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How to Master the Habits of Successful People

Ramit Sethi

How to Master the Habits of Successful People |


There’s no shortage of advice on how to be successful.

And people love articles like this.

How to Master the Habits of Successful People |

You know, “shun sad habits” and “never quit” and “get up early.” Kill me now.

At IWT we’re not going to give you an endless, vague list on how to be successful.

You don’t need to do a million and one things to be successful. You only need a few.

Today I’m going to teach you the 3 critical success habits I’ve developed over the years that have allowed me to find success at school, in my business, and in every area of my life.

Success is hard. But it’s not complicated. And it starts with getting focused.

Success habit #1: Pick one goal

It’s popular to have goals. Just Google “goals” and you’ll find half a billion articles on the topic. How to pick them, how to set them, how to ….

That’s because it’s fun to write them all down, talk about them, and then think about how great our life is going to be once we accomplish them. ALL of them.

The problem is that most people set too many goals and end up accomplishing none.

But what if you picked just one goal?

A couple of years ago when I was working on my book, building my business, and feeling a bit overwhelmed, one of my friends asked me, “What’s your number one goal?”

That question made me nervous. I didn’t want to answer. I was afraid if I said my single most important goal, I’d be closing doors to all of my other goals. Which were many.

I said, “I want to be a best seller, but I also want to generate revenue and I want to do this and publicity and blah, blah, blah.” He cut me off and said, “Cut the BS. What’s your number one goal?”

Again, I hedged. But he pushed me and forced me to get crisp. He said, “The number one goal.”

I said, “I want this book to be a New York Times best seller.”

We hate giving ourselves constraints because it feels limiting. It feels like we’re giving something up, and that’s exactly what it felt like in that moment.

However, it’s also freeing at the same time. Once I decided (declared out loud) that I wanted to become a New York Times Best Selling author, it became crystal clear what I needed to do in order to achieve my goal. I focused all of my attention on those things. Once my book became a bestseller, then I could do a lot of the other things that I wanted to do.

If you want to become successful — in any area of your life — you have to have that kind of focus.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview I did with my longtime friend Noah Kagan. He’s the one who called me out.

Noah is a master at helping people (and himself) get laser-focused on their goals. Pay special attention at 3:53 where he talks about the strategy that has made him the most successful, financially and otherwise.

Watch how to get laser-focussed for success in this interview with Noah Kagan »

How much more quickly could you achieve a top performer level of success if you had that same relentless focus?

Success habit #2: Work twice as hard, get 10x the results

There’s a difference between doing something that’s ‘just okay’ and something amazing.

A few years ago I was testing the benefits of writing guest posts for a few other high-traffic sites.

In one test, I churned a post out quickly, taking about 1.5 hours to write it. It got me a few hundred visitors.

In another test, I spent 18 hours writing an awesomely detailed post, including case studies, a video, and concrete examples. Result: 100,000+ visitors.

I spent 12x the amount of time writing the good one. But I got 250x the results.

How to Master the Habits of Successful People |

THAT is disproportionate impact.

Imagine being able to systematically focus on doing just 10 high-impact actions per year. Now compare your results to your friend, who does 100 different things. Who gets better results?

Disproportionate impact is not easy. Most people have an ordinary impact in the world. They work in ordinary jobs. They save ordinary amounts of money. They take an ordinary number of trips per year. When they go to work, they affect an ordinary number of people.

Most people are, by definition, ordinary.

It sounds like a depressing view of humanity, but I don’t look at it that way. Because most people are ordinary, as I wrote about in The Craigslist Penis Effect, you can be extraordinary by getting as much return as possible from the effort you put in.

For example, by spending 10x as long on something (if you’re working on the right thing), you can get 100x the results.

How to Master the Habits of Successful People |
Not bad for a skinny Asian who used to weigh 127 pounds. I worked 10x harder and got 100x the results.

Let me give you a couple of examples of disproportionate impact:

Getting an extraordinary raise:

What most people do: Wing it. They make a list of the reasons why they should get a raise – why they DESERVE it – and then they practice what they’re going to say in their heads a few times. They think the fact that they’ve done great work will be enough.

What SUCCESSFUL people do: They study salary negotiation, the mistakes most people make when trying to negotiate, and how to crack the negotiation code. They make a list of all the reasons they’ve EARNED a raise and they create a strategy for addressing the objections their boss might throw at them. Then they rehearse their pitch 100 times. They practice in front of a mirror, with their friends, and with strangers on the street. And they get results like Andrew who doubled his salary to nearly six-figures.

Getting in shape for a marathon:

What most people do: Say they’re going to start training by running 3 miles, 4 days a week. They accomplish their goal for the first week or two but soon life gets in the way. Then they run “whenever they get a chance.”

What SUCCESSFUL people do: Commit to running 5 minutes a day EVERY day for the first week. Then 10 minutes EVERY day the next week. And so on. Then they use their Pomodoro app to schedule one mile run/activity breaks every 50 minutes during the work day. At the end of three months they’re running 60 minutes a day, in addition to the activity they’re doing during their work breaks, which could add up to an additional 6-8 miles a day. At that point running has become such a habit that they can create whatever training plan they need to get to the finish line.

Sure, it’s easier to do just enough get by. To do what you’re used to doing. But if you seek out opportunities to create phenomenal returns, success will come easier than you think.

Combine that with relentless focus toward your primary goal, and success habit #3, and you’ll be unstoppable.

Success habit #3: Always have a mentor

I recently flew to LA, along with two senior IWT staff, to visit my mentor Jay Abraham for strategy advice.

How to Master the Habits of Successful People |
In LA with Jay for strategy advice

Over the years, Jay’s insights have changed my life:

  • His book made me over $100,000 in one month
  • He helped double my business in one year
  • I applied his advice to my personal life and had amazing experiences in just a few months

Years ago, after I bought his book, Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got, I heard he was launching a program for small-business owners, so I applied to be in it. He checked my references, read my application, and offered me a spot. It was a ~$25,000 program — plus I had to fly from NYC to LA every month for 15 months just to get 45 minutes of his time.

How to Master the Habits of Successful People |
Breakfast in NYC with Jay

And I would do it again for 10x the price.

But you don’t have to spend $25,000 to get a mentor.

Mentors don’t always have to be people you meet face-to-face. You can get access to successful mentors from the books or blogs you read.

With a $10 book (or free from the library) and 2 hours of your time, you can learn from a lifetime of someone’s work and expertise. I’ll take that ROI any day.

To take this idea to the next level, you can actually follow up with the authors you read.

It’s as simple as sending a quick note to thank them for writing the book and telling them specifically how you’ve found success through their advice.

They love this! (Trust me, any time someone emails me about my book, I’m thrilled!)

And it separates you from 99% of people who either 1) don’t read or 2) do read but never take action on the material they come across.

(BONUS: Click here for word-for-word scripts you can use to contact someone you admire.)

If you do have the opportunity to build a personal relationship with a mentor, have crystal clear expectations for what you want that person to provide for you. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t focus on getting paid. You want to optimize for learning, and make sure that the mentor knows this. (You also want them to know the PRIMARY goal you’re working toward.) If they offer to pay you for work, that’s fine, but don’t ask for this up front.
  • NEVER ask a mentor a question Google can easily answer for you. Do your homework before you ask busy people for answers. If Google could provide the answer in 20 seconds, don’t waste your mentor’s time. You want them to help you solve complex and meaningful problems in your life instead.
  • Put in the work up front. As I said in success habit #2, put in 10x the work that leads to 100x the results. So don’t slack or half-ass your way through assignments or projects. Focus on becoming world class and absorbing all the knowledge you can from your mentor.
  • If you don’t think you’re having a valuable experience, you don’t have to keep the relationship going. Don’t just disappear and not return their calls and emails. But don’t waste their valuable time – or yours – either. Communicate your feelings and move on.

My mentors have helped me make (and save) millions of dollars over the years. But they’ve also taught me more about success — and what it looks like — than I could have ever figured out on my own. I can’t put a price on that.

The road to success is simple

When I look back on my life, I can’t think of a single success I’ve had that doesn’t somehow tie into one of the 3 success habits I shared with you.

And that has taught me a great lesson — don’t complicate things.

I talk to students, friends and colleagues every day who used to be like me – hell bent on listing out everything they want and then scratching their heads when they don’t get it.

Achieving extraordinary success takes extraordinary focus and a willingness to let all of your other wants take a backseat to your primary goal. It’s not easy at first. But once you realize that everything else is just distracting you from what you really want, you’ll become a master at getting it.

Success hacks from top performers

I love talking to people about their success habits. That’s why I asked 15 of the world’s top experts on productivity, business, and fitness to share some of the most successful tests they’ve run that have led to extraordinary results in their lives.

You can see all the results in my free guide: “15 Little “Life Hacks” That Can Change Your Life”

How to Master the Habits of Successful People |

Once you get the e-book, be sure to check out the 4,800+ comments on the download page. You’ll find thousands of additional tests that our readers have used to improve their lives — everything from parenting, to waking up earlier, to improving their mood.

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