Most of us can relate to the idea of wanting to be successful, of achieving our goals and generally ‘winning in life’. That is a universal desire that resonates with all humans, regardless of their heritage, upbringing, social status or interests. Young children are some of the most enthusiastic beings you’ll ever encounter, and they are always happy when they succeed at the task at hand, whether its small or large. It is an innate human attribute, to want to succeed. Where we all tend to differ, is in our definition of success, both in terms of what achievements qualify as a success and the scale needed to define it as success
e.g. Running a marathon;
Is completing it enough or do you need to place in the Top 100 or finish within a certain time for it to be considered a success?
While discussions in society as a whole tend to define success in terms of visible commercial or social status successes e.g. CEO of large business, professional athlete, bestselling author, president etc., the average person, if asked, would likely have a much more modest definition of what success would be for them.
For most of us, it would include a mix of things like a happy family life, a good circle of friends, a career we enjoyed, financial stability, having good health for as long as possible as well as any individual goals around hobbies (marathons, writing a book, becoming a yoga teacher, learning to cook and so on). Becoming #1 in a given field is not a requirement for most people to be fulfilled in their lives. That is not to say they aren’t ambitious, not at all. It’s more that the reality of what people truly desire for their life is quite a bit different from the publicly agreed definition of success. Few people want to work 80 – 100-hour weeks or train for 6-8 hours a day to achieve a particular goal and even less people want to achieve only one thing in their life. We, and our desires, are much more complex than that and the diversity of our priorities in life reflect this.
Tools for Success
This is one of the reasons that people often find the tools for success that are lauded in today’s society do not work for them in the long-term. What do I mean by tools? Tools are things we use to help us to achieve a certain objective or goal. For example, cycling is a tool for fitness, reading apps are a tool for education, make-up is a tool for women’s appearances. Or we could be more specific…
LinkedIn is a tool for personal branding.
Carrots are a tool for health.
Crime documentaries are a tool for entertainment.
Any number of these tools are often marketed as if they should work for all people because they have worked for some, when in fact they really are only suitable for a specific subcategory of people. Not everyone likes carrots, not everyone enjoys crime documentaries, not every person has to use LinkedIn in order to develop their professional reputation.
While theoretically any one of them could be used by anyone, when you take into account a particular individual’s personal circumstances, preferences, strengths and weaknesses, it becomes clear that certain tools are not meant for them. You will often see this point left out of the conversation when someone who has successfully used a particular tool to excel in life tries to market it to a mass audience. Just because it worked for them, or another particularly successful person, does not mean it will work for everyone. We are all very different from each other.
What is a real-life example of this?
If you want to get fit, running is often given as an example of a great way to get fit. And to be clear, it is a great way to get fit, there is no denying that. But if you hate running, then it’s not really the right way for you to get fit. I learned this the hard way after forcing myself for about two years to try and run three times a week. To cut a long story short, I spent two years hurting my knees and ankles, I had long periods of no exercise at all and the fitness goal I had set for myself remained as far into the distance at the end of the two years as it was when I started.
Why did I not progress? Because I’m not a runner. I don’t like it, my body doesn’t like it, I’m in no way naturally inclined towards running and even though I knew this deep down, I kept forcing myself to do it because I felt like it was the easiest route to achieving the fitness goal I really wanted to achieve. And I felt that way, in part, because that’s what I kept hearing everywhere I looked for an answer to ‘How to Get Fit in 6 Months’. How did I overcome this and eventually start to regain the levels of fitness I had when I was younger? By allowing myself to admit I did not like running and starting to look for an alternative.
I switched out the running ‘tool’ for another one that was much more effective for me; swimming. As it turns out, I’m actually a reasonably good swimmer, something I was not aware of during all of those tedious runs. Where I can churn out 80-100 lengths in a single swimming session and feel no aches or pains afterwards, I couldn’t run for 10 minutes without feeling sore for two days. In this case, the goal was the same and the effort was largely the same, but the results differed significantly because I finally began to use the right tool for me. Where I went wrong was delaying my progress because I stubbornly held onto the idea that ‘running is the best way for me to get fit because it was the best way for others’.
If I had continued to keep this idea as gospel, I’d probably have significant knee issues at this point and would still not be at the level of fitness I was aiming for. I’m not a runner and that’s perfectly fine. This anecdote is a useful example of where the right tools can dramatically improve results even when the same amount of effort is applied and why it’s so important to use the tools that are right for you, not just the ones that are being recommended.
Selecting the Right Tools
Because success means different things to different people and each person has individual strengths and weaknesses, no one tool should ever really be presented as the tool for success or, the only route that will work for a given goal or person. At most, they give a person one potential way to achieve a certain goal but it’s very important to understand that no one tool is the only route to success. The tools used need to be adapted to the person in question, whether that’s you or somebody else.
A cement mixer is a very useful tool for a builder looking to pour foundations however it’s not a particularly useful tool for an electrician looking to wire up a new house. Does that make it a bad or useless tool? No. In the case of the electrician, it’s just the wrong tool for them to use.
A rolling pin might be very helpful for a restaurant’s pastry chef but not so much for the chef who prepares the sauces.
Yoga is great as a tool for exercise or de-stressing. If you don’t need more of either of those things in your life, then you don’t need to add yoga into your routine because it won’t add any significant value.
When considering any of the examples above, we can automatically make sense of why the tools work in one situation and not the other. Yet we are often not so good at doing this in our own lives. We need to recognise that just because a tool works for you or doesn’t, doesn’t mean it’s a good or bad tool in general.
Achieve Sustained Progress, Success will follow.
Recognising that people need different tools to reach their own definition of success is one of the core foundations of Sustainable Progress. It’s only through the process of using different tools and establishing what works for them through trial and error, that individual people can start to make progress. And that really is the difference between the stages of Success and Sustainable Progress. When you’re at the Success stage of life, you know what works for you because you’ve figured it out over time, you’re applying what works and you’re making steady progress towards one or several goals.
Sustainable Progress is the stage before Success, where you have yet to figure out both what it is you truly want, as well as what tools you need to get you there.
I like to think of Sustainable Progress as being like an empty toolbox in some ways. It’s the box (or framework) that you can use to define what you want to achieve in your life, discover which tools you need through trial and error, and evaluate the results. If a particular tool worked for you, great, keep going. If it didn’t, reflect to figure out why, adjust your strategy accordingly and try again. Once you have a few tools that work for you, any progress you make will become more sustainable and eventually, it will start to compound. If you can keep that up over time, you will move into the next stage and start to succeed in the areas that matter to you.
Life without the Sustained Progress
There are a lot of people in the world who are neither satisfied with, nor fulfilled by their lives. I was one of them until recently (and still occasionally am on a bad day). From my own experience, there are three root causes of this:
- You don’t know what you truly want to achieve in life, so you feel directionless.
- You don’t know how to sustain any progress you do make so your goals stay out of reach.
- When you see other people succeeding where you feel that you are not, it leads you to the conclusion that you are inadequate or unable to achieve what you want because of some innate weaknesses that are too big to overcome.
What I have realised on this journey and where I would fight back against the points above, is that while we all have weaknesses, we can all achieve substantially more than we think we can if we put the right processes in place. What is required is an honest evaluation of what you want from your life, and the creation of a daily and weekly system that enables you to become stronger and more effective over time (through the tools you use) in the direction of what you want. Remember, you don’t need the tools that have worked for someone you know or someone you look up to, you need the right tools for you. And that is what Sustainable Progress is designed to help you to do.
Until next time,