We all long for fulfilling and satisfying lives in which our needs are met and our relationships rewarding, yet so many of us struggle with success. This article explores what makes a person successful and what key skills we need to cultivate in order to make success a probability rather than a possibility.
Many of our decisions are emotional. We may not acknowledge or even recognise that, instead focusing on the many rational and logical reasons for what we do. Ultimately though, what we are really seeking is the way we think something will make us feel. For some of us, we listen to people we trust and admire and set out to do what they did. We may follow the social dream of career, home, family and gain a great deal of satisfaction in ticking them off the list. Some of us even enjoy the social prestige these achievements bring. However, there are many of us who discover the experience of having these things does not provide us with the emotional satisfaction and ease we may have hoped for. We end up bogged down with responsibilities or tasks that are uninspiring or overtaxing and sometimes just wishing we could ditch the lot and start again somewhere.
Of course, it is part of the human condition to identify where things are currently lacking and to make plans to make things better. Unfortunately, if we aren’t clear about why we are striving for whatever it is we think we long for, the ultimate achievement can feel quite hollow. External achievements do not always equate to success. It can be helpful then to turn to inner matters, to think about what we need and want, what satisfies us, what lights us up and makes us feel alive. Goals based on our personal talents, passions and desires are easier to stick to. We remain focused on these goals because we already have an idea of how they will make us feel, and we can experience that feeling even as we work towards it. In a sense by being able to identify with how success will feel, we become connected with the future in a way that feels very immediate and compelling.
When we focus on future potentials, we often consider the ways in which we would like to grow. Hopes we have for ourselves and others, talents we want to cultivate and share, connections we would like to make. At other times though, we might be driven by our feelings about the past. We may have struggled to achieve a certain level of success that we don’t want to lose. This can make us cautious or reluctant to move forward. There may be negative experiences we don’t want to repeat, and so we play it safe, just trying to maintain what we already have, knowing that we can just about manage with things as they are.
It is easy to judge our tendency to self-protection, but I’d like to take a moment to advocate how vital this strategy is to our survival. We need it so there’s no need to knock it, but it can be interesting to note how often we lean on past or future considerations and which one typically motivates us to act and shapes the choices we make. There are ways to make good use of both past experiences and future desires, and the key is in recognising how we feel at key points in the process of aiming for our own personal success. Getting some clarity on what makes us afraid, on what we absolutely cannot tolerate, how we deal with the unexpected can help us to prepare for inevitable difficulties and to implement problem solving structures that we can lean on in times of distress. At the same time, checking in with what we really long for, what we are yearning for at the deepest level, and allowing ourselves to dream, to drift into the imagined experience, allows the creative part of our minds the freedom to play with ideas, to explore possibilities and to help us define what we think will bring us the satisfaction we desire.
Making use of these approaches by blending our past fears and future hopes can be an amazing recipe for creating realistic strategies for achievement, but there is another key ingredient to being able to withstand the uncertainties of change and progress and the inevitable setbacks. Having the ability to let go, to distance ourselves from those worries about past and future, and to focus on enjoying this moment, is an essential strategy if we are to remain sane throughout the inevitable ups and downs of life. The problem is we all respond differently to uncertainty and frustration, usually using strategies that help us to avoid or minimise either. For many of us, when the tension gets too much, we may lash out in despair and throw everything away, or else we might collapse into inaction and despondency, losing out on opportunities that could carry us through the current challenge.
Many of us behave in these ways without really realising what we are doing or recognising exactly how we are feeling. The sense of overwhelm distorts our perspective and we simply cannot see what we are doing until it is too late. We may feel isolated and burdened with responsibilities and premonitions of doom, most of which come entirely from our own imaginations. And there we become stuck, unable to find a way out, and becoming increasingly tense and frustrated, to which we respond in the same ways. It is a vicious cycle.
Attachment theory tells us something about fear and facing situations we perceive as dangerous. Our ability to cope with uncertainty and threat, with the unknown, is heightened when we are alone. In contrast, when we seek out connection with others, when people we trust to support us are present, the experience of fear is dramatically reduced. Having a point of connection, a relationship in which we can experience safety, is deeply soothing. As we check in with this source of comfort and safety, our autonomic nervous system shifts from fight-or-flight to the slow rhythm of self-restoration. We are able to widen our area of attention, and we become less fixated on one thing, instead being drawn – out of interest – to a variety of elements in our environment. In short, we become open to exploration of alternative solutions. We even become more open to evaluating whether our goals are still relevant to us and setting new ones if appropriate. And, as those levels of internal and relational safety increase, we become better able to step back out into the world, dealing with uncertainty as an opportunity. We are able to embrace the unknown with an attitude of interest and joy, and begin to enjoy what we are doing for the pleasure it brings in the moment, not just for what it will provide.
Most of us are able to identify at least one person who we feel safe with, and sometimes just being with them is enough to help us to refocus our sense of purpose. Sometimes though, we might worry about burdening another or have fears about opening up. In these situations it can be useful to explore what other help is available. Counselling is a great space for airing your fears, for being heard and accepted, to have someone with you who acknowledges the depths of your fear without crumbling. Such an experience can bring the perspective that if someone else is able to accept these circumstances, perhaps it is okay for us to be open about things as well. The experience of being with someone who is solid and steady at a time when we feel like we are falling apart is intrinsically soothing, and we have the opportunity to become curious and open about our fears and frustrations, as the counsellor is, and to hear ourselves in a new way.
Hypnotherapy works slightly differently, in that it begins with activating restorative processes within the autonomic nervous system. From a place of deep physical calm, the imagination is free to play with possible scenarios, and emotions that seemed to difficult to manage are repositioned and examined with a neutral and compassionate eye. New solutions and answers become available, and an attitude of trust in the process of change develops as levels of relaxation also increase. Through hypnotherapy, new techniques of self-care are learned as well, and these can help in moments of worry outside of sessions.
You may like to spend some time thinking about what you really want in life. If you feel you need help with defining your goals, or with overcoming reactive patterns to tension and fear, I can help you develop the skills you need to restore inner calm and creativity. Feel free to email me for counselling or hypnotherapy, or call me for a chat, and get ready to embark on a journey of stable growth, to create an inspired and satisfying future, and – of course – enjoying the process of making your dreams reality.
Take some time to consider the following questions for yourself. Take care of yourself as you do so, as uncomfortable issues may arise. If you would like some support in sorting through your discoveries please feel free to get in touch.
What goals have you set for yourself that are truly your own? Are any of your goals influenced by social expectations for success?
What are you truly passionate about? What makes you light up? How do these thoughts affect your view of the future when you think about them?
How have your past experiences taught you to be cautious? Do you feel they offer sensible wisdom or are you sometimes held back by fear?
How do you react to frustration or uncertainty? Are you aware of any self-destructive habits you might have to try to avoid either of these?
Can you identify at least one person in your life who makes you feel safe? When you are with this person, notice how being with them affects you, and appreciate it!
If you liked this article, please feel free to comment or ask questions on my facebook page. If you have your own burning question that you would like answered in a future article you can email me on email@example.com
Renee Fabien, Talk Space, The Psychology Behind Success and Failure, October 11th 2017 https://www.talkspace.com/blog/2017/10/psychology-behind-success-failure/
Geoff Fitzgerald, Geoff Fitzgerald Counselling, Attachment Theory and the Secret of Success, May 19th 2015
Jen Grisanti, Huffington Post, What Drives You to Succeed? May 25th 2011 https://www.huffingtonpost.com/jen-grisanti/what-drives-you-to-succee_1_b_778704.html
Shahram Heshmat, Psychology Today, What Motivates You to Succeed? July 13th 2016 https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/science-choice/201607/what-motivates-you-succeed
Paul T. P. Wong & C Psych, Research Gate, The Positive Psychology of Persistence and Flexibility, (2018) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265204697_The_Positive_Psychology_of_Persistence_and_Flexibility