Researchers have been studying success for years. Their findings are not only interesting--they are useful. While there is no surefire way to predict who will make it big, science has discovered commonalities among successful people. Some factors like intelligence and personality are relatively out of our control. But, good news, there are science-backed steps you can take today to improve your performance.

Successful people set goals

"Research shows that our intelligence is responsible for up to 40 percent of our success, and our personality factors add another 10 to 15 percent," explains author and entrepreneur Marc Effron. That still leaves a lot of room for entrepreneurs to control their destiny.

Goals are scientifically proven to increase performance, so Effron suggests small business leaders set big, challenging goals for themselves and their employees. To set effective goals, he suggests:

  1. Limiting yourself to three goals or less. Focus is power. Choose the tasks that will have the biggest impact on the business.  
  2. Making promises. Saying "I promise I will deliver this specific result" is more emotionally powerful than just setting a goal.
  3. Challenging yourself. Science shows that when people set "reach goals," they step up with extra effort.

Successful people adapt

Successful people usually have a growth mindset, as opposed to a fixed mindset, explains Ashley Hampton, a licensed psychologist and business coach for professional women entrepreneurs. These terms were coined by motivation researcher Carol Dweck in the 1960s and refer to how people perceive learning and intelligence. People with growth mindsets believe that putting in more time and work leads to greater achievement. They are flexible and can adapt as needed, a skill that is particularly relevant today given the rapid pace at which technology is transforming industry and the workplace.

Hampton says it is possible to learn to be more flexible in your thinking. The hardest part is recognizing that your thought patterns are rigid. A common example of rigid thinking is saying you "can't" do something, Hampton says. "It is highly unlikely an entrepreneur 'can't' do something, even though we sometimes get in our own way and believe we 'can't.'"

If you catch yourself thinking like that, stop and consider the task at hand pragmatically. What is standing in your way? Perhaps you lack the necessary skills or you are nervous about tackling something new. Try to stay solution-oriented, Hampton advises.

Successful people persevere

There is no scientific evidence to support a "success" gene or a genetic predisposition to success, but a notable commonality among successful people is "the ability to continue trying even in the face of failure," says Hampton. Some people give up after one or two failed attempts. Many of the world's most accomplished people face myriad setbacks before achieving their goals. Think about all of the shots Michael Jordan missed, or how Steve Jobs was ousted from his own company before becoming an icon.   

Successful people know how to handle the negative emotions that come with failure. Hampton notes that this skill can be nurtured. She suggests accepting that there is going to be both success and failures in business. Focus on minimizing setbacks. For example, if you are not a legal or accounting expert, hire a lawyer and an accountant to handle those needs when they arise instead of trying to figure them out on your own. If you encounter failure, allow yourself to be disappointed. Then, try to take your emotions out of it and examine the situation logically--that way you can learn from it. Whatever you do, try not to let failure paralyze you. Put things in place to prevent that failure from happening again, if possible, and move forward.   

It is also worth noting that successful people do not rest on their laurels. When you do succeed, analyze why. Apply what you learned to future endeavors so you can continue to achieve your goals.  

Successful people focus

Scott Crabtree founded Happy Brain Science to help companies use neuroscience and psychology to boost productivity and happiness at work. Crabtree says that successful people know how to get into a zone that scientists call "flow." This means they are completely focused on a single task. This is important because science suggests we cannot focus on two things at once.

Crabtree suggests small business owners minimize distractions and commit at least 20 minutes to a task to get the best output. That could mean closing your laptop, putting your phone in your desk, and committing your undivided attention to the task at hand. Consider blocking time out in your calendar, too, so your team knows you are occupied.

Successful people are generally optimistic

Many people chase success as a means to happiness, observes Alice Hoekstra, a Career Happiness Consultant. But a study from Berkeley suggests that it is the other way around: people who are happy are more successful, because certain behavior patterns linked to success are also linked to a happy personality. For example, a happy person may be more likely to see challenges as opportunities. Happy people are also good at building relationships--certainly a key component of running a business, notes Hoekstra.

The good news is, there are scientifically-backed ways to improve your mood. Multiple studies found that people can practice gratitude to improve their happiness. "Gratitude doesn't require a fancy setup or a lot of time. During one study on gratitude, the participants simply took a few moments to write down what they were thankful for that week," says Hoekstra, adding that when you are happy, it is easier to feel optimistic, which will make you more confident and a better problem-solver.

Some people are born with the tools they need to be successful. Others make the right connections. But science suggests that each of us can take steps to improve the likelihood of achieving our goals. For more inspiration, check out these scientific ways to recover from a setback.

Published on: Jul 10, 2018