It’s why self-help and productivity book sales have nearly doubled since 2013.((The NPD Group: Self Help Book Sales are Rising Fast in the US)) It’s why autobiographies and memoirs have surged 42% in the last year alone.((The Guardian: Why Real-Life Memoirs Are Such a Hit)) We want to study the habits of highly successful people. We want to know what it was that got them to where they were.
And, depending on the book we pick up, there are infinite answers—networking, investments, morning routines, a positive mindset, or the courage to take risks.
With all of the different—and often conflicting—information out there about the secrets to success, how do we actually know what will work for us, specifically? How do we know whose advice to follow or what actions to take?
Is it possible that we have our own personalized blueprint for success? And, rather than blindly follow someone else’s guidance, can we just tap into our own?
Here’s how to discover the real secret to success—on your own terms.
What Are Your Metrics to Success?
A key part of the secret to success is knowing your end goal. It’s impossible to get anywhere if we don’t have a planned destination in mind. Otherwise, we’re just mindlessly driving, hoping that we’ll magically arrive somewhere we want to be.
So, it’s impossible to have a conversation about success without the end goal and metrics in mind. How else will you know if you’re on track to reach your version of success or if you need to course-correct? And how else will you know when you get there?
Success, itself, just means “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”((Oxford Languages: Success)) Therefore, if we don’t have an aim or purpose, it’s impossible to be successful. We can’t achieve success if we don’t define it first. The definition can give us clues on how to go about achieving it.
For example, if I aim to relax on my day off, then mindlessly watching TV might be seen as successful—but if I aim to get a lot accomplished, not so much.
Or, if I aim to spend quality time with my family today, maybe putting off that back-burner work project until tomorrow is the most successful thing I can do.
Life is all about decisions. You are choosing one path over another. You’re sacrificing one thing to get something else. You might sacrifice a night of partying to study for a test. You might sacrifice that vacation with friends to save up some money. Or, you might sacrifice watching TV tonight to finish that work project.
But you can’t make the decisions of what to choose if you don’t know what success looks like. And you can’t know what success looks like if you don’t know what’s important to you.
Success Is About Values
The first secret to success is first knowing what it is about. We measure what’s important to us. I rarely ever remember what my friend ate during our lunch together, but I definitely remember how meaningful our conversation was.
There are infinite things to measure in any given moment. So, what we choose to measure is important because it tells us if we were successful or not. And we’re consistently going to measure what we value in life.
In fact, the life we lead is largely a reflection of our decisions and values. If we consistently choose other people over ourselves, our lives will reflect that. If we consistently choose work over family, our lives will reflect that, too.
Our values dictate our actions. They tell us if we’re actually successful in what we’re really after or not, and then how to course-correct. And that means it’s impossible to achieve any form of success without knowing our values.
If I get a promotion that’s only a little bit more money but a lot more time on the road, and I really value quality time with family, is that promotion really a success for me? If I have tons of fun plans but really value free time for myself, are those plans really a success for me?
Regardless of what the “objective metrics of success” out there say, if something doesn’t align with our values, then it doesn’t measure up to our definition of success.
To define success for yourself, you have to start by knowing your own values so you can be successful at what you care about.
Values Are About Sensitivities
But how do we actually know our values? How do we know what we really care about?
It seems like our values change a lot throughout our lives or in different situations. When we’re young, we might value independence. When we’re older, we might change this and start to value connections more. Or, in work, we value creativity But at home, we value structure.
Furthermore, how can we trust that we aren’t just copying other people’s values like their definitions of success?
The good news is that we have a built-in guidance system that tells us what we value—our sensitivities. Since we were born, we’ve been sensitive to some things but not others.
Maybe we’ve always been sensitive to freedom, and we’re constantly feeling trapped and looking for opportunities to feel freer. Or maybe, we’ve always been sensitive to belonging and feel left out really easily and always want to make people feel like they belong.
We tend to value what we notice and feel deeply. And we tend to feel what we’re most sensitive to because ‘sensitivity’ means we can sense more—see, touch, taste, smell, hear more there than most other people.
Of course, we’re going to have more wants, desires, needs, traumas, and gifts in that area of life because we’re more sensitive to it. Those same sensitivities are going to run through every single experience of our lives, across work and our family life and our friendships—from childhood to the present moment and even our future.
They’re going to show up in our greatest triumphs and painful traumas. They’re going to show up in the best and worst moments of our lives. Every single time we’ve ever been successful, we have felt all of them. Every single time we haven’t been successful, we haven’t felt them.
They’re a reliable, predictable formula for success and fulfillment that works in every situation of our lives. They’re our secret to success—how we define success on our own terms.
Now, all we have to do is map your sensitivities to define success for yourself.
Map Your Sensitivities to Discover Your Definition of Success
To start mapping your sensitivities, you need emotionally potent stories from your life—noticing the sensitivities and, therefore, values and metrics for success that are apparent in your stories.
So, below is a quick exercise to guide you through starting to map your sensitivities:
- Think of the happiest, most successful memory in your life. Paint a picture in your mind. Notice what you see, touch, smell, hear and taste in this scene.
Write down every word that you felt at this moment. Maybe you felt happy, elated, powerful, magical, successful, alive, enriched, or emboldened.
- Now, think of one of the most challenging or painful memories in your life (that doesn’t feel re-traumatizing to explore)—a moment you would regard as “unsuccessful.” Again, paint the picture in your mind and use all of your senses to bring it to life.
Write down every word that captures how you felt at that moment. Maybe you felt sad, abandoned, confused, stuck, lost, or annoyed. Now, next to each word, write down what you wanted to feel. Maybe you wanted to feel happy, connected, clear, motivated, at home, or excited.
- Go through your two lists—of your happy moment and your challenging moment—and circle any words that show up twice or more. For example, if you felt Connected in your happy moment, and you wanted to feel Connected in your sad moment, circle it. If any words are very similar, you can circle those, too.
Now, you’re beginning to map your sensitivities. If you felt all of the words you circled, would you consider it a success? Of course, you would. Because they’re what you’re most sensitive to and, therefore, what you value. You can think back to past moments of success and begin to see those words. You can think back to past moments of “failure” and see the opposites of those words.
While this is a very simple but potent introduction to defining success for yourself, mapping sensitivities can be a lot more in-depth and insightful than this.
The Secrets to Success
We all already have a lifetime of experiences that define success for us. They tell us the things that have been successful for us—from our best friendships to our biggest accomplishments. And they also tell us the things that have been unsuccessful for us. All we have to do is connect the dots between all of those experiences and understand the sensitivities that define success for us.
The real secret to success is following the blueprint that’s already proven to be successful for you. Your entire life already has that evidence. Maybe every single time you’ve connected deeply, been playful and fun, put out strategic ideas, and been unapologetic with your opinions, you’ve been successful. If that’s been true for you, then you already know your secret to success. You’ve seen it in the past and know that it will work in the future.
It’s success on your own terms.
I’ve helped hundreds of people discover their sensitivities, and I can say with certainty that, at the end of the day, we each have our own unique secret to success. And we don’t have to copy anyone else’s formula because no one else has the exact gifts and experiences and sensitivities that we have.
So, map your sensitivities. Discover your own secret to success. And define success on your own terms.