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How do you define success?
I define success as Happiness. It’s my emotions that inform me what success and failure are. If I were depressed and suffering I would feel like a failure. If I am happy, I am a success.
What makes your definition a little different from the popular definition?
Most common versions of success are measured externally. I measure mine by my internal feelings. If business success equates to money success, many people assume that you will feel “good” and be happy with yourself. It doesn’t work that way. Studies have shown that after a person’s basic needs are met that having more financial success doesn’t affect their sense of self or happiness. We only need to find the exceptions that disprove the rule. We are familiar with individuals successful in their careers, financially, and in other ways that can’t stand the misery of their emotions and mind they live in. Robin Williams, Heath Ledger, Whitney Houston, and John Belushi come to mind.
Those that achieve external success, but still hold beliefs that they are unworthy and underserving live in a painful cognitive dissonance. They can feel guilty for having success they don’t believe they deserve. They can live in fear that the world will find out that they are really not that good. They walk around living in fear that they will be found out as an imposter or fraud. They fear the day of being found out, and secretly they hold out hope for being found out because it will release them from the deception they feel they are portraying. The more they succeed, the louder their false beliefs cry out, “Imposter.”
The common approach in society is to achieve the right level of career accomplishments, money, or a great relationship that will result in happiness. In this scenario the real end goal is happiness. The intermediate goal of finance, career, relationship, is just the means to the end goal of feeling happy.
If the real value is happiness, fulfillment, gratitude, and an enjoyable emotional life, then it is important to keep your attention on that goal. You can even measure success by how you feel about yourself, and the world. It doesn’t make sense to measure by the intermediate goals because we’ve already identified that they don’t get you to your destination. If you fixate on the intermediate means it is likely that you will compromise the chance for happiness. That would be like going to the produce section of the grocery story to look for a good book to read. Yes you need some nutrition so you have the means to read a book, but the longer you spend in the grocery store the longer you will be missing out on a good book.
What are some success factors?
Factors that help me achieve happiness are the ability to quiet my mind and really pay attention to my emotions. People generally learn to ignore, deny, or repress many of their emotions growing up and these patterns have to be overcome. You can’t know what in your life is making you happy, or unhappy if you can’t feel those emotions.
Another factor that helps is allowing yourself to feel desire. Being satisfied first means feeling a wanting. How can you know what your heart’s desire is if you don’t allow yourself to feel the wanting of desire? And if you don’t know what wanting and desire are, then you won’t feel the satisfaction and fulfillment that comes with going after and living your heart’s desire.
The third factor that helps with successful happiness is to develop the skills to clean up the negative thoughts, beliefs, and emotions in your mind. It is naïve to think that we can just decide to think happy thoughts and our lives will turn around. My experience is that it takes some time practicing effective skills to identify and change the way our mind works. It isn’t immediately obvious what false beliefs reside in our unconscious mind affecting our emotions and behaviors. It is a matter of skill building and practice to identify and change these self-sabotaging beliefs, and it is worth it to make the changes and feel happiness in your life.
What do you think are the true keys to success?
I discovered that most of my emotions didn’t come from external things anyways. Most of my emotions were generated because how my mind interpreted what external things meant. If a woman broke up with me I could interpret that as a great rejection. I could use it to believe that I was a worthless loser. Or, I could interpret it as a blessing. It was a gift to find out that she didn’t want to be with me because then I didn’t spend any more time trying to be with someone who didn’t want to be with me. The external event, in this case, the break up, was the same. However, depending on the interpretation my mind made I would experience very different emotions. These interpretations were generated by my core beliefs. When I became aware and inventoried these beliefs I found that many had to change in order for me to be happy with the world, myself, and other people. It was foolish to try to make all those external things change, it was never going to happen. But I could change my beliefs and interpretations about things and thereby be happy. For me having awareness and changing my core beliefs was the key to happiness.
How did you come to this conclusion?
I came to this conclusion through my own experience of misery. I was in a relationship with an extraordinary person and had a successful career, or so it seemed from the outside. Inside I was miserable and unfulfilled. I decided that I couldn’t stand the misery anymore and that I wanted to be happy no matter what. I knew that I could have a great career and perfect partner, but if I wasn’t happy with myself on the inside none of it would work. I needed to make sure that I was happy on the inside and so I made that a priority. When I changed my core beliefs I experienced being happy in the world even when things didn’t go my way. It was particularly then that I knew the real meaning of success.
For practical steps to identify and change your core beliefs, try the free sessions of the Self Mastery course.5