Success! It means different things to different people. Have you ever sat down and asked yourself, what does success mean to you? What would it take for you to consider yourself a success? We all say we want success, but what does that really mean?
Success Step 1: Define Success
The first step on the path to success is to clarify your own unique definition of success. Many people in our society define success in financial terms. Malcolm Forbes coined the phrase, “The one who dies with the most toys wins!” reflecting the popular value that the acquisition of material possessions is what the game of life is all about. I’d like to offer my version of this saying: The one who dies with the most toys, still dies. Let’s change it to, the one who dies with the most ‘joys’ wins.
I think the important questions to ask yourself in defining success are: What endures? What are you passionate about? What brings you joy? What brings joy to those you love? Who and what do you care about? In what do you take pride in? When it’s all said and done, what will make you feel your life has been worthwhile?
In my experience, relationships are more rewarding and far more enduring than material possessions. I believe that the quality of life is determined primarily by the quality of our relationships. It seems to me that the wealthiest people in the world are those who are rich with friends. To love and be loved — that’s “where it’s at” for me! Only you can determine “where it’s at” for you.
In order to get in touch with what really matters to you, what constitutes success to you, it is helpful to take yourself far enough away from the pressures and distractions of your world so you can hear the song your heart wants to sing. Some of us have buried it so deeply or ignored it for so long that we have to get very, very quiet, and listen very hard to hear its gentle strains. What song did you come to sing? Once you’ve determined what your life song is, then it’s up to you to make sure it gets sung. Are you hitting some of the brightest, clearest, finest notes of your life’s song?
I’d like to share a few chords of my life’s song with you! If I’m spending quality time with family and friends, if I’m healthy, if I’m challenging myself to keep growing professionally, personally and spiritually, if I’m being true to myself, and making a difference in the lives of those around me, then by my definition — the only one that really matters — I am a success!
By knowing what is important to me, I can set up my life to be successful. You can do the same thing! So put down this book and think for a few minutes about what is important to you. Just start writing whatever comes to mind. After you’ve put all of your thoughts on paper, go back and pull out the most important ones to create your personal definition of success — without which you’re not likely to achieve it! So pick up that pen and paper and start writing your own definition of success! Don’t worry; it’s not etched in stone! You’re allowed to modify or change it — in fact, that’s required, as you evolve and mature and learn more about life and yourself. But it’s still necessary to keep a “tune” in your head if you intend to sing!
How you define success: Success to me, _________________, is __________________________________.
Success Step 2: Manage Your Thoughts
Once you’ve defined success for yourself, you are on your way! Now, it’s time for the next step on your path to success. In fact, this step is far more than one step! It is so important that most of the truly successful people I’ve observed place it as a companion step to every other step along the path! For the single most important step — the one that distinguishes the winners from the losers in the quest for success — is how well they manage their thoughts. The real winners know that SUCCESS IS AN INSIDE JOB!
How well do you manage your thoughts? To become a success, to sing your life’s song, requires that you manage your thoughts to achieve that end. If you have great command over what you think, then you really are on your way to success! But think about this: Most people think about what they do and how they feel, but seldom think about what they think about it! Yet it’s what you think about that determines what you do and how you feel. So ask yourself, What do you think about it? It’s something to think about!
Choose Positive Thoughts
Each of us has our own unique perspective on the world. It’s our reality. Without even thinking, we’re thinking. We can’t stop thinking, but we can change our thoughts. We can influence and even choose our thoughts.
The process of choosing your thoughts starts with knowing your desired outcomes in any given situation. As you catch yourself thinking about other things — especially things like past unproductive relationships, “If only’s,” and mistakes you’ve made — immediately replace those thoughts with thoughts of the outcomes you want because what you think about is what you get! Think you can have what you want, you can. Think you’re not good enough, you’re not. Think the world is out to get you, it is. Thoughts really do create results — the ones we desire or the ones we don’t — depending on what we dwell on!
Trade-in Blame and Pity for Responsibility
It’s so common that it’s considered “human nature” to conjure excuses or look for someone else to blame when life doesn’t work out. The truth is that if we kicked the person responsible for our lives’ not working out the way we want, we wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week!
One thing is for certain: If we don’t take responsibility for creating our lives, we allow other people and circumstances to shape our lives by default. Then we reactively sing a song we didn’t come to sing. Those who do take responsibility for their lives seem to have a great deal more ability to shape their lives! What song did you come to sing? Start singing, and don’t go the grave with music still in you.
The other side of the blame coin is pity! You’ve thrown the party, the self-pity party, where just you gather round, to celebrate all the things you don’t like about you . . . and your life!
By choosing our thoughts, we can shake the blame and pity syndrome, and set ourselves up to be happy. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that thoughts rule the world. We cannot control everything that happens in our lives, but the way that we evaluate our experiences shapes the way we think in the future. Pay close attention to the way you evaluate situations. As things happen, listen to what you are thinking and saying to yourself. Then consciously focus on using each experience as an opportunity to create thoughts that serve you better. Once we realize we have everything in our lives that we need to make us truly happy, we can focus our thoughts on creating a peaceful more loving state.
Model Good Thought Managers
Art Linkletter said, “Things happen the best for the people who make the best out of the things that happen.” This is a form of thought management that is perhaps best developed by modeling someone who has mastered it. My Grandmother has a special way of turning all of her experiences into learning lessons.
Grandma Fred, short for Fredella, at 85, is the best thought manager I know. That’s the reason she’s so hip and stays so young. She dresses young; she acts young; she thinks young! She’s beat cancer and a stroke, lost my Grandfather, an apartment to an earthquake, and has had a few other assorted dramas along the way. And the amazing thing is that she’s as happy as can be! She’s out there playing tennis, dancing, and exploring ’till way past the clock strikes twelve.
If there’s a way to make it work, she’ll find it. Ten years ago, about a year after my Grandfather had passed away, Grandma Fred invited Lance, a handsome, rough-looking, well-built 25-year-old Italian boy to move in with her. Lance had worked in security in the building and had become good friends with my Grandparents. He left that job to become a male dancer at a local night club — not a profession any of my high school or college buddies had chosen to pursue. Lance needed to cut his overhead and needed a mother figure in his life. Grandma needed some help around the apartment and a little companionship — so she said! Could she possibly have been a Grandma on the prowl? Nahhh! She was just making life work. She was managing her thoughts. She was a success! Lance now lives in Dallas and has joined the World Wrestling Federation. No, she didn’t go with him.
In January of 1994, Grandma was a little too close to the center of that California Earthquake. Hey, it wasn’t her fault! As Grandma describes it, it was as if someone just picked up this huge apartment complex and started shaking it. Everything in her apartment was shattered, glass was everywhere, and her apartment was condemned. To this day, it still hasn’t been repaired. What a quick way to lose your clothes, your possessions, and your privacy! In her good-natured way, she said, “This too will pass.” And, typically, she managed to find humor in the situation. She joked that after the quake she sent away for an earthquake survival guide and got back a map to Kansas! No matter the drama, she’s one good stage director! She’s a woman in control of her thoughts. She inspired this poem:
Grandma Fred’s Poem
You can be just thirty-three and over the hill,
Or eighty-five going on twenty-nine!
The young-at-heart don’t care about years;
They know age is only a state of mind!
You’re never too old to be young,
So make love and laughter part of the plan;
The best thing in life is to die young
As old as you possibly can!
Program Yourself for Success
By now it should be fairly obvious that a positive attitude is a key to successful thought management — and to success! Many people take the problems of each day to bed with them and wake up thinking about those same problems. Add to that the negative impact of watching the evening news just before bedtime, and it’s not a surprise people have trouble getting out of bed in the morning!
So how, you may ask — if you aren’t naturally quite as positive as Grandma Fred — can you learn to manage your thoughts better? You can actually program yourself for success simply by asking yourself a series of questions when you awake in the morning. Determine the questions that have the greatest impact for you, and then start every morning with them. Here are a few questions that work for me. Try them on for effect.
Question #1 – What do I have to be grateful for? The fact that there is not a chalk outline around your body when you wake up is something to be grateful for. Count your blessings every morning. If you look at some of the unfortunate situations that could be bestowed upon you, from a terrible disease to a natural disaster, your worries pale by comparison. When you’re focusing on what works in your life, then you’re not thinking about what doesn’t work.
Question #2 – How can I make a difference in someone’s life today? The quickest way to make your thoughts more cheerful is to cheer up somebody else. Focus on what you can do for someone else, and you’ll be amazed at the side benefits. The fragrance always clings to the hand that gives roses.
Question #3 – What great thing is going to happen to me today? If we expect great things to happen, great things have a way of sneaking into our lives. I live by the assumption that every inconvenience I encounter is just an opportunity for something good to happen; that conflicts are just blessings in disguise. As I am writing this in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, my flight is delayed for three hours. I begin looking for the blessing. Suddenly, there it is! A friend I haven’t seen in five years shows up out of nowhere! His plane is delayed too. We spend a wonderful hour catching up. A true blessing. And then there is the additional blessing that I have an unexpected block of uninterrupted time to write this article! Look for the blessings and they will appear.
Because the first fifteen minutes of the morning will set the tone for the rest of your day, it’s also a good idea to start your morning with a happiness pledge. It’s silly, but it’s almost guaranteed to kick-start your day!
THE HAPPINESS PLEDGE:
I, _____________, promise to think about what I think about, and to give myself permission to be happy — because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog-gone it, I don’t care if people like me! I like me! I am awesome! YESSS!!! [Accompanying gesture: Make a fist with your right hand and pull right elbow quickly into the side.]
By starting each day with some sort of “happy ritual” we improve our odds of having a great day. We are responsible for our own happiness! As Abraham Lincoln said, “People are about as happy as they decide to be.”
Reframe Challenges into Opportunities
The biggest test of how we manage our thoughts comes when life deals us a situation we don’t like. Every situation allows us the opportunity to get bitter or to get better, to get discouraged or to get determined. But every experience in our lives brings with it some sort of gift: gifts to learn, to grow, to think in terms of new possibilities. The failures in our lives should not dis-empower us, because they are just part of the process. Struggle, challenge, and pain can be transformational power if we are open to the lessons. They are gifts that serve as a wake-up call, a gut check, a sign to take a look inside, and get creative about what we want. Unfortunately, all too often we view mistakes and failures as a destination rather than just another part of the journey.
When challenges start to get the best of you, it’s time to reframe your thoughts. Suppose, for instance, there was no such thing as success or failure, a right or wrong way of doing things, but only lessons to be learned that generate wisdom leading to better choices. Would you approach life differently? In singing your life’s song, you’re going to hit a few false notes, but that’s usually when we hear the best wisdom if we’re listening!
Success Step 3: Sing Your Song
When life isn’t working quite as you’d planned
And something seems to be wrong,
It’s either time to adjust the tune
Or completely change the whole song.
Life’s joys and regrets, when it’s all said and done,
Come not from life’s games lost or won,
But from whether you sang what you came here to sing,
Or left with your life’s song unsung!
Success! It means different things to different people. First, define it, then make sure your thoughts are congruent with the song you came to sing, and then SING YOUR SONG! Success is an automatic byproduct! Life is a musical composed of two songs: the one you wanted to sing, and the song that you actually do sing. The moment of truth — the most humble hour in our lives — is when we compare those two songs.
To make sure that your life is a reflection of the life song you came to sing,
Watch your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words.
Watch your words, for your words become your actions.
Watch your actions, for your actions become your habits.
Watch your habits for your habits become your destiny.
Life is more than just a song; it’s a symphony, Play all the sharps and flats of your life with power, purpose, and passion, and it will truly be a masterpiece.