and happiness truly is within each of us!


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