Skip to main content

11 Habits Successful People Practice

By January 3, 2024Our Culture

In the January edition of our internal newsletter, The Khronicle, our CRO Colin Martin had some words of wisdom for our team on habits for success to put into practice in 2024.

I recently read an article by Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.  His words are the core of what is written below along with my embellishments and expansions.  I read a lot of articles/books about organizational success because it’s always been one of my fields of interest and a lot of what is out there frankly isn’t worthy of repeating.  This is worthy of repeating, soaking into our brains, and also happens to be in line with my general practice as well as what countless mentors and successful people have said to me over the past 35 years.  My words are in italics.

NOTE: I recognize that there are likely a few different views of what makes a Successful Person. For the sake of this article, let’s keep in mind that we are talking about WORK and our respective roles here at Kopis and VigilixLet’s broadly go with individual SUCCESS being based on personal growth (i.e. Having a growth mindset), meritorious achievement in our work, and a general sense of peace or wellbeing, all the while being respectful in our communications and demeanorAlso, if these 11 points make sense to you, incremental positive change is better than no positive changeHow do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time. 

I study highly successful people for a living. Here are 11 little habits they practice every day.

We often celebrate gifted kids in school, natural athletes in sports, and child prodigies in music. But you don’t have to be a wunderkind to achieve success.  As an organizational psychologist, I’ve spent much of my career studying the forces that fuel our progress. I’ve found that the learning process isn’t finished when we acquire knowledge. It’s complete when we consistently apply that knowledge. 

Here are 11 little life changes that highly successful people practice every day: 

1. They seek discomfort.

Instead of just striving to learn, aim to feel uncomfortable. Pursuing discomfort sets you on a faster path to growth. If you want to get it right, it has to feel wrong first.

These words are foreign to most people now-a-days.  This is not meant to be a dig on younger generations but Baby-Boomers and Generation X – generally – have very little issue with this concept.  The grasp of this concept is key to many of the points below.  There are three books I recommend to help wrap your brain around how important this is: 

Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations, 2016 by Alex & Brett Harris.

Do Hard Things: Why We Get Resilience Wrong and the Surprising Science of Real Toughness, 2022 By Steve Magness

And one of my all-time favorite books… The Jewish Phenomenon: Seven Keys to the Enduring Wealth of a People, 2009 By Stephen Silbiger.  The concepts of hard work and delayed gratification are woven throughout the book, but they are especially present in the fifth key of the book: Be selectively extravagant and prudently frugal.

Being uncomfortable is not only okay, its necessaryThere has not been any promotion I have been granted or significant step I have taken in my business life where I did not feel ill-equipped.     

2. They set a mistake budget. 

To encourage trial and error, set a goal for the minimum number of mistakes you want to make per day or per week. When you expect to stumble, you ruminate about it less — and improve more. 

Any one on our executive team will tell you that I have said this over and over…”I would rather make 20 decisions and get five wrong than make five or ten decisions and get them all right.”   If you want to get better and grow, then you have to throw yourself into the fire.  You have to be willing to step out sometimes without a go-by and take a reasoned chance.  Grab, move, grow, repeat It’s just that simpleIn business strategy, leadership and management, perfection is the enemy, and this is super hard for a company full of engineers to grasp There is HUGE philosophical and psychological weight to this.  

3. They ask for advice, not feedback. 

Feedback is backward-looking — it leads people to criticize you or cheer for you. Advice is forward-looking — it leads people to coach you.  You can get your critics and cheerleaders to act more like coaches by asking a simple question: “What’s one thing I can do better next time?” 

The concept is that we should have confidence in our work as our best qualityAll of us were hired here because someone (or a group of people) thought we were smart, had the right character, and had ability to do quality work, therefore fitting into the meritocracy that is KopisSo do your best (always), strive to be better, and ask the capable people you work with where you can grow, expand, and improveSearch for strength, not accolades and criticism.  A hallmark of good leadership is the expression of gratitude, especially for a job well doneSo, an expression of thanks and/or praise is a valid expectation – from time to time – from your managerJust don’t solicit it, thus making it hollow. 

4. They figure out which sources to trust. 

Decide what information is worth absorbing, and which should be filtered out.  Listen to the coaches who have relevant expertise (credibility), know you well (familiarity), and want what’s best for you (care). 

I don’t have much to add to this.  Simple and straightforward, this is one of the cornerstones of wisdom. 

5. They strive for excellence, not perfection. 

Progress comes from maintaining high standards, not eliminating every flaw. Identify some shortcomings that you can accept. Consider where you truly need the best and where you can settle for good enough.  At the end of the day, ask yourself Did you make yourself better? Did you make someone else better? 

Again, perfection is the enemyI believe that (especially for a technology company) a culture of striving for perfection can kill morale and productivity, which will eventually kill the business. 

6. They are their own last judge. 

It’s better to disappoint others than to disappoint yourself Before you release something into the world, assess whether it represents you well. If this was the only work people saw of yours, would you be proud of it? 

Right on!  See a companion piece to this philosophy that I wrote in 2018  

7. They turn the daily grind into a source of daily joy. 

To maintain harmonious passion, design practice around deliberate play. Set up fun skill-building challenges — like Steph Curry trying to score 21 points in a minute, or medical residents honing their nonverbal communication skills by using nonsense words in improv comedy games. 

We are absolutely a culture of problem solvers.  A playful mindset can be a boon to clear thought and a joyful heart. 

8. When they’re stuck, they back up to move forward. 

When you hit a dead-end, it might be time to turn around and find a new path. It feels like regressing, but it’s often the only way to find a route to progress. 

There are COUNTLESS stories at Kopis validating the efficacy of finding a new path to best solve a problem.  Ask someone you’re working closely with to tell you about a time when they had to shift by finding a new path. 

9. They teach what they want to learn. 

The best way to learn something is to teach it. You understand it better after you explain it — and you remember it better after you take the time to recall it. You can do this in groups, with each member teaching a distinct skill or slice of information. 

Why do you think I’m writing and submitting this article to the Kopis Khronicle?  Ahh…It’s not because I consistently practice all 11 habits every day.  You don’t have to walk every path to know a particular one is the right way to go, and just because a particular path is the right way to go, its okay to stumble along the way.    

10. They open doors for people who are underrated and overlooked. 

Create systems that invest in and create opportunities for all — not just gifted students or high-potential employees. A good system gives underdogs and late bloomers the chance to show how far they’ve come. 

I love underdogs and I love second chances.  I have been and needed both many times in my life and career.  Put in the work, learn from your mistakes, and prove the naysayers wrong.  Repeat. 

11. They engage in mental time travel.

When you’re struggling to appreciate your progress, consider how your past self would view your current achievements. If you knew five years ago what you’d accomplish now, how proud would you have been?

This is a beautiful habit to end on and the one that I struggle with the most. I surmise that the vast majority of you would correctly walk around with a smile on your face if you firmly grasped the perspective of Habit 11 and practiced it. Give yourselves a little credit. You are amazing, beautiful, and accomplished people of high character, you have come so very far, and the sky is the limit.

2024 is going to be a banner year for all of us and it is an honor to stand in the trenches with you each and every day.   


Book A Discovery Call

Fill out the form below to schedule your 20-minute discovery call.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.