Achieving Success: Shifting from Why to What

Don’t we all want the same things? Surely we all want good health, happiness, loving friends and families? We all want to snuggle in hope and get inspired by our dreams don’t we? It seems that some people just get there or achieving success is easier for others.

Is there a recipe? Yes and no. Certain realities we cannot control. The good news is there is a lot we can control or at least influence. Virginia Satir said: “Life is not the way it is supposed to be, it is the way it is. The way you cope with it, makes the difference.”

It seems the most important starting point is purpose, knowing your why. A study from neurologist Aron Buchman showed that people with high purpose have two-and-a-half times lower risk of developing dementia. Knowing your “why” gives you clarity of direction.

The ladder of life

Think of you climbing a long ladder against a wall. You climb hard, doing each step. Exhausted you come on top, just to find it was against the wrong wall. If the ladder was against the right wall in the first place, you could have done it and have time to spare to do those other important things you procrastinate. Purpose is the foundation. Friedrich Nietzsche said: “He who has a why to live, can bear almost any how.”

Then we can go from WHY to WHAT. And that is the steps in the ladder of life. Marcel Proust said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” You need to start with yourself first. An inside out approach. Understanding which actions and habits hurt and need to change. Understanding your fears and worries.

5 Presuppositions to note

But before you start climbing, you need to take note of 5 presuppositions before you take the first step:

Presupposition 1: Have clarity.

Be clear what is important to you. Is it your health, your relationships? Your family? Building an empire? Goethe said: “Things that matter most, must never be at the mercy of things that matter least.”

Presupposition 2: Have worthy goals.

Have worthy goals based on what you really want, which is consistent with your values. Before you climb the steps of the ladder in your life, you must feel motivated, this is what I want to DO.

Presupposition 3: Planned steps.

Not the excuses. Take your own realities into accounts. Plan what you have control over. The small steps, the big steps. Include the plan B’s. Mitigate your risks. Plan support. Plan priorities.

Presupposition 4: Being committed.

Remind yourself of the consequences if you do not achieve your goals. What you stand to lose or to gain. It is a conversation with self. An attitude of come hell or high water, I will do it. Just do it. Courage.

Presupposition 5: Willingness for support.

The first sentence in Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Travelled, is: Life is difficult. Sometimes we need all the support we can get. Friends can give each other the wisdom and courage to make growth-enhancing decisions. Friends and connections can tell us also what you do not want to hear.

Now you are ready for the actions steps. Covey said: You are not the product of your circumstances; you are the product of your decisions. Your circumstances have nothing to do with your destiny. Action speaks louder than words.

The steps in your ladder of life:

  • Self-care. Routine that becomes habits. It is not what you do occasionally: It is what you do daily that makes the difference. This is followed by the following steps, not necessarily in sequence:
    • State of mind. Being in the now. Uncluttered. Single-minded focus. Not a rush to the next step. One thing at a time. No room for stress. As Kierkegaard said: “Life can only be understood backwards, it must be lived forward.”
    • Balance. The constant dance between important and urgent. When the wheel of life is out of round, the ride gets rough. Get there in one piece.
    • Nurturing connections. Relationships affect our immune systems. Avoid the drama queens, avoid the narcissists. John Gottman claims it takes up to 5 positive deposits into someone’s bank account to balance out just one negative withdrawal.
    • Acts of gratitude. Gratitude disconnects us from toxic and negative emotions. It increases happiness and positive mood, more satisfaction with life, less likely to experience burnout, better physical health, better sleep, lower levels of cellular inflammation, greater resiliency.

And so, you will master the art of living. You will become who you really are. A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write. Aristotle said, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”

It is your life. Take the steps of self-care, be present, have balance, nurture connections, live gratitude. And remember the Invictus poem written in 1875 by Henley: I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.

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