Highly successful people (regardless of the variety of ways one could define being “successful”) all seem to understand a few core principles. Chief among them is that it is not your time, but your energy, that is limited each day and therefore, needs to be carefully managed.
This is why you hear stories of extremely accomplished people with odd habits, like eating the same thing for lunch each day or wearing a minimal “uniform” to work. These individuals understand the psychological concept of decision fatigue, which is the way in which the quality of your decision-making capabilities deteriorates over time. Think of it like this: In the morning, your tank is at 100%. As you move through your day, you expend your energy bit by bit. You don’t want to waste it, and unfortunately, most people do.
Often, this happen through something called microdistractions, or issues that are so small that they don’t seem to threaten your stamina, but which are also pertinent enough that they actually exhaust you slowly. Highly successful people do not waste their mental energy on things they don’t need to. Here, some of the sneakiest culprits:
1. Fear of the least likely outcome.
Worrying, though referred to as a “maladaptive trait,” actually has an evolutionary connection to intelligence. This is why highly successful people are often more anxious by nature, Jeremy Coplan, lead author of a study published in Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, explained to ABC News.
Be that as it is, to function well, you need to be able to discern which fears are worth responding to, and which are just your brain conjuring up the most extreme potential danger in order to “prepare” you to survive. This is an outdated, animalistic mechanism that does not help you in your day-to-day life. Highly successful people do not waste their energy being afraid of that which is least likely to occur
2. Other people’s melodramas.
Anyone can understand how easy it is to get caught up in the intrigue of what’s happening in other people’s lives. (NPR reports that there’s an evolutionary function to this as well, which is that gossip actually helps us predict who is a potential friend or foe.) Regardless, getting caught up to the point of worrying and/or obsessing about someone else’s life status can be paralyzing. Highly successful people prioritize their own wellbeing, and that very rarely includes immersing themselves in petty melodramas that they have no ability to resolve regardless.
Your push notifications alarm you every time your favorite author posts a new tweet. You don’t lay out your clothes or pack your bag the night before you have to leave for work, and so your first moments of the day are spent scrambling to be on time.
You check and answer emails four times within your first hour of the day. You take a phone call from your mom at 10:15 and it carries on until 11. You scroll mindlessly through your news feeds not to educate yourself on what’s happening on any given day, but as a manner of distracting yourself for a “break.”
It’s easy to see how quickly microdistractions can add up. Before you know it, it’s the afternoon, you feel exhausted and barely anything to show for it. Highly successful people don’t give their mental energy to anything that is not going to have a significant impact on their lives in the long-term. They designate specific hours and times to solely focusing on their most crucial tasks, and then prioritize from there.
4. Ruminating, but not taking action.
The moment when reflecting becomes ruminating is when the intent to act dissolves in place of needlessly replaying certain scenarios or issues through your mind again and again.
Highly successful people are usually very self-aware, or at least try to be. This means that they spend a lot of time reviewing their behaviors and interactions, and evaluating how they can improve. However, they do not waste their mental energy just thinking about what went wrong and not actively changing what they need to make the correction.
5. Getting it “right” the first time.
Highly successful people are often masters of their crafts and leaders in their fields. Their work comes across as innovative, unprecedented, and very detail-oriented. What you might not realize is that it often doesn’t begin that way. People who aspire to be successful often scare themselves into beginning their work just because their first attempts may not compare to someone else’s final product. However, highly successful people do not worry about getting it perfect, they worry about just showing up and beginning. Once the fear of being “wrong” is out of the way, it opens a portal to be more creative and productive. There’s always time to improve later.
6. The opinion of anyone they wouldn’t want to switch places with.
Highly successful people are very aware of the impact that their social circles have on the quality of their lives. They value their mentors, partners and teachers. However, they do not give any weight to the opinions of anyone they would not want to switch places with. In the same manner, they also do not worry about what those people potentially think of them.
7. Feeling guilty about taking time for themselves.
Established people understand that success is a holistic thing. You aren’t able to perform your best if you’re tired, undernourished, or experiencing any other kind of extreme imbalance in your life.
That’s why it’s common to see highly successful people as committed to relaxation and wellness as they are work and productivity. They do not spend time guilting themselves over everything they could have gotten done over a three day weekend, or why they shouldn’t take time off if they really need it.
8. Justifying their place in life.
Often, committing to any kind of work that’s atypical incurs the questions and, at times, judgments of those who either don’t believe in your mission or are skeptical of its future success. However, consistently feeling the need to explain or justify your place in life is not only a tireless pursuit, it’s pointless. You are never going to earn the approval of people who don’t want to give it, and highly successful people understand that.
9. Senseless worrying and unchecked thought patterns.
One of the biggest ways that people rob themselves of their own energy is by worrying. Worrying is the practice of preparing for the worst possible outcome, and then believing it is not only possible, but most likely.
However, worrying does not make you more prepared to cope with life’s difficult moments, it makes you more inclined to actually create your fears. If you were to write down a list of everything you’ve ever worried about in life, you’d find that 99.9% of it was groundless, and didn’t “come true.”
If you were also to make a list of everything you didn’t worry about in life, you’d discover that worrying actually didn’t change the outcome of anything, it only zapped up your energy in the present. And if anything, worrying only made things more difficult and skewed and less enjoyable. It is not productive, and highly successful people train themselves to focus on anything else.
11. Trying to be liked by everyone.
Another striking trait of highly successful people is that they aren’t usually people pleasers. Their worst fear isn’t to be disliked by others, because they understand that they are going to be disliked by some people regardless of what they do in life. Instead, you could say that their real fear is actually not living the way they want and need to be out of fear that it would prevent them from “earning” the love and admiration they are desperate for.
12. Too much positive thinking.
It’s obvious that nobody achieves a great deal of success without overcoming their patterns of negative thinking. What’s less obvious is that highly successful people also don’t engage in an overabundance of positive thinking, as in excess it can often be subjective, skewed, and at times, distracting. Worse, too much positive thinking actually sets them up for failure, or disappointment. Instead, highly successful people master the power of neutral thinking, in which they aren’t trying to filter life to be more or less than what it is.
13. Anything they don’t deem to have long-term value.
Highly successful people understand that what they put their energy into grows. If they want their worries to grow, they focus on them. If they want their success to grow, they focus on that instead. They are also very focused on the long-term, and therefore, highly successful people do not worry about that which they don’t deem to have value, even if it is something society tells them they should care about. These people are outliers, individualists, and most of all, free thinkers. They do not let their lives be dictated by that which the rest of the world is bogged down by.