It’s a common belief that successful people are the “lucky” ones. That life just throw rose petals under their feet, and their businesses flourish overnight into million dollar ventures. Recently I happened to chat with a friend of mine on this very topic, and then not long after Tiffany posted about excuses, which very much relates to the topic at hand.

Successful people take more risk

Many of us actually have plenty of opportunities presented to us on most days. The difference is that regular folk tend to be risk averse. It might prevent you from getting a gambling problem, but it unfortunately also means that when a chance to better our lives knocks on the door we tend to over analyse it and find excuses not to take it. Also when people think of risk it’s usually associated with high risk activities, or with uneven odds. However it can be related to a lot more common activities like just deciding to speak to someone you admire (and were afraid to approach before) at a conference, getting out of your comfort zone, and being more open in general.

There was a great tv program about luck with Darren Brown – “The Secret of Luck” (interview with Darren about it). It was fascinating how just considering yourself unlucky can cause people to miss out on things – like a paid five minute survey in the street, money lying on the pavement, etc. If you don’t change your behaviour you can’t expect your circumstances to change.

Successful people aren’t afraid of mistakes

A lot of our fears are irrational and bigger in our heads than in reality. If you don’t have a natural ability to jump head first into action and are paralysed with fear even just thinking about some activities there’s one easy trick you can apply. Ask yourself, honestly, what is the worst thing that could happen? Very often, the actual downsides aren’t actually that bad. Public speaking? At a beginners level, you’re likely to be in a room full of strangers that, chances are high (and if things go bad), will never meet you again. Think back to high school drama, how often you thought something bad happened and it was the end of the world. And a week later something else was the centre of attention and no one remembered or cared about your mistake any more.

Also our mind tends to blow up issues out of proportion. In the book “59 Seconds” there’s a great example where a student is asked to enter a room late, while wearing an unfashionable t-shirt. Then both him and the other subjects (the people in the room) rate the level of attention paid to the t-shirt by the group in the room. The fact is that only about 20% of people notice the t-shirt, while the person wearing it put the number at around 50%. Humans are really very much self focused, so next time you do something silly, remember that most people won’t notice or care.

Successful people persevere

In the start-up world there is often this image of runaway success, projects being bought out seemingly barely just after anyone heard of them. This leads to a notion of overnight success. Unfortunately this is very rarely the case. Usually what you don’t hear about is the hard work (sometimes years of it) that precedes the outburst of popularity, fame and riches.

The harsh truth is that to be successful you have to put in a lot of work (well, unless you win the lottery, but that’s not really the topic here). If you want to start a business for  example, you invest all your spare time into it. If you have a job, and need to pay bills, then rather than quitting, exchange the hours spent at a pub or in front of a tv for working on your passion or future business. Not everything, but surprisingly many things, can be done with many little steps. The kind of things you can spend an hour here or there that eventually add up.

Blogs and generally the IM market are a great example of this. People will often throw themselves into it for a week (or a month) and expect it to immediately bring in tons of traffic and/or money. I’m sorry to say but this is the type of work, that requires a lot of long term planning and consistency. My most successful project took nearly a year to take of, and it still requires content and work on a continual basis.

Successful people have a positive attitude

A positive outlook on life helps successful people to stay open to new opportunities and enjoy their life. This is partly related to the risk taking – try to find a positive side to your actions and opportunities presented to you. Assume success rather than failure. This isn’t to say you should be reckless, but a certain amount of optimism will make you a happier person. That’s also something that can help get your through the rough times you might face. Running a business can be tough and seeing a light at the end of the tunnel can be a great motivator if you need that extra push. If you start something with the assumption it will fail, guess what? It will likely fail. If you, the most invested person, don’t believe in your project, than how do you expect others to believe and trust you.

Successful people turn failures into opportunities

Some people despair when they fail at something. Others find a positive side. Again, it’s not about laughing like a madman at a funeral, but being able to pick yourself up after a failure and push on. Learn from your mistakes, learn from other people’s mistakes. If there was a problem ask yourself why it happened, and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. Expecting perfection is setting yourself up for failure – to err is human.

Successful people think about solutions not problems

It’s an old cliche – “Bring me solutions, not problems”, but there is something to it. It’s a great way of creating a business. If you have a problem, rather than spending time complaining about it successful people either look for something that already solves it, or try to come up with their own solution. Very often if you have a problem, there’s a chance other’s have it too (though you might want to make a survey about that, sometimes it might be just you…). This is also another aspect of staying positive – rather than cry their eyes out, and despair about how something will never work, they look for ways to make it work. It might involve a compromise, thinking outside of the box, or completely changing assumptions, but often in the end a solution can be found.

Successful people know when to stop

I know Tiffany, didn’t quite agree with me on this one, but I do believe that sometimes you need to realize that a project or idea is going nowhere. You need to allow yourself to start over or re-think your ideas. Like I mentioned at the beginning, successful people often look like they take huge risks, but usually these will be calculated risks. If you give yourself a reasonable amount of time to make a project work, and it’s not meeting your goals within that time frame it’s time to calculate whether  the time and/or money you invest in that particular venture could be better spent elsewhere. Though you do need to have realistic expectations – a blog is unlikely to become super popular in a week, but after a six months to a year of giving-it-all, you should have a good idea whether it’s making progress or not.