Success is a hard thing to define. In the movie “Yesterday” the main character Jack Malik is asking John Lennon (in a world without the Beatles) if he had lived a happy life, to which John Lennon responds “yes.” Then Malik asks if he was successful and Lennon looks at him strangely and says something along the lines of “I just told you I lived a happy life…” Many people want to know the traits of successful people, but first, it's important to decide if "successful" means happy, wealthy, respected, famous, all of the above or none of the above.
However, no matter your definition of success, in order to obtain it you will most likely need to be healthy, both in body and mind, and able to think critically about your self and your life, so what are some traits that can help make this happen?
Not all traits are going to work for everyone, people are successful in different ways and for different reasons but consider the following when striving for success.
Most people know they should be drinking more water but it isn’t high on the priority list so I’m making up for that and putting it first. Not only does drinking enough water help you fend off sickness and worse health effects such as kidney damage (which can put a damper on pursuing certain types of “success”). Drinking a glass of water first thing in the morning helps you wake up and a level of hydration just one percent below optimal can drastically affect your mood, making it more difficult to concentrate and be productive.
One of my advisors in college told me that going to a therapist is like getting a routine service on your car. We are often tempted to only seek help if we feel something is really wrong but making a point to check in with a therapist, or even take time to evaluate our mental health ourselves, goes a long way to improving our mental and physical health.
Good communication helps us avoid misunderstandings, hurt feelings and compounded negative events. Communication is important to interpersonal, intrapersonal and public dynamics; poor communication in any of these realms can result in harmful consequences to ourselves, others and whole communities.
Integrity is vital for workplaces and for individuals: both must have the honesty to admit when things aren’t working, and the moral principles to change them. In life, being honest with oneself is often the hardest kind of honesty. But to achieve “integrity,” honesty is the first step, and personal growth, emotional intelligence and healthy relationships are the potential outcomes, all helpful traits for success. Besides the usual benefits of honesty (not hurting other people, likability, greater emotional intelligence), making integrity a priority at your job can also increase your chances of promotion and earn you lasting relationships with coworkers.
Kindness and empathy improve relationships and ensure we are a positive force in the world, they also help us maintain our own mental health and even help us maintain our physical health. According to Positive Psychlopedia, kindness can be a route to better health and longer life because it “strengthens our immune systems, reduces aches and pains, improves our cardiovascular profile, and boosts energy and strength in elderly people. In a 2006 study, the most loving and kind couples were shown to have the lowest levels of atherosclerosis.”
This doesn’t have to look like the paleo diet, going vegan or eating kale every meal. We know that eating breakfast increases productivity and makes us less likely to be overcome with hunger at other points in the day. Going too long without food causes our brains to start rationing ATP, decreasing our quick-thinking skills and overall productivity of thought, it also makes it much harder to ward off negative thoughts about ourselves and our lives. Eating periodically throughout the day, including fruits, vegetables and protein, helps us live longer and healthier lives.
Bear with me. Orgasming helps increase self-esteem, decrease tension in our bodies, prevent heart disease, stomach ulcers, migraines and even coughs and colds, improve our sleep and strengthen our mental health. Whether with a partner or alone, making time for yourself and your orgasms can enable you to better focus on your life and pursuing whatever form of “success” you are drawn to.
We know that exercise can improve mental health and productivity. But assuming that everyone can exercise in the “typical” ways (running, swimming, cycling) is harmful and just wrong. If you are able to partake in these activities, great, they are a helpful way to improve mental and physical health and a common activity of “successful” people. However, just moving around, getting out of the house and leaving your desk often can increase heart flow and improve your mental and physical health.
When we love ourselves, we foster a mindset of acceptance, which helps us accept life as it comes and take responsibility for our actions. Self-love also helps us combat adversity and problem solve during difficult times, instead of losing our drive and getting discouraged.
Passion drives us and helps us set goals and achieve them, important for almost any definition of success. Passion often helps us work more productively and feel more satisfied since we actually care about what we are doing. If you are working hard for some vision of “success” that involves doing things you don’t actually enjoy, are you really succeeding?
Having meaningful connections with other people in our lives not only improves our mental health, it helps us evaluate our goals and path, make healthy choices, and get satisfaction out of day-to-day life. Without these things, it’s very difficult to approach any kind of “success.”
According to Times Education, “Research links the growth mindset with many benefits, including: greater comfort with taking personal risks and striving for more stretching goals; higher motivation; enhanced brain development across wider ranges of tasks; lower stress, anxiety and depression; better work relationships; and higher performance levels.”
No matter how important your goals are and how much you want to achieve them, it pays to take a break and come back to things. Hobbies are the perfect thing to fills these in-between times as they can bring joy, help your brain work in a different way for a while and get stronger, and potentially connect you to people in your community if the hobby is a sport or potential multi-person activity (see “Connection”).
According to Time magazine, “Studies have shown that music can buoy your mood and fend off depression. It can also improve blood flow in ways similar to statins, lower your levels of stress-related hormones like cortisol and ease pain. Listening to music before an operation can even improve post-surgery outcomes.”
According to Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, patient people enjoy better mental health, are better friends and neighbors, achieve more of their goals, and maintain better physical health.
Ensuring that the meaningful connections in your life are with people who are good for you, is an important way to increase your likelihood of success. If the people around you take too much and don’t support you, it will be very difficult to accomplish your goals.
For some of us, building the motivation to get out of bed in the morning is difficult, and this certainly does not help us strive for success. So having something to look forward to (a glass of water, a cup of coffee, reading the morning news, even going to your desktop and watching a funny cat video) can help us overcome this hump and get up on the right foot.
When we are physically or mentally exhausted our productivity shoots downwards. Many studies have been done showing that college students who get good sleep perform better than those who routinely perform all-nighters, the same applies to professionals.
According to Reader’s Digest, chapter books encourage “deep reading,” which forces our brains to think critically and make between chapters and to the outside world. In addition, reading books has also been shown to increase empathy and emotional intelligence.
This doesn’t necessarily mean wearing sweatpants to work (although if you can, power to you, it's also one of the benefits of working remotely). Dressing comfortably can mean in accordance with your true gender, so you feel confident, or with a soft scarf that soothes you. You get to choose what dressing comfortably means for you.
When we tell ourselves “no” too much we grow tense and get discouraged. Listening to what your body and mind desire, whether that is a bowl of ice cream after dinner, or watching an episode of “How to Get Away with Murder.” Periodic indulgences improve our moods and the ability to focus.
According to Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, excessively punishing ourselves for mistakes can do more harm than good, leaving us feeling hopeless and paralyzed by self-doubt. In addition, some research is starting to indicate that forgiveness, in general, may decrease the likelihood of repeating the same mistakes. While seemingly counterintuitive this may make sense since those who have never been truly forgiven for a mistake may feel they have less to lose than someone who has been forgiven.
Bad things happen, we make mistakes, we fail at our goals, we fall to pieces, but none of these things make success unachievable. The only thing that makes success unachievable is stagnation and the decision to no longer try.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a fair world. We live in a racist, sexist, homophobic and ableist world where privilege and luck can both play a major part in what opportunities we do or don’t get, how we are treated, and even how we feel about ourselves and our own successes. When considering these things, it is important to remember the advice, “change what you can and accept what you can’t.” Fight racist and discriminatory systems and remember to take care of yourself and live the life that will make you feel most successful.