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The Secret to Success is a Question of Habit. Here’s 10 Powerful Habits Practiced by Top Executives, and a Guide For How to Perfect Them.

The secret to success is a question of habit.

By Jacob Lund/Shutterstock
By Jacob Lund/Shutterstock

The new year (and decade!) always brings a renewed energy. We’re excited about change, eager to set resolutions, and have a newfound willingness to work on ourselves.  

However, most people fail to conquer their resolutions because they don’t create new habits around the behaviors that they want to change. 

Building new habits isn’t hard, but it does require diligence, discipline, and commitment to following a plan for at least 60 to 90 days. The key is to start small and pick one or two habits you want to focus on. Once those habits are ingrained, you can add more over the course of the rest of the year. 

Here is a list of the most powerful habits successful people incorporate into their lives. When you’re committed to not only starting these behaviors but to making them an ongoing part of your life, your potential is truly endless.

1. They work smarter, not harder

The most successful executives I know don’t log 90-hour weeks. Instead, they look for ways to be more efficient with their time. 

How to build it: Start to notice when you’re most productive. Do you get twice as much done in the mornings? Do you get your second wind after dinner? Identify the times when you do your best work, and carve out an hour or two every day to get a lot done in that time frame. 

Breaks are equally important. See if you can “block” your schedule and accomplish brief chunks of focused work, then take breaks to recharge. The Pomodoro technique — 25 minutes of work followed by five-minute breaks — is one method, but choose the lengths of time that work best for you. You’ll be surprised at how much more you can get done.

2. They value who they are

I truly believe that each of us has our own unique genius: the type of work and thinking at which we are best. The most successful people know their genius well — they value it in themselves, and they seek to use it every day. 

How to build it: If you’re not sure what your genius is, this article can help you identify it. Every day, read the language that defines your genius, then say to yourself, “I value who I am and the value I bring to the world.” Do this at least twice per day, every day for two months. You will quickly see how amazing it feels.

3. They continually educate themselves

Even the most successful people I know are never content with the status quo. They’re constantly learning and looking for ways to grow.  

How to build it: With the abundance of information at our fingertips, this is simple. Think through the skills you’d like to hone or the subjects you’d like to learn more about, and find books, videos, or classes that will take your expertise to the next level. The hard part is sticking to these assignments — but try to make it fun by tackling one per month and rewarding yourself for completing it.

4. They’re proactive about their career happiness

All of us, from time to time, feel stuck or unhappy at work — or have a sneaking suspicion that something’s not working. But successful people don’t let that paralyze them. They get curious, they start looking for data, and they take action. 

How to build it: For starters, download my Performance Tracker, a weekly check-in exercise that helps you measure aspects of your professional life — like how often you’re “in the zone” and doing work that’s meaningful to you. Do this for a month, and you will be able to clearly identify what’s working in your job and what’s not. You will have the data you need to be more proactive with your career, whether that means spending less time on tasks that aren’t fulfilling or looking for a new role altogether.

5. They build their confidence

There are a lot of misconceptions about confidence. Many people think you’re either born with it or you’re not. That’s simply not true. Confidence is a skill, and people who have a great deal of it have typically worked diligently over a long period of time to achieve it. 

How to build it: Pay attention to negative messages you’re telling yourself. Do you compare yourself to your colleagues, or beat yourself up after tough conversations? See if you can just notice that thought process for a week or so. Once you’re in the habit of noticing, tell yourself a different, more positive message, like “I am just as talented as my co-workers,” or, “Everyone makes mistakes. I have the skills I need to learn from this and move forward.”

6. They aren’t deterred by failures

Ask any successful person, and each will have a long list of failures. They aren’t deterred by these stumbles; rather, they learn from them. 

How to build it: This can be scary, but start tracking your failures as they happen — without judgment or blame. When something doesn’t go the way you want it to, pause and write down what happened. Then (later, if you need to), think through what you might be able to learn from the situation. If it’s hard to find opportunities for growth, think about the advice you might give a friend in a similar situation. Do this for two months, and you’ll start to equate failure with a tool for being better.

7. They ask for feedback regularly

Similarly, the strongest leaders aren’t afraid of feedback — from their peers, their higher-ups, or even their subordinates. Done right, this can be an equally powerful tool for learning and growing.

How to build it: Make a list of 10 people you work closely with or know well and trust. Create three questions that are specific to the feedback you desire. 

For example, if you’re looking for feedback on your leadership style, you might ask: “What’s one quality that you really enjoy about my leadership?” or, “What’s one time in the past month you think I could have handled a conversation differently?” 

Mention that you’re seeking more feedback and will reach out again in three months with additional questions. Encourage them to do the same and let them know you’re more than willing to reciprocate.

8. They enjoy the process of their work — not just their achievements

Our society tends to focus on achievements: landing a promotion, scoring a big new client, or making a higher salary. But it’s healthier, more fun, and less taxing to enjoy the process of your work, rather than living for the wins. 

How to build it: Each day, ask yourself: “Am I enjoying the process of doing my work just as much, if not more, than achieving the goals I’ve set?” When you start to answer “yes” more than “no,” you’re on the right track to receiving happiness from the right place. If you’re not there yet, do the work to understand why achievements are driving you and how you might be able to add more enjoyment into your work.

9. They don’t listen to society’s rules — they make their own

This is all about being who you are — no matter how different that may be from others, your friends, or society. If you can make this a habit now, your career and life will be much happier and better for it.

How to build it: Every time you need to make a big decision, write down all of the pros and cons. Go through them again to reveal the origin of these ideas. Are they true to what you actually believe, or are they messages from your parents, workplace, or society? If it’s the latter, scratch those items out. Do this for every big decision, and you will start to trust yourself and make the decisions that are right for you. You will soon find that you’re living a life for yourself, and not for others.

10. They make health a priority

Finally, remember that success isn’t just about your work; it’s about you as a whole person. You will struggle to thrive if your health and wellness takes a back seat.

How to build it: You’ve heard most of this before, but it bears repeating: Get good sleep (I love Michael Breus’s newsletter, which shares tips and products to help you sleep better). Exercise several times per week . And if you haven’t already, build a meditation practiceDownload an app, hire a meditation coach, find a meditation center, or book at least 15 minutes in your calendar to pause and focus on your breath. Do this for at least 30 days, and before you know it it will be something you can’t live without.

Originally published on Business Insider.

More from Business Insider:

Stop trying to make your employees happy — fulfill them instead

I didn’t take maternity leave as a self-employed worker, and I regret it

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