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Surprising Career Habits of Highly Successful People

Thursday, July 15, 2021

For some, success seems to come so easily. Our faulty assumptions tell us the high achievers we envy must simply be luckier than we are or that they were in the right place at the right time. Perhaps they have more natural talent, and nothing we do, say, or try will compensate for our limitations. Maybe we just aren’t cut out for success. We lack that secret something.

However it may seem, VitalSmarts research confirms we can stop pining away for success and start engineering it. According to our study of more than 1,800 employees, the most important factor to personal and career success isn’t good luck, natural talent, or even decision making—it’s habit. People’s routine behaviors beat all else when it comes to influencing success.

The study participants attributed nearly 46 percent of their career success to having the right habits. What’s even more surprising is that many of the habits people attributed to their success are less heroic than they are simple. For instance, some of the career habits respondents felt made the difference between success and failure include:

  • Think yes before you say, “no.” Be open to opportunities to grow and expand outside of your comfort zone.
  • Trust your gut. Do your research but stop at having 80 percent confidence rather than 110 percent.
  • Be curious. Dedicate time each week to dreaming and researching. Know the dream is free but hustle costs extra.
  • Do the hardest or most important thing on your to-do list first thing in the morning.

Many of these actions are what we call trigger habits. While they seem small, they trigger a series of other powerful behaviors. For instance, thinking yes before saying “no” is likely to create a habit of being less impulsive, more thoughtful, and even more visionary and creative. In fact, many of the good habits successful people have at work carry over into their personal life.


The skills to learn and adopt new habits are taught in The Power of Habit, our training course based on the New York Times bestselling book of the same title by Charles Duhigg. Here are three quick tips to get you started:

  • Spot the lag. Identify the areas in your career where you’re not getting the results you want, then identify the habits that will produce those results. If you can’t see the lag or the desired habits, ask a mentor or manager where you could improve.
  • Make it a ritual. Create a ritual around the new habit by engineering your environment—time of day, place, people, objects, and so on—so that it’s conducive to doing the habit. Set up reminders or cues and arrange your world so that doing the behavior comes easier. For example, if you are trying to develop a habit of quickly processing incoming emails, then disable social media and other distractions on your computer so you can focus on the new habit.
  • Reward yourself. Every time you complete your new routine, immediately reward yourself. Maybe you indulge in a special treat or an activity. This becomes your incentive rather than the results you hope for. The results will follow but reward yourself immediately to fire up your motivation in the beginning.

Instead of counting yourself down and out because you aren’t as gifted as the next guy, freezing each time you must make an important decision, or even wearing your lucky tie to work each day, learn how to create new, simple habits that will jumpstart your performance at work.

About the Author

Emily Gregory is coauthor of Crucial Conversations and a Crucial Learning master trainer who has helped thousands of organizations such as Intel, Yahoo, and the Mayo Clinic achieve new levels of success. Emily holds a Medical Doctorate degree from the University of Utah and a Master of Business Administration from the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University.

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