Most people tend to overcomplicate things.
So it’s not surprising that when it comes to advice on how to live happy and successful lives, they start talking about the habits, routines, and lifestyles of the likes of Steve Jobs and Elon Musk.
Now there’s nothing wrong in drawing lessons from the lives of the ultra-successful or using their examples to drive home a point. But the truth is their lives have little instructive power as far as most of us are concerned.
Their kind of success is not a result of morning routines but of several unusual factors converging in the life of one person. There is no playbook to replicate that. In general, trying to succeed by copying these outliers would be like learning how to swim by observing the moves of a giant blue whale.
It ain’t gonna work.
A much better strategy would be to observe our own lives and those of people around us, looking for patterns that work and those that don’t. And if you want to be very efficient (applying the 80/20 principle), you might as well just identify and avoid (like the plague) habits known to cause failures.
As billionaire and Warren Buffet’s mastermind, Charlie Munger says —
“…there was all this folly out there. And I suddenly realized like I just avoid all the folly, you know, maybe I can get an advantage without having to be really good at anything. And I kept doing that all my life, and it works so well that I enjoy sharing it with people like you.”
So let me list five of the most common yet terrible habits (or traits) that often destroy otherwise promising lives.
Look, if you are in the habit of doing everything “later”, you will never get anything done. Simple as that. And even if you do manage to finish something after weeks or months of procrastination, it may not bring the expected results.
Time and timing are both of paramount importance in our fast-paced world. And procrastination kills both.
But that’s not all. Progress is among the greatest motivators. When you don’t do the right things at the right time, you deprive yourself of the much-needed wins. Result? Instead of motivation to keep going, you end up with frustration, self-loathing, and resentment.
So make sure you have your priorities rights. Say no to everything that’s not important to you. Everything else, you finish on or before time.
Shiny Object Syndrome
I learned this the hard way. When I quit my job and became self-employed, it took me a few years to realize the importance of sticking with one thing.
Initially, every few months, I would get bored with what I was doing and jump to something else that seemed exciting at that moment.
But it wasn’t just me. It’s a common mistake people make today. And it’s understandable too.
On the one hand, there are more opportunities today than ever before in human history, and on the other, people are growing increasingly impatient. Everyone wants to be successful overnight. Countless scammers have become millionaires promising overnight stardom to gullible dreamers.
The problem is — that’s not how it works. To be successful, you must stick with things long enough. It takes time for you to be good at what you do and for people to discover and acknowledge it.
Every time you jump ship, you reset the clock. You push yourself back to square one. It’s a formula for disaster, not greatness.
If you want to be successful, remember that few things matter as much as focus, perseverance, and loyalty to your goals as long as they are worth it.
Keeping Bad Company
“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” — Jim Rohn
Here’s the thing. If you are not happy with where you are in your life, one of the first things you should do is change your company.
Whether you realize it or not, the people you spend most of your time with end up shaping your life — for better or for worse.
If you are in the company of those who are smart, honest, inspiring, and supportive, they will bring out the best in you. You will learn from them and feel motivated to do great things.
They will give you valuable feedback, support, and guidance at different points in your journey.
A bad company will do just the opposite. If they are bullies, they might crush your confidence and self-esteem forever. If they are addicts, you might become one too. If their life lacks direction, so will yours.
The general rule is — surround yourself with the kind of people you want to become.
I know many people who talk about having a lot of big dreams. But years go by, and all they do is keep talking.
If you ask them why they will have all kinds of excuses. Maybe they are waiting for the perfect time, or perhaps it’s the lack of resources coming in their way. Whatever it is, there’s always something.
That’s not how you achieve your goals. In fact, if you find yourself forever stuck in the zone of talking, chances are you don’t even have a real intent of doing anything about them. They are not your goals. They are just hot air, maybe to impress yourself, if not anyone else.
When you believe in a vision, it makes you restless. You can’t wait to see it turn real. It’s hard work actually to contain that energy and channel it in the right direction.
“Getting an idea should be like sitting on a pin; it should make you jump up and do something.” — E. L. Simpson
So whatever it is you want to accomplish, start today. If you need something, go find it. Be resourceful. Be serious. Be stubborn.
Refusing to Learn From Others
This is tricky.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on everything. People have the annoying habit of giving away unsolicited advice even when they have no idea what they are talking about. And so it’s important we don’t let ourselves be distracted, discouraged, or worse, misguided by their nuggets of “wisdom.”
But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to learn from others. Or that we don’t need their help in making better decisions or correcting our mistakes.
Several factors like ego, lack of knowledge, and cognitive biases create blind spots for us, and without the help of those who know better, we’d be lost.
Yet, it takes a ton of humility to accept that we could be wrong and others right, especially when it’s about something personal to us — may be a deeply held belief or a flaw in our personality.
“Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” — Eleanor Roosevelt
The trick is to know who to listen to —to find trustworthy people with relevant knowledge, experience, and wisdom. It is to know the limits of your competence.
I have seen too many people (myself included) do a ton of good work towards creating a successful life only to let a few well-known and easily avoidable blunders blow it all way.
Following these five principles will help you stay off that trajectory.
- Don’t postpone what should be done now.
- Stay focused on the path you have chosen for yourself. Until you have a really good reason to change course.
- Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you.
- Let your actions do the talking.
- Let yourself benefit from the experiences and wisdom of others.