How to Adopt the Mindset of a Successful Person

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Chimp Paradox" by Steve Peters. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to find out more about the mindset of a successful person? What are some practical steps you can take to achieve success? What does success mean to you? 

Steve Peters, the author of The Chimp Paradox, argues that success is achieved by controlling your inner emotional Chimp. This inner Chimp is responsible for giving you unfulfilling ideas of what success is and jeopardizing your ability to achieve your goals due to procrastination and anxiety. Thankfully, you also have an inner Human, who can help you to adopt the mindset of a successful person. 

Learn more about the mindset of a successful person and how you can achieve it.

The Mindset of a Successful Person Is All About Defining Success

In order to adopt the mindset of a successful person, you first have to figure out what success means to you. Success means different things to every person, and it also means different things to your Chimp and your Human. The first step in attaining success is deciding what success means to you personally. Only then can you figure out how to achieve it. 

Your Chimp and your Human will have different definitions of success. Typically, your Chimp will desire superficial things like money and power, while your Human will want things more meaningful on a higher level, like the fulfillment of your purpose. Take some time to examine your goals and what will make you feel successful, and decide which Chimp goals and which Human goals are worth pursuing. 

Your Chimp and your Human will also have different ways to judge when you’ve reached success. Your Chimp might rely on specific markers of success such as an ‘A’ grade on a test or a certain job title. Your Human might rely instead on the effort you put into a project or the learning you took away from it—so, for example, if you don’t get an ‘A’ on that test, your Human might consider you successful anyway if you tried your best and learned a lot along the way. 

Your ultimate happiness with your life might depend on which measure of success you value more. If you only feel successful when you achieve specific markers, you’ll often be disappointed because life won’t always go your way. However, if you measure success by the effort you put into life, you’ll be better able to emotionally deal with disappointments. 

Understanding your own measures of success is crucial in achieving the mindset of a successful person.

Preparing to Succeed

If you want to adopt the mindset of a successful person, it will help to improve your organization and preparation skills. Proper preparation will greatly increase your chances of seeing a project through. To properly prepare your Chimp and Human for a project, think through four areas:

  • Commitment: More than emotional motivation (driven by your Chimp), you must have thoughtful commitment (driven by your Human) in order to stick with a project. Thinking through what you’ll need and what challenges you may encounter will increase your level of commitment. 
  • Ownership: When you feel ownership of a project, both your Chimp and your Human are enticed to work harder. Ownership might mean you designed a project yourself, or that the project fits your sense of identity perfectly (for example, if you join a charity that reflects your priorities). 
  • Accountability: To prevent your Chimp from shirking its responsibilities when it loses its emotion-based inspiration, establish benchmarks of progress that will hold you accountable, such as deadlines or checkpoints for partial completion. 
  • Goals: Set goals that are ambitious enough to excite you but not so unrealistic that you set yourself up for failure.

Motivation to Succeed

You’re much more likely to be successful if you have a diverse set of “carrots,” that is, rewards, that you use to encourage yourself. Therefore, fill out your Moon of Carrots with a variety of rewards that will keep you working toward success, including:

  • Prizes: Rewarding yourself with small prizes for accomplishments can motivate your Chimp and your Human to reach for the next milestone. Prizes can be small and superficial, like a special latte or movie tickets.
  • Celebrations: Reflecting on the work you’ve done and celebrating it will satisfy your Chimp’s need for praise. 
  • Recognition: Seek validation from other people to satisfy your Chimp’s need for social recognition.

Managing Success

Once you’ve achieved success, you’ll be faced with different challenges from your Chimp. Learning how to manage success when you have it will help you to achieve the right mindset for success. Be aware of the possibility for these so that you’re better prepared to deal with them. They include:

  • Complacency: Once you’ve achieved success, you might start taking it for granted, feeling like you’re entitled to your success and forgetting the hard work you had to do to accomplish your goals. If you fall victim to such complacency, you’ll be less likely to achieve continued, or additional, success. Counter your Chimp’s instincts to take it easy by reminding yourself that success needs to be constantly maintained. 
  • Fear: When you’ve accomplished something great, you might be filled with a fear that you can’t repeat the performance, which can prevent you from trying to accomplish more. To counter this fear, don’t let your Chimp compare your accomplishments. Remind yourself that each situation is new, so that you don’t have unrealistic expectations.
  • Depression: You may experience an emotional letdown after achieving a goal, as the focus, energy, and routines that drove you disappear. This is a common reaction, and you can counter it by addressing your Chimp’s needs at this time: Celebrate your successes, allow time to rest and recuperate, and set new goals. 

Managing Failure

Part of achieving the right mindset for success is to manage failure properly. If you can do this, you are on your way to getting the mindset of a successful person. When you experience failure, you’ll have an emotional reaction. This is normal, and to properly move on from your failure, you must allow yourself to go through this emotional reaction. If you fully understand your emotions, you’ll be better able to anticipate them, deal with them, get some perspective on your situation, and eventually, move on.

Your emotional reaction to failure is a grief reaction. We normally think of grief as a reaction to a death, but grief is a normal response to any loss or failure. Grief is your way of processing something that’s hurtful and difficult to accept. There are some typical stages of grief that you can expect. These can happen in any order, but commonly occur in this order:

  • Denial: You don’t accept the reality of the event or its consequences.
  • Yearning: You get caught up wishing the event never happened.
  • Bargaining: You try to change the outcome of the event.
  • Anger: You get caught up in frustration—sometimes blame accompanies this stage.
  • Disorganization: You start to accept your new situation and feel depressed and empty.
  • Reorganization: You more fully accept what happened and start to see a path forward.

While everyone reacts differently to traumatizing circumstances, you can expect to get through these stages in about three months to a year if your loss was significant. 

The above advice and tips will help you to achieve the right mindset for success. 

How to Adopt the Mindset of a Successful Person

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  • Why we struggle to control our urges, succumb to temptation, and sabotage our own success
  • How to manage your inner chimp to become happier, more balanced, and successful
  • Why your psychological world is like a solar system with 7 planets

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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