Modern success is a lie.
The loudspeaker of social media amplifies it. I don’t trust 99% of success stories. Frauds like FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried and Theranos’s Elizabeth Holmes showed us how easy deception is with a little money.
In a few days, I will have been writing for 9 years about the topic of success. It all started on a website called Addicted2Success. And over these 9 years while studying the success of the top 1%, I’ve had my own.
There are many surprising factors about success from my study and experience that can help you rethink your goals & vision. Here they are.
Most successful people are just simple people who understand the power of habits
Success looks like witchcraft. No one quite knows where it comes from.
When a successful person is asked about their success in an interview there’s never enough time to dig deep.
Not even an autobiography can tell you the vivid detail you need to dissect someone’s success. So we’re tricked by the surface-level stuff:
- University they went to
- “Work hard” quotes
- “Be kind” virtue-signaling
- And other painful platitudes
The answer to 99.9% of success is hiding in plain sight. It’s why James Clear’s book Atomic Habits is quoted millions of times a day.
Successful people have mastered a series of habits. They then repeat them to gain consistency. They eventually let consistency produce results. The consistency only works, though, with constant iteration.
This requires a successful person to seek feedback and have the self-awareness to see their defects and improve.
Study habit-building. Implement habits that match your goals.
Michael Phelps syndrome
When someone reaches the top of their game we imagine a lifetime of happiness and high-fives.
The opposite is true, and the Michael Phelps syndrome tells us why.
Michael is one of the greatest swimmers to ever live. A few years ago he shared what it was like to be him.
Every time he came home from the Olympics he felt depressed. The more gold medals he won, the more depressed he’d become.
The syndrome is simple: the more greatness you experience the harder it is to reach higher highs. So coming down from a high comes with enormous mental health consequences.
Michael Phelps syndrome doesn’t just apply to Olympic swimming. The same happened to the astronauts who landed on the moon.
Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin realized the same feeling after they visited the moon.
It didn’t seem that amazing or weird once they saw it.
Later, when Apollo 12 went to the moon, astronauts Al Bean and Pete Conrad had a similar feeling: is this all there is?
If the success of going to the moon and creating history while billions of people watch makes astronauts feel underwhelmed, there’s not much chance the rest of us will have a different experience.
So why does this feeling happen? Anticipation.
The best part of success is the anticipation of what it’s going to feel like, not the actual event itself. It’s the same reason booking a trip to an exotic holiday location feels better in the lead up than when you’re actually on the beach in the sun.
Humans crave anticipation. It acts as motivation that bleeds into everything else we do in life.
Takeaway: don’t wait for success to feel good. Before you reach success feels better than actual success.
Success often leads to drugs
The letdown of success often needs a vaccine.
Drugs are the obvious choice. They help you escape reality and postpone dealing with your Michael Phelps syndrome.
Success creates many problems too.
When you’ve got it all, people who want it all, can decide to take some of yours. This leads to wild challenges you could never imagine. Just look at the Meghan Markle fairytale for evidence.
Many people (like me) who’ve never taken drugs assume, wrongfully, that we never will if we reach success. I caution you with this thinking.
Drugs are such a trap in society. Even the most strong-willed people find it hard to avoid them.
Back in my nightclub days I got to mingle with many celebrities. I heard countless stories of drugs being given to them without their consent.
I once heard one bleak story from a human trafficking documentary where the captors who kept women as s*x slaves got them addicted to heroin by handcuffing them to beds and feeding it to them for weeks.
The accidental addiction to drugs is hard to avoid — other than be careful who you spend time with, especially once success arrives.
Another tactic to consider is to create your own high.
Drugs allow you to experience what’s known as ecstasies. In the book “Stealing Fire,” Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal outline the power of flow states and the experience of ecstasies.
Ecstasies is when you feel as if you can stand outside of yourself. Flow states are when you’re so in the zone that your perception of time disappears and work feels effortless.
Both drugs and flow states can produce ecstasies. Choose flow states to create a natural high instead.
The 4-Hour Workweek success reveals an ugly truth
I’m a big Tim Ferriss fan.
But one thing pisses me off. People act like Tim’s book became a pop culture icon with a cult following out of nowhere. The truth is his book got rejected 26 times.
But there’s a deeper truth…
Much of the success of the 4-Hour Workweek is left hiding in the shadows. What we do know from many interviews with Tim is that at some point he got help from Jack Canfield, co-creator of Chicken Soup for the Soul books.
This tiny detail is rarely mentioned.
According to Tim, Jack gave him early advice on his book and introductions that enabled his book to get published.
Not to take anything away from Tim Ferriss, as his success is well-deserved, but if you have one of the biggest authors in history on your side, it’s hard not to succeed.
What pisses me off is these secret connections and helping hands often get forgotten about. Successful people don’t want you to know they had help. And they definitely don’t what to tell you who helped them, because if they did, their connections would be swamped for requests.
One of my friends right now is writing a book. Only I know their secret: Oprah is helping them get it published.
So what’s the lesson here?
Never underestimate the power of building relationships with other success people. There’s one more thing you need to know…
The way to attract successful people isn’t with a good idea or a clever pitch. It’s with proof-of-work. Jack Canfield would have never helped Tim Ferriss if Tim didn’t have the guts to get 26 rejections and do the hard work of writing his book.
He got help because he showed he deserved help.
Beyond a certain point the numbers don’t matter
On your way to the top, numbers are everything.
- Sales numbers
- Social media views
- Email subscribers
But what I’ve seen with my own tiny success is that after a while none of it matters. No number will make you fulfilled or happy because there’s always a bigger number to hit.
So the trick is not to get addicted to numbers. Don’t live and die by them. Sure, check the numbers occasionally, but make your focus on the daily habits and systems that produce success.
This underrated thing reveals true success
Fake successful people see the size of their bank account as what counts.
Over the years I’ve noticed truly successful people care less about money and more about how much free time they have.
Fake successful people are busy.
If you see their calendar, they barely have time to take a piss. That’s not success or a way to live. That’s prison.
If you want to know what version of success to copy, follow those who have free time to do whatever the hell they want.
Look for the person who clears their calendar at a moment’s notice when their kid’s playing violin last minute at a school concert.
Success is measured with calendars, not bank accounts.
The bizarre phenomenon successful people hate to talk about
Successful people work hard. You know that already.
What’s often not talked about is their productivity guilt. To be successful they have to work decent hours and their minds are constantly thinking about whatever they’re successful at.
When they have free time or go on holiday it makes them feel guilty. Like all their success will disappear if they take their eyes off their success goals.
The solution to this problem is to reframe what rest and free time mean. To be successful you need to unlock high levels of creativity. Without rest and free time your creativity will suffer and success will become unattainable.
Takeaway: rest and have free time to increase creativity.
The success mantra that never dies
There’s one cliche I’ve seen proven repeatedly through my 9 years of research. Let me highlight it with an example.
Youtuber Mr Beast published videos for 7 years before a single one did over 1000 views. Now his videos do 1B views a month.
Consistency always wins.
The (overlooked) true test of success
There are multiple levels of success.
Level 1: You reach success.
That’s the level at which most successful people celebrate. It’s also at this level where egos get out of control.
Where a successful person can start talking down to the average person like they have it all and were born via immaculate conception out of Virgin Mary’s genitalia. That’s not true success.
True success is when a successful person falls down. They face a calamity. Then we get to see their true colors. There are limitless examples of this in action. Actor Robert Downey Jnr is one.
He landed himself in jail because of drugs and then came out and became a Hollywood movie star.
It’s not what happens when you fall down. It’s how you bounce back, the lessons you learn, and whether you demonstrate humility — that determines whether you’re a one-trick pony or a true champion.
“They tried harder” principle
I’ve fallen in love with the work of a new writer.
She writes the Bookbear Express newsletter. She’s spent most of her life in Silicon Valley surrounded by successful people in tech.
Her take on success is wild.
She says when someone is more successful than us, the brutal truth is, they probably tried 10x harder than you think they did.
Most of us underestimate how much effort it takes to be successful in any field. It’s not aaallllllll our fault. Social and traditional media talk up success because it’s a profitable business to do so.
Ava goes on to say “a lot of people want to be but they don’t want to do.”
They want to have written a book, but they don’t want to write the book. They want to be fit, but they don’t want the tedium of working out. They’re ashamed of rejection and they’re ashamed of imperfection.
They like the idea of success but they have the mindset I’ll start tomorrow and never do.
Don’t fall in love with success. No. Focus on doing the thing that makes you not want to escape reality every weekend.