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Surprising Career Habits of Highly Successful People

When observing highly successful people, it’s easy to assume they must have had a string of great luck that landed them in their good fortune. And, if it wasn’t luck, surely, they were born with super-human abilities that made their rise to greatness quick and effortless. But our latest research confirms good luck and good genetics have very little to do with success.

According to our study of more than 1,800 employees, the most important factor to personal and career success isn’t good luck, natural talent, or even decision making—it’s a habit. That’s right, people’s simple routine behaviors trump all else when it comes to influencing success.

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Specifically, our study participants attributed nearly 46 percent of their career success to having the right habits. They said the decisions they made accounted for 22 percent of their success—making habits more than twice as critical. And for those who feel they’re simply not cut out for the job; the good news is habits far outweigh natural talent as well, which came in at just over 24 percent. Luck fell a distant fourth at just 6 percent.

And what’s even more surprising is that many of the habits people attributed to their success are less heroic than they are simple. For instance, some of the career habits respondents felt made the difference between success and failure include:

  • Think yes before saying no. Be open to opportunities to grow and expand outside of your comfort zone.
  • Trust your gut. Do your research but stop at 80 percent confidence rather than 110 percent. 
  • Be curious. Dedicate time each week to dreaming and researching. Know the dream is free but hustle costs extra.
  • Do the hardest or most important thing on your to-do list first thing in the morning.

A lot of these habits are what we call Trigger Habits. While they seem small, they actually trigger a series of other powerful habits. For instance, ‘Thinking yes before saying no,’ is likely to create a habit of being less impulsive, more thoughtful, and even more visionary and creative. In fact, many of the good habits successful people have at work carry over into their personal life.

So instead of agonizing over every decision, counting yourself down and out because you aren’t as gifted as the next guy, or even wearing your lucky socks to work each day, learn how to create new, simple habits that will jumpstart your workplace performance. The skills to learn and adopt new habits are taught in our new training course The Power of Habit™, which is based on the New York Times best-selling book of the same title by Charles Duhigg.

3 Tips to Learning New Career Habits in 2020:

  1. Spot the Lag: Identify the areas in your career where you’re not getting the results you want, then identify the habits that will produce those results. If you can’t see the lag or the desired habits, invest in 360 surveys to gather feedback, ask a mentor or manager where you could improve or find training and development opportunities that illuminate the skills needed to reach the next level.
  2. Make it a Ritual: Create a ritual around the new habit by engineering your environment – a time of day, place, people, objects, etc. – so that it’s conducive to doing the habit. Set up reminders, or cues, and arrange your world so that doing the behavior comes easier. For example, if you are trying to develop a habit of quickly processing incoming email, then disable social media, instant messenger tools, and other distractions on your computer so you can focus on the new habit.  
  3. Reward Yourself: Every time you complete your new routine, reward yourself – immediately. Maybe you indulge in a special treat, an activity, or delay indulgence in your favorite guilty pleasure until after you complete the new routine. This becomes your incentive – not the results you hope for. The results will follow but reward yourself immediately to fire up your motivation in the beginning.

No amount of luck, talent, brains or good decisions can compensate for your habits and your routines. And that is good news for anyone looking to make changes in 2020. Ultimately, you’re just a few habits away from success.

About the author: Emily Gregory is the VP of Product Development at VitalSmarts, a Top 20 Leadership Training company. She co-designed The Power of Habit Training, a transformative new training from VitalSmarts. Emily also travels the world speaking, training, and consulting with leaders and employees from Fortune 500 organizations.

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