According to Jeff Bezos, living a life filled with meaning comes down to how you answer this short list of questions. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is widely respected for a number of qualities. Patiently building a company with a juggernaut of a flywheel.
In short, for being unusually smart. But, as Bezos learned as a 10 year-old during a road trip with his grandparents, intelligence alone won’t make you successful — or help you live a life you’ll look back on with few regrets.
According to Bezos, cleverness is a gift. “You can seduce yourself with your gifts if you’re not careful,” Bezos said to Princeton graduates in 2010, “and if you do, it’ll probably be to the detriment of your choices.”
Research shows we more often regret things we didn’t do than the things we did, even if things we did turned out badly. Makes sense: With time and effort, you can fix almost any mistake. But you can’t go back and do the things you dreamed of doing, but didn’t.
In fact, this study takes that idea even further, probing the kinds of regrets we have about the people we don’t become — which is a natural extension of the actions we didn’t take.
As Bezos said, “When you are 80 years old, and in a quiet moment of reflection narrating for only yourself the most personal version of your life story, the telling that will be most compact and meaningful will be the series of choices you have made. In the end, we are our choices.”
What choices will make the biggest impact on your life story — and whether you look back on that story with regrets?
These are the questions Bezos says to ask yourself:
- Will inertia be your guide, or will you follow your passions?
- Will you follow dogma, or will you be original?
- Will you choose a life of ease, or a life of service and adventure?
- Will you wilt under criticism, or will you follow your convictions?
- Will you bluff it out when you’re wrong, or will you apologize?
- Will you guard your heart against rejection, or will you act when you fall in love?
- Will you play it safe, or will you be a little bit swashbuckling?
- When it’s tough, will you give up, or will you be relentless?
- Will you be a cynic, or will you be a builder?
- Will you be clever at the expense of others, or will you be kind?
Like most great lists, it’s also a hard list. Take ignoring criticism and following your convictions. That’s far from easy. Plus, most of the time we should worry about what other people think.
But not if it stands in the way of living the lives we really want to live.
If you really want to start a business — which you can do in just a few hours — some people might say you’re crazy, especially now. If you really want to go back to school, some people might think you’re crazy, especially now. If you really want to open a new restaurant, some people will definitely think you’re crazy.
Especially now. But if you let the naysayers deter you, you’re much more likely to look back someday and wonder what might have been. Research shows you’re most likely to regret thinking you didn’t reach our full potential. You’ll most regret not becoming the person you feel you could have become, if only you had tried.
Because that’s one mistake you can never go back and fix. But if you ask yourself the Bezos questions, that might be one mistake you can stop making. Starting today.
By: Jeff Haden
Critics by Lyn Christian
Regardless of what you’re going for (what your target is), these steps have proven themselves to me and my clients. When we use them, no matter what kind of success we seek, we speed up our process of getting there.
1. Define your core values
A lot of the conflict you have in your life exists simply because you’re not living in alignment; you’re not be being true to yourself.” Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You
When you take the time to define your values, you create a foundation to build your life. But many people fail to clarify their values and take a longer route to meaningful success as a result. Without clear values, you can take costly detours, achieving empty successes or feeling conflicted.
When you feel yourself constantly comparing your life to other people or just unsure of what you want, that’s when you need to check in with your values. I suggest creating a list of values and beliefs, choosing a few of the most important factors that will guide you in choosing meaningful goals. Your list may include things like family, security, and wealth. Or, perhaps you put greater value on freedom, adventure, and creativity.
Try and get your list down to about three of the most important priorities. When you do, you’ll find it much easier to choose a direction, make confident decisions, and succeed on your terms.
2. Get clear on your goals
What do you want to achieve—really? Often people don’t take the time to ask themselves what they want.
Some people chase after shiny objects, never committing enough to a single goal to find success. Others invest too much committed to the wrong goal, afraid of quitting or letting others down. Achieving long-term goals takes planning, effort, and focus sustained over time. Choose wisely, and make sure those goals are in line with your values.
The recipe for success is different for everyone. One person might feel their best living as a digital nomad, traveling to a different country every month. Another person might thrive on time with family and living in their dream home. What will make you shine is completely unique to you. So get clear on what you want to achieve and what steps you will take to achieve it.
3. Be a learner, not a winner
Often people approach success with an all or nothing mindset, in which you either win or lose. You’re either good or bad, right or wrong, smart or stupid. This mindset leaves little room for error, and too much room to give up when things aren’t perfect. To move forward in overcoming perfectionism, you’ll need to replace this “all or nothing” approach with “all or something.”
Mistakes move you forward!
Making mistakes is far better than not trying at all. The process of trial and error helps you to learn. You gain wisdom and get better over time. My progress in the sport of fencing increased ten times the day I decided to use every practice, lesson, event, and bout as a learning experience instead of a winning opportunity.
Winning comes faster when you take the focus off of it, and instead, focus on becoming a sponge, absorbing every experience as knowledge to help you improve. This doesn’t mean we don’t want to win.
It means that if we step over learning in order to reach for winning, we place a huge barrier in front of ourselves — trust me, I’ve learned this one the hard way. In figuring out how to be successful in life, learning as much as you can leads to bigger wins.
4. Set up a support system
Big goals don’t happen overnight. Building a successful business, writing a book, getting a degree—it takes hard work and commitment to see those dreams through. But you don’t have to go through it alone, and you shouldn’t!
Get a coach, mentor, or accountability group to keep you going. If we rely on just ourselves, it’s like having a single jetpack, putting along towards a goal. With the support of a team, we have rocket power, achieving our goals much faster – vroom!
Creating this type of support system will help you stay motivated through the challenges, get help when you need it, and learn from others’ experiences.
5. Put in the time
You may have heard of the 10,000 hour rule, popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s New York Times bestseller, Outliers. Gladwell suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to gain mastery. (that’s about 90 minutes per day for 20 years).
It’s an idea based on a 1993 paper from Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University. But many people have pushed back at this “10,000 hours requirement”, including Ericsson himself.
Commitment and consistency
If you want to get good at something, you have to put in the time. Spending just 10 to 20 minutes a day on a new skill, your brain will retain almost all of what you learned, according to neuroscience.
If you don’t have 10,000 hours to learn something new, start with 20 minutes a day. Commit to it.
If you need to practice, study, experiment, and apply in order to succeed, then do that. Put in the time wherever it is required. No effort is wasted if we have our eye on our target, even if one or two or three attempts feels like we’re getting nowhere.
Put in the time, and the dominoes will fall. That’s how you can live an extraordinary life.
6. Commit to a goal that you’re willing to grind for
It takes a lot of hard work and grit to achieve long-term goals. People who found a successful company, wrote a novel without a book deal, or made it big in show business had to put in the work to get from nothing to something.
They didn’t know that they would make it, but they persisted anyway. “Success develops from your willingness to try repeatedly for a breakthrough — to sweat all the way down until the salt of your soul spills out on the floor.”
Before you commit to your goal, make sure you really want it. What means so much to you that you’re willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears to make it come true?
7. Get inspired
You may already have a clear vision of your dreams, but not everyone does. If you feel unclear about the path forward, get out there and explore.
Inspiration is everywhere
Go to camps, clinics, conferences and retreats. Get private lessons and read books. When you get out there and try new things, you’re more likely to find inspiration for how to be successful in life.
Approach success with a sense of curiosity and playfulness to find a vision of success that excites you.
8. Take (calculated) risks
The quest beyond where you stand today to where you want to go means stepping outside of your comfort zone. That means you’re going to have to stick your neck out there sometimes and take risks.
I’m not saying you should quit your job this second. When you assess your situation fully, you can take calculated risks that will ultimately lead to success.
A few tips to keep in mind:
- How much savings would it take to carry you through this shift?
- Would downsizing your lifestyle provide flexibility to explore a new direction?
- Do you have other people to consider when making this decision?
- Assess your opportunities: Are companies actively hiring in your new field?
- Do you need training or education to make this dream happen?
Sometimes taking risks can mean a night class once a week to train for that new career path. Or, you might start a side hustle to see if your business idea will actually work. Maybe you just need to meet new people and network to get more information about that new direction.
Eventually, you need to take a leap of faith to move forward. Just make sure you have the resources and information available before you take that step.
9. Learn from experts
If you want to illuminate the path to success, look for people who have already done it. Who are the captains in the industry that you admire? Find out how they turned their dreams into reality.
Implement the habits of the successful people you want to emulate.
Study others’ success
Observe, study, and follow others who are succeeding along the same path you want to go. Spend time learning from them. Find at least one thing to avoid or one thing to adopt each time you watch others making progress toward your same target (or from those who have hit the target).
Why limit yourself to just one role model? You can draw inspiration from any number of people who inspire you. When we only learn from one master, we only know what that one person knows. When we learn from more than one expert, we have ages of knowledge and wisdom to lean into.
10. Ask a ton of questions
Many people resist asking questions because they don’t want to sound incompetent or annoying. But actually, asking questions does the opposite! “By asking someone to share his or her personal wisdom, advice seekers stroke the adviser’s ego and can gain valuable insights. People do not think less of you — they actually think you’re smarter.” Francesca Gino, Professor at Harvard Business School
Unless you ask, you never know what you might find, learn, or achieve. Ask, ask, and ask again. You’ll show experts and mentors that you value their opinion. You open up opportunities for conversations that could inspire your next idea.
Just make sure to avoid naysayers who shut you down. People who negate your questions or chastise you for being a Curious George will only hold you back from learning and growth.
11. Get feedback
You need feedback to learn and get better. You’ll gain a fuller perspective on your strengths and habits that might be holding you back.
Asking for feedback will also make you happier and more productive, says Sheila Heen, author of Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well: “People who go out and solicit negative feedback — meaning they aren’t just fishing for compliments — report higher satisfaction. They adapt more quickly to new roles, get higher performance reviews, and show others they are committed to doing their jobs.”
Use trusted folks who know their stuff to give you feedback. We could be getting in our own way. We could be headed down a rabbit hole. We could get our minds in a dark place, or be forming a bad habit. You get the notion.
12. Break down goals into small steps
Dreaming big starts with having a clear vision of what you want, whether you want to discover how to be successful in career, relationships, in the arts, philanthropy, and so on. Close your eyes and envision the life of your dreams. Then write down those goals.
When you look at all those grand ideas, it can feel overwhelming. But anyone who has accomplished something big started with one small step forward.
So, what will it take to get there?
Determine the small steps to getting to that point of success. When you break down big goals into small steps, you’ll see what it takes to turn those dreams into a reality.
13. Take breaks
In a 2004 study published in Nature, researchers at the University of Lübeck in Germany trained participants to solve a long difficult math problem. After a good night’s rest, when participants returned for retesting, those who had slept eight hours were more than twice as likely to solve the problem in a simpler way than those who had not slept.
You need to take breaks and get plenty of rest.
So, what will it take to get there?
Burnout will only diminish your health and prevent you from thinking clearly. And when you find yourself hitting a wall, sleep on it. You’re more likely to come up with the solution after taking a break.
14. Keep creative juices flowing
Make a habit of including creative activities into your routine. The American Psychological Association points out that routine creativity expands the mind, improves problem-solving, and increases productivity.
Here’s how to include routine creativity in your life:
- Keep track of new ideas when they come up
- Take on new challenges that require problem solving and new approaches
- Expand your knowledge, through classes or reading outside of what your bubble
- Surround yourself with interesting people who can broaden your perspective
- Try interesting things that stimulate the brain, like a new hobby or a trip to a museum
15. Take care of your health
“A sick man only wants one thing; a healthy man wants a thousand things.” Confucius
Often the pursuit of success can put health concerns on the backburner. You put in the extra hours to turn your dream into reality. And that’s okay, but you should never sacrifice your health.
Think in terms of the long game
You want to live a long, successful life, not burnout. That means checking in with your body every day and incorporating healthy habits into your daily routine.
So what should you do? When it comes to health, most of the best healthy habits are fairly simple: Eat Well, Sleep Well, Exercise Well.
Harvard Health recommends:
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercise daily (30 minutes of moderate exercise will do)
- Maintain a healthy body weight
- Avoid excessive drinking
- Quit smoking
- Rest and get enough sleep
Success starts with defining what that means to you, then tirelessly working toward that dream. When you commit to making it happen, and surround yourself with supportive people, you’ll find that path to success rolls out before you.