I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the past few years trying to understand what it takes to be successful. Why some people rise to the top of their field and others, with the same hunger, fail to get there.
We often attribute the success of others to luck, or better opportunities, but whilst that’s convenient if you’re looking for reassurance, it’s incredibly frustrating if you actually just want to progress. If you’re prepared to put the work in to meet your goals, but you just don’t know what that looks like.
There are a few reasons it can be difficult to find good advice on process.
Firstly, we all have slightly different obstacles to overcome. For one person it might be fear but for another its consistency.
Much of our process is embedded in our character, so it can also be difficult for high achievers to separate themselves from the processes they’ve embraced. Once you’ve built good processes, they become so automatic it’s easy to forget how you got there.
There are two categories “processes” fall into when it comes to the power they have over your life and success. One is the conscious and the other is the subconscious.
When I talk about the subconscious, I don’t mean literally hidden in your brain, but habits and attitudes. Things which you don’t have to actively think about everyday, but that are critical to your success. Good subconscious processes are your best friend because they don’t require perseverance or an unlimited supply of energy. They don’t require you to be in a good place or enthusiastic to maintain them. They are simply a part of who you are.
Just because processes are subconscious, does not mean we have no power over them. We can decide these consciously and then repeat them, commit to them, until soon they become automatic. If you want to develop your processes, you need to start with the conscious decision to adjust your subconscious. That is how you build resilience and become more ‘super-human’.
The conscious are the more decisive actions. Things you go to coaching to work on. Things you do less often and which change depending on the specific focus of your life at that time.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of getting disheartened because what takes a lot of effort for you has become automatic for someone else. It’s natural for them, really hard for you. There is no quick solve for this, but with Grit and commitment you gradually start to reduce the volume of things which need to be in your conscious, to make them happen. That’s one way people like Richard Branson can have so many ideas in development at one time. Not all of them require active conscious energy.
To effectively change your processes, you basically need to take some of what’s in your subconscious, out into the conscious. Change it. And pop some of it back in the subconscious. And that’s essentially what I’ll be deep diving into.
The first thing to make conscious, when it comes to setting processes, is your time.
Think of time as your most valuable commodity. Time is a brilliant equaliser because it’s something we all have an equal amount of. No matter how impressive someone looks, you can relate to them by accepting that you have the exact same amount of hours in each day. You and Jeff Bezos have the same number of hours in each day. You and Travis Scott have the same number of hours in each day. You and Sheryl Sandberg have the same number of hours in each day. And whilst you might think, ‘but I have more responsibilities needing my time’, know that Leo Tolstoy wrote War and Peace while providing for 13 children and Barack Obama maintained six workouts a week during his Presidency. Everyone has responsibilities but no-one has any more time.
Are we in agreement?
I hope so. What differentiates us first and foremost is what we do with our 24hours, and in general, we aren’t great at using this wisely.
“Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use.” – Earl Nightingale
The average amount of time spent on Youtube in a day, is 40minutes. If I made £1 every time in the same afternoon someone will be complaining about their lack of progress on something and simultaneously say, “Have you not seen ‘13 Reasons Why’?! You have to watch it!”...
A large proportion of our available time, is given to entertainment and we tend to only exchange this time, when it’s mandated by someone else. The hours you give to entertainment, in any form, are hours you could give to activity. But it’s so commonplace to give our time to entertainment, we don’t consider it a choice. It has become subconscious. We don’t even think about it.
I used to do this with my social life. I didn’t see social activities as a choice, but a basic right. So while at 15, I was focused on the parties I could go to Taylor Swift wasn’t going to any parties, she was going to open mic nights and guitar lessons.
Gary Vee summarises it well:
“In years, they’re impatient and making dumb decisions, and then in days, they’re watching fucking Netflix. They’re super worried about 25 when they’re 22, yet they’re drinking every Thursday night at 7pm.” – Gary Vee
While our time may not seem like a ‘process’, our attitude and awareness of it definitely is. If you want to progress further, you should start with your attitude to time. Taking it out of the subconscious and into the conscious, for evaluation. That definitely doesn’t mean eliminating entertainment, but just being more decisive with it.
“The longest I’ve ever been out of the studio in 27 years is two weeks.” – Dr Dre
When it comes to finding the time for something, people often decide they are either a morning or evening person and that is where their brain is active. There was a study earlier this year, which suggested that you might be genetically programmed either way (see here). I’ll be frank here. I think this notion is a load of rubbish.
Whilst you do have to do what works for you, if what you’re doing isn’t really working, become a morning person.
Why? The morning has the ultimate advantage over the evening because it can’t get hijacked by other people. Whether it’s a language you’re trying to learn, fitness objective, or creative commitment, if you do it first off, you’ve done it.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t get to become a morning person simply by setting an earlier alarm – you have to go to bed earlier. It does not matter whether you fall asleep straight away, that takes time. But this is how you start.
“Win the morning, win the day” – Tim Ferris
Gretchen Rubin did an interesting exploration into accountability as a part of our ability to commit to things, in her book ‘The Four Tendencies’.
Whilst Rubin might be right that we all fall into one of these brackets, I think most of us are quite good at being accountable to other people. Where we struggle is with being accountable to ourselves. This might be owed to our education system. In school you’re never seriously asked: who would you like to be? What would you like to do? What deadlines can you set in order to get there? You’re instead told, you need to write 2000 words on ‘Envy in Othello’ by next Friday, or you’ll get detention.
We carry that forward into our adult life, knowing we will be in ‘trouble’ if we don’t show up between 9 and 6. We aren’t working to be accountable to ourselves but to someone else.
Consciously decide to be accountable, primarily to yourself, and you can start to be more in the driving seat of your life. If you are ever going to start your own business, commit to a diet, or put real energy into a side-interest, you need to really care about being accountable to yourself. About being able to meet the standards you set.
This is really hard and is where it can be important to start small when we want to make a change. If you want to start running, don’t start by trying to run a 5k five times a week. Start by running a 2k twice a week or walking a 5k. Start by doing less than you think you can, rather than more. If you ask too much of yourself, you will need more willpower than you have available and then when you inevitably fail, you will give up and set a pattern for giving up.
“Whenever I was in a tough fight I always remembered to keep my composure, to stick to the game plan… My opponent could be three, four rounds ahead – we’ve still got eight, nine more to go. I’ll get you. No matter what. I’ll get you.” – Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Most of us aren’t Mayweather when it comes to our plans.
We make them, then we share them, get feedback and adjust them. Or we make them, commit for a couple of weeks and then go on Instagram/LinkedIn, see someone having more success by doing something different and stop what we’re doing.
You don’t win quickly. Not really. You win through commitment and consistency. Once you’ve made plans for how you’re going to progress, you need to see them through to give them a chance.
If something isn’t working, it’s good to assess and re-evaluate but just make sure you do this in a decisive way, rather than a flippant one.
“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Our attitude is probably the most dominant player in our life. The way we approach situations and how we see ourselves within the world.
There are certain concepts you can adopt – beliefs you can choose to onboard – which will serve you greatly. Embed these into your subconscious and hard things will gradually start to become easier.
- Hanlon’s Razor:
Hanlon’s Razor is an aphorism (mental model/observation) which warns: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by neglect.” We have a tendency to take people’s actions as a personal attack, when often they’re just a reflection of the ‘attacker’s’ own mood. People are busy, tired and generally distracted by their own lives. Don’t take what may appear as rejection, personally, and you don’t have to be so thick skinned.
I’m going to leave this one to arguably the greatest NBA player of today, LeBron James:
“Commitment is a big part of what I am and what I believe.
How committed are you to winning? How committed are you to being a good friend? To being trustworthy? To being successful? How committed are you to being a good father, a good teammate, a good role model?
There’s that moment every morning when you look in the mirror: Are you committed, or are you not?”
– LeBron James
3. “Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.” – Marcus Aurelius
Adopt this and you will care less about what other people think and more about your actual abilities.
Do not underestimate the power of faith. Regardless of whether you follow a particular religion or not, faith that there is something greater working with you is very powerful. When what you’re doing becomes bigger than you, when you believe something stronger is on your side, it is easier to commit to your goals because you feel a greater sense of responsibility. You also spot opportunities others don’t. Just ask Kanye, Stormzy and Justin Bieber; all musicians who strongly believe God is working with them.
Think Richard Branson is naturally resilient? Well he doesn’t. But he does agree it’s an important quality for entrepreneurs:
“Being an entrepreneur and business leader is all about being resilient. In the early days of business everything you do is centred on surviving – something that takes great resilience to achieve… Resilience is like a callus on a rower’s palm. None of us are born with it – it takes years of hard work and sacrifice to build… resilience is built, not conjured or given.” – Richard Branson
Physical exercise is one good way to build mental resilience.
Whilst the power of confidence is no great secret, it isn’t something which comes naturally to everyone… so what can you do about this? The best way is to give yourself a reason to be confident, by out-working and out-studying others.
“People talk about confidence without ever bringing up hard work. That’s a mistake. I know I sound like some dour older spinster on Downton Abbey who has never felt a man’s touch and whose heart has turned to stone, but I don’t understand how you could have self-confidence if you don’t do the work… I have never, ever, ever, met a high confident person and successful person who is not what a movie would call a ‘workaholic.’ Because confidence is like respect; you have to earn it.” – Mindy Kaling
So there you have it. An introduction into how to create processes that will allow you to go further.
Developing these is a lifetime commitment; success, after all, has no summit. But enjoy the ride, and the pride that comes with knowing you’re doing your best..
“No one had ever helped him. ‘That’ he explained, ‘is why no one has ever stood in my way.’ A great many things and people had stood in his way, however, but he had never noticed them.”
– The Fountainhead