How do you measure success?
Is it in how much money you make?
How many friends you have?
How good of an athlete you are?
No and yes.
Success is defining and reaching goals that make you happy.
It could be how much money you make.
It could be the size of your social circles.
It could be your athletic results.
The key to happiness is finding what you enjoy and doing it. As you well know, that’s easier said than done.
Your interests change. Your goals change. The things that make you happy now may not make you happy next year or even next week.
You need to be able to do what we call in the software industry, a “pivot.” You need to be able to switch gears. You need to be prepared to change your passions.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be a generalist. It means you need to master the four fundamental skills that lead to success.
The 4 Skills that Define Your Success
- Critical Thinking
These are the four essential skills you need to succeed at anything. If you master these four abilities, you’ll be better prepared for anything and everything.
You’ll notice that all of these skills overlap. They all complement one another. When you become better at one skill, you become better at the others, and the sum becomes greater than its parts.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these skills.
“Without health there is no happiness. An attention to health then should take the place of every other object.”
– Thomas Jefferson.
We’re going to use the broad definition of health that includes physical, social, and mental wellness.
Being unhealthy makes everything in your life worse. This is especially true when it comes to physical health. Think about how you feel when you’re sick:
- You can’t focus.
- Your workouts become a chore, if you can do them at all.
- You become irritable, moody, and frustrated.
- You can’t sleep.
- Nothing seems as fun as it used to.
Obviously some illnesses are unavoidable. No one chooses to get cancer or heart disease. However, there are steps you can take to minimize your chances of getting sick or injured.
Being overweight is probably the most common preventable illness plaguing people in developed countries.1,2
If you’re obese or severely overweight, you can expect to live about 6-7 fewer years, or have a 22% shorter life.3-7 You can also expect to spend around $300-1700 extra on medical expenses every year.3,8
Being overweight also destroys your productivity. Overweight and obese people are far more likely to miss work and get less done at work.3 Obese people also tend to have a much lower quality of life in general.9 Being overweight makes you miserable.
Obesity isn’t the only health problem you can control. Getting vaccinated is one of the single most powerful things you can do to protect yourself from disease and an early death.10 Eating a generally healthful diet, getting enough sleep, and of course, regularly exercising are also completely in your control.
Social health is also important. People with smaller and less complex social circles tend to live much shorter lives.11
Making friends for the sake of making friends won’t make you happy. However, as long as your intentions are genuine, making friends with more people from different walks of life is going to make you better at everything. You don’t have to become buddies with everyone you meet, but you’ll never know if you have something in common unless you push yourself to talk to new people.
You probably also neglect your mental health. Most of us do.
You work hard.
You come home.
You work some more.
You go to bed.
You repeat the next day.
You try to pack too much into a single day and get overwhelmed, stressed, and angry. You stop thinking clearly. You don’t make time for your physical or social health. Then you feel even worse, become less productive, and get even more frustrated when you can’t get more done.
There’s nothing you can do to guarantee you’ll never get sick, always have friends who are willing to support you, and handle problems with poise, control, and calm.
However, you can take simple, powerful steps to get you as close to that ideal as possible. Being healthy makes you better at everything. Being sick — physically, socially, and mentally — makes you worse at everything.
There’s also a secret reason being unhealthy saps your life — it takes over your brain. When you’re dealing with a health issue, all you can think about is your illness or injury. It consumes your every waking moment and invades every aspect of your life. The best part about being healthy is that you don’t have to think about being sick.
Health is the first pillar of success. Now let’s look at fitness.
There are two broad definitions of fitness:
1. General Fitness: Being able to perform general tasks of daily living.
2. Specific fitness: Being able to perform a specific sport or activity.
Both of these skills are important, but general fitness is the only one that you need to master.
Have you ever met someone who was completely out of shape who was truly happy?
It’s hard to have much self confidence or be productive when you can’t climb a flight of stairs without getting winded, lift a box into your car without help, or walk your dog without having to stop every 10 steps to gasp for air. It makes you feel weak, helpless, and dependent.
You need some level of basic fitness to be happy. You don’t need to be a super-athlete, but you have to be somewhat physically competent.
Being fit makes you more self sufficient, empowered, confident, and productive.
With over 400 companies, Richard Branson has accomplished more than just about any other business person in history. When asked “how do you become more productive,” his response was simple:
He estimated that daily exercise gave him an additional four hours of productivity every day.
Being fit also gives you freedom. If your friend invites you to go hiking, you can go. You can ride your bike to work on a nice day, you can run a local 5k at the last minute, you can go rock climbing, scuba diving, or kayaking on vacation. Being fit gives you the choice to be spontaneous.
Regular exercise should be part of your routine if you want to be healthy,12-15 but fitness is important enough that it deserves special consideration. There are a lot of otherwise healthy people who are fairly physically incompetent. Some researchers even think it may be better to be a little overweight and exercise than to be sedentary and thin.16
Specific fitness isn’t essential to being successful, at least not for everyone. Not everyone needs or wants to compete, or even be an athlete. There’s nothing wrong with that.
However, many people do want to be better athletes, even if they only compete against themselves. You know you love it when you lift more weight than you did last time or when you see your running times drop.
Being an athlete also tends to make you better at everything else. It forces you to prioritize your time and set clear objectives. Most importantly, it gives you something else to focus on besides work. No matter what happens at work, a good workout can usually salvage your day.
You might not think you have time to focus on your health or fitness. If that’s the case, you need to master the third pillar of success.
Don’t you think it’s weird that everyone says they “don’t have time,” when we all have the same 24 hours in a day?
If you can’t get stuff done, you’ll never accomplish anything.
Every goal, no matter how large or small, is achieved with small actions, all of which take time. If you can’t make the time to execute these small actions, you’ll never reach your goals.
When you hear the word “productivity,” you probably think of trying to get as much done as possible. You need to change your perspective.
The traditional idea of productivity is broken.
Getting more done does not make you productive. That makes you busy. Never confuse the two.
Here’s the truth: most of what you do on a daily basis isn’t that important. It’s not.
There’s always more stuff you can do. There’s very little that you need to do. The reason you “never have time” for the important things is because you’re always trying to pack more “stuff” into your life.
- More information.
- More tasks.
- More errands.
- More meetings.
- More work.
Being productive is about doing less. You need to prioritize your most important actions, ignore the unimportant, and do one thing at a time.
If you don’t prioritize, everything becomes both critical and irrelevant. Checking your email for the tenth time becomes just as important as working out and the value of both decreases.
You have the same 86,400 seconds in a day as everyone else. Being productive is not about filling that time with as much work as possible.
Here’s the real definition of productivity: Being able to spend the largest possible amount of time on activities you enjoy — and the least amount of time on activities you don’t enjoy.
If you’re able to do that, you’ll never be unhappy.
4. Critical Thinking
This is the most underrated skill — not just on this list — but in the world.
Being able to decide what’s true and what’s false based on the best available evidence is essential to decision making in every aspect of your life.
Critical thinking also means being able to understand the many ways your brain tries to fool you and taking these effects into consideration when forming beliefs. This helps you make objective, effective, intelligent choices about everything.
Thinking critically is the single most powerful skill you can attain that will bring you heath, fitness, productivity, and happiness.
Here are a few examples:
Vaccines have consistently proven to be safe and effective for several major diseases.10 Yet there are still those who wrongly believe vaccines are dangerous or useless. In this case, poor critical thinking is causing people to avoid a life saving, life enhancing, life lengthening treatment.
Fat loss is another topic people struggle with. There a thousands of fad diets, supplements, and other gimmicks designed to take advantage of the fact that people don’t want to make hard decisions about their health. Eating less and exercising more is hard — and brutally simple.
Most people either assume that this strategy is too simple to work, or they think it will be too hard, so they look elsewhere. They look to quick fixes, “hacks,” and other nonsense instead of taking a critical look at the situation and making an intelligent decision.
Critical thinking improves your fitness for the same reason. It allows you to decide what workout program you should follow to reach your goals. People have all sorts of whacky ideas about what they need to do to get fit. Rarely do their behaviors align with their goals. Critical thinking helps correct this problem.
Noncritical thinking also destroys your productivity. If you understand the real definition of productivity as outlined above, you can see why this is true. Not being able to decide what’s important and what’s not means you’re doomed to busywork. You’ll never be able to separate the essential from the unimportant.
To be truly productive, you have to question everything, including yourself. You have to ask yourself hard questions, like:
“Am I doing this because I want to, or because I think I have to?”
“If this is the only thing I get done today, will I be happy?”
“What tasks can I eliminate from my to-do list and still be content?
Your Blueprint for Success: Chasing the Asymptote
An asymptote is when you have a line that curves toward another line, but never quite reaches it. It extends to infinity, getting closer and closer.
That’s how you should view these four skills.
There’s no way to really define “health.”
“Fitness” is a nebulous term that means different things to different people.
There’s no specific point where you say “aha, now I’m productive.”
There’s no certification you can get that proves you’re a critical thinker.
All of these skills are processes and concepts, rather than specific states of being or goals. Focus on constant improvement, rather than reaching a certain level. Never stop trying to improve these four abilities.
This is not a road map to success or happiness.
It’s not a quick fix.
None of these skills are easy to achieve or even measure.
However, they are necessary.
Think of these abilities as investments that will always bring high returns. If you can master your health, fitness, productivity, and critical thinking, you’ll be better prepared for success at anything and everything.
This blog is dedicated to helping you improve these skills. In the next article, you’ll learn the general process for how to achieve any and all of your goals in the most effective manner possible.
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