Being successful in life is more about what you don’t do versus what you actually do. Except most people don’t know that. So right now, when everybody’s making their lists of things they’re going to do this year, I challenge you to sit down and think, What are all the things in my life I don’t need to do?
Now, when I say successful, I don’t mean just having money. In my mind, success is living life happily on your terms. I’ve known a lot of people who, by every economic measurement, are very successful, but they’re absolutely miserable. They’re unhappy, they hate their life, they hate everything. Which is why, to me, success should be about being happy, first and foremost.
As you sit down to make your lists and review what you don’t want to do in your life, take the time to define your own success. What makes you happy? What gives you the greatest control of your life? And what do you need to stop doing in order to make that a reality?
Start with these four don’ts:
1. Don’t whine and blame others.
The world is full of people who constantly look for a way to be the victim. They’re looking for a way to blame someone, something or some circumstance for what’s going on in their life.
Now, I’ll be honest with you, sometimes they’re right. There are times when life is not fair. But whining, complaining and constantly talking about how bad things are is not going to do anything to change the circumstances. You’ve got to take responsibility for where you are right now. Whatever’s going on—even if it’s not your fault. And then you’ve got to figure out a path to get out of it.
2. Don’t sit still.
The more challenging things get, the more stationary some people become. They just sit, soak and get sour. If you want to succeed and win, you’ve got to be a whirl of activity. Activity creates results; sitting still creates atrophy.
I drive my wife crazy going somewhere. We’ll be in the airport or in the car, and I’m going fast. I do the same with decisions. Some people get to a place and say, “I don’t know what to do next,” so they just do nothing but sit and ponder forever. I say go make something happen. Sure, I’ve made some stupid decisions at times with that approach, but I’m always in motion. An object in motion tends to stay in motion, right? And an object at rest tends to stay at rest.
3. Don’t allow yourself to become unfocused.
Stay in motion, but be intentional about what you’re doing. Most people mistake being busy for getting things done. They mistake just flitting around from thing to thing as moving toward their goals. But the world overwhelms them. Things overwhelm them. They’re constantly doing this for five minutes, that for five minutes, in a whir of activity with no direction. They’re like an octopus on roller skates—lots of motion but no direction.
Successful people know what the main thing is. What do you need and what’s important now where you are? Doing what’s most important right now is critical. So make sure when you plan your week, plan your day, that you really focus on what’s going to move you in the right direction.
4. Don’t think the world revolves around you.
One of the things I’ve always told people in leadership training is don’t take yourself so seriously, because no one else does. The reality is we’re all here for a very short period of time. The cemeteries of the world are full of irreplaceable people. I’ve seen Benjamin Franklin’s grave. I’ve seen Winston Churchill’s grave. I’ve seen Napoleon’s grave in Paris. I’ve seen George Washington’s grave.
The reality is none of us are that big of a deal; we’re just human beings. We need to have goals so we’re getting better every day, but the world genuinely doesn’t revolve around us. Titles are temporary. Influence is temporary.
I was in the baggage claim area of an airport in France one time, and I noticed Ringo Starr standing over there schlepping his bag off the conveyor and almost falling over trying to get his big bag. And it just struck me: Here is the drummer for The Beatles, the most famous band probably ever in the history of the world, and he’s just schlepping his bags off the conveyor. Without the context of what he was a part of, he isn’t that big a deal. He’s just a person. That’s the way we all are.
Look, you need to take your life seriously and fight like crazy and do the best you can. But you’ve got to have what I call a healthy ego. A lot of times the biggest enemy of success is success, because you start believing your own bull crap and thinking you’re better than you really are.
The biggest don’t of success is this: Don’t give up. Add these things to your list of goals this year, and I know you’ll see the kind of success you truly want.
John Addison is the Leadership Editor for SUCCESS and the author of Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose, a Wall Street Journal and USA Today best-seller. Renowned for his insight and wisdom on leadership, personal development and success, John is a sought-after speaker and motivator. Read more on his blog, and follow John on Facebook and Twitter.