Some people seem to get ahead, no matter what. They aren't necessarily smarter, more creative or harder working than many others. Still, they achieve much more than their peers. Why is that?
The philosopher Aristotle offered an explanation a really, really long time ago: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit."
I meet some of these amazing, extraordinary people just about people every day, as part of my job. They're amazing entrepreneurs, leaders, artists and innovators, and their keys to success aren't complex. Rather, it's the cumulative effect of their simple daily habits.
Here are 17 things the most extraordinary people do every day.
1. Examine long-term goals.
If you don't know where you want to go, you'll probably never arrive. So, it's crucial to spend a few minutes each day thinking about where you'd like to be one, five or even 20 years from now. Your goals will change, and that's a good thing. But it's easier to act strategically when you've thought about where you want your dreams to lead.
2. Examine daily plans.
Whether you've written it down or not, you have a to-do list. Do the tasks you're accomplishing truly contribute to your long-term goals? Nobody is 100 percent productive, and that's OK. But if you're working your tail off each day to become better at something you don't even want to be doing, that's a sign it's time for a change.
3. Ask for help.
Nobody does anything worthwhile alone, and asking for help, when done correctly, isn't a sign of weakness--it's a sign of respect. People enjoy being reminded that their knowledge and skills have value to others. Just ask politely, respectfully and on the other person's schedule. If the help leads to a positive outcome for you, make sure you express your gratitude. (Speaking of which, there are 17 items on this list. Can I ask for your help in figuring out No. 18? Let us know your ideas in the comments, below.)
4. Engage in mentorship.
Mentorship has two sides, so on any given day, do two things: Engage with a mentor, and also offer mentorship to someone else. Not every interaction has to be profound; that would be exhausting. However, if you take a few minutes, for example, to reply to someone seeking to enter your field, and later ask a more expert friend to help you refine your daily workout (item No. 10, below), you can check this step off your daily list.
5. Give yourself a break.
Extraordinary people recognize that they are just that--people. We're only human, and success (however it's defined) is never an overnight thing. Should you hold yourself to high standards? Sure, but every day, give yourself a pass on a few things you did wrong, and for missing a few items on this list. You're looking for a general, rising slope in all things in life--not an uninterrupted (and unrealistic) sprint to the top.
6. Write down what happened.
Life is a journey, so keep a journal. You don't need to be a polished writer or even devote a lot of time to this; even a small effort can pay huge dividends (as we'll see in item No. 7, below). A top military leader who was working 16-hour days in a time of crisis wanted to keep a journal. His solution? Every day he wrote a single haiku poem describing what happened that day and how he felt.
7. Build your confidence.
Everybody has crises of confidence; everyone has to learn to overcome fear of failure. The best ways to win are twofold, and we've already covered the groundwork on this list. First, engage with mentors. People who've been through similar challenges and inspire you and show you the way. Second, remember the challenges you've overcome in the past--say, perhaps, the things you wrote about in your journal. You did it then; you can do it now. Speaking of which...
8. Give thanks and compliments.
Just as you sometimes have crises of confidence, so does everyone else around you. So, make it a point to compliment others, and to express your appreciation for what they do. If you end each day having sincerely uttered the words, "thank you" to a colleague, friend, family member and even people you only interact in passing, you'll find this habit pays you back tenfold.
9. Focus on others.
No matter that you do, you will leave a legacy. The question is whether you'll be remembered for something positive or something negative. So, keep in mind during all interactions, that this might be someone's lasting impression of you. If you want to hear a powerful example of this in action, read this story about actor Robert Downey Jr. I won't ruin it for you; just read it.
10. Get some physical exercise.
It doesn't have to be much--just a 20- or 30-minute workout each day can improve your outlook and change your life.
11. Quit something.
Coming up with a great idea isn't the hard part in life. Instead, it's eliminating 99 out of 100 great ideas, so you can focus on the few that really work. The only way to do that is to be willing to give up on things you've tried but aren't paying off--nevermind the sunk costs.
12. Check small things.
Extraordinary people learn to delegate effectively. That can be scary, because it requires trust. You can't possibly check everything you've delegated, but you can check some small things, which in turn creates the possibility you'll check everything. One of the best examples ever of this comes from the the truly excellent band Van Halen, and why it included a clause banning brown M&Ms from its phone book-length standard concert contract in the 1980s.
13. Laugh--especially at yourself.
Comedy is the flipside of tragedy. For all the passion with which they pursue their goals, truly extraordinary people keep perspective by recognizing that a well-led life is full of humor. Thus, the most important jokes you'll ever tell are the ones about yourself, even your failures. As H.G. Wells (the writer who gave us War of the Worlds, among many other works) put it, "The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow."
15. Continue your education.
Lifelong learning is one of the keys to success. As my colleague Geoffrey James wrote, "[Approach] lifelong learning with a sense of fun that adds pleasure and energy to the tasks at hand. It means expanding your principles and practices so that they serve a greater purpose."
16. Cultivate outside interests.
All work and no play makes ... well, you know the rest. Let your mind wander every day, and feed it heartily. And, when you've stumbled upon something truly fantastic and worth telling others about...
17. Share something great.
Did you hear the one about the SEO writer who walked into a bar ["best bars," "taverns" "pubs" "B&B joint," "where should I go tonight?"] (If you laughed, credit this great PR person; if you groaned, blame me.) Seriously, extraordinary people always have something to share, and something truly interesting to talk about--a joke, a story, a bit of good news. Follow their lead. (Hey, why not start by sharing this article?)
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