by Steven C. Hayes Ph.D.


  • A person can be successful in many different areas of their life, not just at work.
  • Certain behaviors can optimize a person’s chances at success.
  • A person’s odds of success will improve if they can get along with others, be accountable, and more.

The word “success” is often misunderstood. Too often, it is used in relation to one’s occupation or financial status, and too rarely elsewhere: success in personal growth, success in enjoying life, or even success as a friend. These other areas are just as valid (if not even more so), and ultimately it is up to each and every one of us to define our own meaning of success.

With that being said, here are 13 rules that are likely to help you pursue (and achieve) whatever kind of success you might seek. I originally developed them for work and educational settings, but with some expansion, they’ve served me well in many areas of my life. Note that none of them are absolute; I personally break several of these rules almost every day. And yet, I have noticed that when I keep living by them, things work out much better than when I don’t.

1. Care about the process, not just the outcome.

More often than not, success is the result of many small, incremental steps. If we obsess over the outcome, however, we are likely to cut ourselves off from the processes that might produce it. We become impatient, restless, unfocused, and even unwilling. Instead, we need to learn to care about the process—not just the outcome—by turning it into a form of play.

2. Fail by action, not inaction.

The only way to become good at something is to actually do it. If you want to become a good writer, you have to write. If you want to become a good friend, you have to reach out. Too often, however, we fail to take action because we fear we might make mistakes. And yet, more often than not, the greater mistake would be to try to make none at all. If you are going to have to fail, fail by action, not inaction.

3. Say “yes” easily and mean it.

Expose yourself to many different experiences. Broaden your repertoire by saying “yes” more often—even when you’re not entirely sure whether you have it in you. You can figure that out as you go along (and thereby grow with every challenge). Say “yes,” and mean it.

4. Work with others and share easily.

Humans are social animals. We are at our best when we collaborate with other people toward common goals. So collaborate. Form teams. Network. Others can teach you and enrich your life in unexpected ways, just as you have unique gifts to offer to the people around you. Do not worry too much about who gets credit—instead, be fair with others and ask for the same in return.

5. Keep your commitments.

This is the most important rule of all. Be careful with your word and to whom or what you commit yourself. Once you have set a commitment, however, go all in. Figure out a way and do it. Of course, you will still slip up. And when you do, go back, and give it 100 percent.

6. Be accountable for yourself and the groups you’re in.

When things don’t work out, we are quick to search for reasons. But instead of looking internally, at our own actions, or at external events that might be changed (factors we might be able to control), we often over-emphasize external events, even if we are unwilling to change or challenge them. We can’t learn and grow from our setbacks that way. Instead, practice being accountable, both for the “me” and the “we.” Even if we are being treated unfairly, it’s best to focus on what can be done about it as a person and a group.

7. Acknowledge your own power and behave accordingly.

You can make a huge difference with your endeavors. The unsuccessful person will withdraw in fear or will mistake dreams for action. The successful person, however, will acknowledge their own power and will push on vigorously and persistently to make it manifest. As Nelson Mandela said, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

8. Acknowledge your own finitude and behave accordingly.

We do not know how long we will have on this planet. Regardless of how many years you have, the time is certainly short, which is why it’s best to put your effort into tasks that are personally meaningful. Suppose you have only one more year before you die. Do you want to spend time on this particular project? Successful people aspire to make a difference with their time and to ever be in a position to answer “Yes!” to that question.

9. Network with your betters.

Successful people want to know others who are both good at what they do and are caring people—they want to talk with them, correspond with them, and listen to them. They want a dialogue of ideas and a vision for what is possible. Get to know the leaders of the field you have chosen at work or in school, and engage with them. In your social life, get to know people who are loyal, ethical, and kind. Find people who are good to learn from.

10. Guard your integrity.

People who want to be successful can be susceptible to cheating or outright dishonesty if they focus on success as an outcome rather than a process. “Success” acquired that way will mock you. If you violate your integrity to achieve a particular outcome, you will find the activity itself to be far, far less intrinsically valuable. The playfulness disappears. Instead of being fun, it has now become a mere means to an end.

Yes, you may fool people. But who is lifted up by the applause of fools? Instead, if you slip, even in small ways, immediately repair the damage, and come back to your high-integrity core even more strongly.

11. Follow your bliss.

Successful people are confident. They don’t necessarily feel confident, but they make the leap of confidence by acting with (the meaning of “con”) faith in themselves, that is, self-fidelity (the original meaning of “fidence”). To thine own self be true by following your bliss, even if it means taking the occasional risk. If it worries you to have faith in your gut instincts, build a little safety net. Do not, however, violate what seems important to you.

12. Say “no” easily and mean it.

As you make progress on your goals, you will need to learn how to strengthen your focus. The distractions and requests will increase alongside your level of success, and you will have to keep a balance. Learn to say “no.” Set priorities. Stick to them. And value your time.

13. Open your mail, return your phone calls, answers all your emails, and keep your desk clean.

Oh, well. Sigh. Not every rule can be followed.

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