There are an endless number of “keys to success” out there, but here are the 5 that have served me best…

There are more tips for success out there than souls on this earth, and cliches and platitudes abound, but I’d like to share 5 in particular that have served me so well that I’ve internalized as a creed of sorts.

No matter what I’m striving toward–building a business or learning a hobby–I take it upon myself to embody these 5 behaviors, and I’m always better for it.

When I’m not sure what to do next…when things get rough or don’t go as planned…even when I feel like giving up…I come back to this code and it sees me through.

I think it can do the same for you.

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Success leaves clues. Find and follow them.

No matter how difficult your goals seem or how lonely the path appears, you can take solace in a simple fact:

Thousands–or maybe even tens or hundreds of thousands or millions–of people no smarter or stronger of mind or body than you…with no better opportunities or connections…and no guarantee of success…have already successfully made your journey.

If they can do it, why not you?

It gets better, too. They all left clues on how they did it, and in many cases, explicit instructions and directions too. Every insight and piece of knowledge you need to make it is out there, lying around, just waiting for you to pick it up and play.

The way to win at this treasure hunt is complete immersion.

Step one: buy and read 15 highly rated books on the subject and highlight everything of interest and take copious notes. Write down important questions that occur to you along the way and add and subtract as new ones arise and others are answered.

Watch out for people that make it complicated–they probably don’t know it as well as you think or they’re bad teachers. Simple is better. (Click here to tweet this!)

In between book reading sessions, participate in forums and subreddits and blogs, absorbing everything you can, amending your list of questions. Look for self-evident (to you) truths and commonalities.

Add the good sources of information to your bookmarks, Feedly, and Instapaper and jettison the bad. Save everything of interest to your Google Drive or Evernote–quotes, tips, ideas, musings, whatever. Don’t discriminate or edit–you never know when some tidbit will serve a purpose.

Once you’ve gotten through your books, buy a block of time from someone that has achieved success in the endeavor and ask him or her your questions. Record the call, get it transcribed, and dissect it.

To stay immersed, turn to the bibliographies of your favorite of the 15 books and start in on them, picking your next 15 books to read. Don’t ever think you know it all. Instead, assume you never know enough, and that every unread page can add to your arsenal of tools and wisdom.

Continue your hunt, reading, asking questions, participating in discussions, and building your collection of “clippings.” People at the top of their games never stop studying and learning.

Get the flywheel turning.

Aristotle said that life was defined by movement. What has speed and mobility has life, and what doesn’t move is dead.

Never underestimate the power and importance of building and sustaining momentum. It should be your first priority. 

The flywheel is a fitting metaphor for this point. It takes a tremendous amount of oomph to get it spinning, but if you keep pushing, it eventually starts adding to the motion and has the power to sustain the tempo.

The point is the beginning is always the hardest. You throw your shoulder against the wheel and give it everything you’ve got…and it barely budges. But…it moved.

Any forward progress, no matter how minor or how much effort it cost, spins the wheel faster. Who cares how much effort it cost–it worked. So continue.

As you do, you’ll inevitably find that some efforts work better than others in speeding the flywheel up. Strengthen them and abandon the less effective methods.

Learn to love the process, not the prize.

Know where you’re going, but don’t worry too much about the big picture.

When you really contemplate its enormity, the mountain you have to climb is more likely to intimidate than inspire you. So stay focused on the next mile of track, not the summit.

Trust the path, trust your instincts, and just keep marching. Lean on routine, not inspiration. What you do every day matters much more than what you do every once in a while. (Click here to tweet this!)

Expect it to require way more work than you think.

Whether it’s naive optimism or mere laziness, most people are terrible at estimating the sheer amount of time and focused action it takes to do something well, let alone masterfully.

How hard do you think this project or goal is going to be? How much work is it going to take? Multiply that by 10 and you’ll be somewhere closer to reality. Paths of least resistance are dead ends, not highways, so stop looking for them. (Click here to tweet this!)

“In this world, where the game is played with loaded dice, a man must have a temper of iron, with armor proof to the blows of fate, and weapons to make his way against men.

“Life is one long battle; we have to fight at every step; and Voltaire very rightly says that if we succeed, it is at the point of the sword, and that we die with the weapon in our hand.”

—Arthur Schopenhauer

If you really want to ready yourself for what lies ahead, abandon all hopes of lucky breaks, fast tracks, and hidden shortcuts.

Instead, heed the advice of Lord Naoshige: “Common sense will not accomplish great things. Simply become insane and desperate.” (Click here to tweet this!)

 Don’t take yourself and your work too seriously.

The humbling reality is our lives–and human history as a whole, with all its crimes, follies, and misfortunes–are mere spots in space.

A hunk of rock might one day fly too close to the earth and send us back to the Stone Age or a cosmic lash from the smiling sun might blink over our world, ending all of our grief and suffering.

My point isn’t that we should morbidly meditate on our mortality, but that we should spend our time here modestly. According to the second law of thermodynamics, things fall apart. Structures disintegrate, including everything we will do and everyone we will know.

The richest man is still just an ant scurrying about on the earth, which Carl Sagan aptly described as a “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” And the higher he builds his pedestal, the harder his inevitable fall will be.

Work diligently, live boldly, love deeply, and walk softly, for in the end, that’s all that really matters. (Click here to tweet this!)


What do you think about these keys to success? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!