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We all have talent that can give us an edge, but it can only take you so far. The reason some people are high performers is because they’ve formed good habits. In a survey of more than 1,800 workers by the leadership training company VitalSmarts, 46% of respondents chalk up their career success to having the right habits. Just 24% attributed their success to natural talent and 22.5% said it was due to the decisions they made.
“When it comes to success, nothing trumps good habits,” says Emily Gregory, VitalSmarts’s lead researcher and vice president of product development. “No amount of luck, talent, brains, or good decisions can compensate for your habits and your routines.”
When we think of habits, most of us think about physical routines—the things you do, says Gregory. “But a disproportionate amount of habits are thinking habits, the self-talk we do throughout the course of the day,” she says. “This has a huge impact on our results and what we can achieve.”
Certain thinking habits are more powerful than others. Here are four to adopt if you want to move ahead at work:
Hesitate Before Saying “No”
Be open to opportunities to grow and expand outside of your comfort zone, and take a moment to think “yes” before saying “no,” suggests Gregory.
“This doesn’t mean you have to say ‘yes,’ but a lot of the time we have an automatic, knee-jerk response and say ‘no’ when we feel overwhelmed or stressed,” she says. “Be open to thinking and evaluating choices you’re making. Be mindful and conscious instead of simply reacting.”
Gregory says habits fall into two categories: creating energy and then focusing that energy. “Habits for creating energy are sleep, meditation, physical activity, and nutrition,” she says. “When focusing energy, thinking ‘yes’ before saying ‘no’ allows you to be conscious and go deeply into your energy.”
Trust Your Gut
Analysis paralysis can get in the way of career success. Do your research, but stop at 80% confidence rather than striving for 110%, says Gregory. “There is a point of diminishing return,” she says. “When you keep putting energy into something and you’re not getting a bang out of it. Know when you get good enough, it’s good enough. Then do other things with your energy.”
Dedicate time each week to dreaming and researching. To form this habit, choose something very specific and small in the beginning, says Gregory. “Being curious can show up in different ways for different people,” she says. “Some people read, while others prefer . . . striking up new conversations. You can be curious about attending conferences and workshops. The idea is to be a lifelong learner.”
Success is often drawn from something you learned along the way. It may not have impact in the moment, but it may contribute to success later.
Tackle the Hard Stuff First
Some of the most common habits are around our morning routines. “There are so many flavors,” says Gregory. “They can all be powerful, and there is not one best way to form a morning routine.”
Those who achieved success, however, said that having discipline to do the difficult things on their list at the beginning of the day was a powerful habit.
“There is thoughtfulness and a plan to the day when you choose to knock out the hardest thing first,” says Gregory. “When you get the hardest thing out of the way, you can be coasting through the rest of the day. Pushing down the biggest block is like pushing down the first domino.”
Habits can be small and basic, but when you do them every day they compound over time. “A lot of these habits are what we call trigger habits,” says Gregory. “While they seem small, they actually trigger a series of other powerful habits. When you want to achieve a big goal, you need an entry point—a habit that’s as small as possible, so you’re most likely to do it and set your day into action.”