We all know someone who is hugely successful. Everything they touch turns to gold, whether they have their own chain of patisseries, they write gritty psychological thriller scripts or they manage an award-winning research team. Their energy is highly charged, they’re passionate about what they do and they seem to continually live outside their comfort zone. If they make mistakes, they write them off as experience, and, undeterred, they just set their sights higher the next time around.
For most of us ordinary people, the high achiever is someone to look up to. They’re the ones who have a great job working as a chef, then along comes a television crew to make them into a TV star. A few months down the line, they sign a lucrative book deal and before too long, they win a coveted international award.
They may start off looking after their friends’ children three days a week, but within a year, they have their own thriving nursery business, and they’re auditioning for a TV series about nannies. Or they pick up a brush and start to paint a landscape, and soon, their watercolours are selling all over the world for ridiculous prices.
Things seem to happen fast for the high achiever and they go with the flow, leaving the rest of us in their shadows, our jaws dropping at both their energy and their success. But what constitutes a high achiever for some of us might not resonate with others’ view of the very successful, as Sultan Shaman, a counselling psychologist at The Lighthouse Arabia in Dubai, explains.
‘Everyone has the potential to be a high achiever, yet it means something different for each person,’ says Sultan. ‘Sometimes people are high achievers in one area of their lives and not another. For example, being a good mother can be a high achiever to one person, while climbing the corporate ladder is more important to another.’
Adam Zargar, executive director of coaching and training services at UAE Coaching (www.uaecoaching.com), adds: ‘To me a high achiever seeks more than what they have. In business, they go into a department to do a job, which they excel in, but they also learn the roles ahead of them. At school, they’re not happy with 80 per cent, or coming second, so they ask for harder work or extra work to do at home.
‘These people never rest. They’re always seeking growth and they’re very consistent in their approach and attitude.’
So how can we learn this attitude and propel ourselves from everyday humdrum to the stratosphere of the high achiever? We talked to four experts to find out the 15 rules we could follow so we too can peep over our parapet and set our sights sky-high!
Be afraid of failure!
Most of us think high achievers are resilient and can handle failure, but UK business and personal coach Phil Olley (www.philolley.com) says the opposite is true. ‘If they’ve been told in the past that they’ll never achieve a certain salary or goal, such as getting a book published or finding a cure for an illness, they go out there determined to prove their naysayers wrong,’ says Phil, who is author of Result – Think Decisively, Take Action and Get Results (Pearson). ‘The fear of failure is what motivates them and drives them forward.’
Vent your frustration
When things haven’t gone great at the office, it’s easy to get home and fire off angry emails to colleagues, or pick a fight with your partner. But high achievers don’t unload their frustration, anger or stress on others. ‘What gets repressed will eventually get expressed,’ explains Sultan. ‘For example, an employee who didn’t get the promotion he worked hard for might be short-tempered with his family when he gets home. He needs a support system in place and to find an outlet for these feelings or he will end up lashing out.’ A trip to the gym or a kick-boxing class on the way home perhaps?
Be a learner
UAE Coaching’s Adam urges us to read information or listen to podcasts every day as a ritual. ‘High achievers learn something, get excited and want to use that new tip, strategy or tool to give them that 1 per cent increase or get-ahead of others in their office,’ says Adam. ‘They’re always looking for ways to improve themselves.’
Sultan says a high achiever is more interested in competing with themselves than their opponent. ‘They never play down their competition, and they know that if the opponent gets better, they too will improve. If they feel jealous, they’ll explore their feelings and use them as motivation.’
Pick your people
If you want to be a success story, don’t spend time with people who complain or just get by. ‘Don’t go to dinner with the moaners,’ says Adam. ‘Dine with successful entrepreneurs so you can learn, inspire and energise each other. If people don’t have the same energy or drive as you, limit the time you spend with them or move away from them.’
Picture yourself at your pinnacle
Decide what you’d like to achieve, whether it’s winning a gold medal for your country or having your medical research published in a highly respected science journal; then visualise in your mind’s eye achieving it every day. ‘If you want to be a brilliant salesperson, see yourself collecting the company’s top award year after year, with the audience at the ceremony applauding you,’ says Phil. ‘This sense of significance will drive you forward and keep you focused.’
Challenge your inner critics!
Success coach and clinical hypnotherapist Annie Ashdown (www.annieashdown.com) says we’re constantly bombarded with negative thoughts that terrorise our minds. These thoughts come from our inner critics, which Annie calls our committee. ‘Our committee is continually lying to us, telling us terrible things will happen and persuading us not to do the things we want to do,’ says UK-based Annie, author of The Confidence Factor (Crimson Publishing). ‘If your committee says you’re not good enough, question it and ask: “Good enough for what?” Don’t buy into what the committee says – ever!’
Play to your strengths!
Ask yourself what you’re good at, what you find easy and what you love doing, and then concentrate on doing just that, advises personal coach Phil Olley. ‘Hire people to do the other jobs or delegate the work. For example, if you’re a great salesperson but you’re not very well organised, or you’re great with children but hate lesson planning, get some admin help so you can focus on what you do best,’ he recommends. ‘That way, you’ll really shine at everything you do!’
Look after yourself!
If you’re firing on all cylinders and working to your optimum, it’s important to practise self-care so you don’t get to a state of burnout, says Sultan. ‘We can all push ourselves to our limit, but high achievers, whether they’re mothers, athletes or business people, know they’re only as good as their health. This means they look after their bodies and minds with a healthy diet, exercise, leisure and relaxation so they can sustain their efforts for longer periods.’
Successful people never blame others when things go wrong and they don’t waste time moaning about the weather, the government, the people in HR and public transport! ‘You can’t control everything,’ states Phil, ‘but you can control your attitude to it. Responsibility is really response-ability – your ability to respond to a situation. If you’ve been made redundant, for example, update your CV, go to job fairs, make some calls to recruiters or consider setting up on your own. These things are far more productive that sitting around complaining.’
Work on your habits
Suss out which habits are holding you back and get to work on eliminating them, says Annie Ashdown. ‘Write out six negative habits on an index card and take a photo on your phone and put it on your screen,’ says Annie. ‘If you say yes when you mean no, if you take rejection personally or you spend the day complaining, consider how you can make changes next time the situation arises. Each morning, ask yourself which new habits you choose to create that day.’
Set 90-day goals
Phil suggests we set goals every three months, then pull out all the stops to achieve them. And he advises to have just three big goals on the go at a time. ‘Instead of planning to write a book in a year, or planning to climb a mountain in 12 months’ time, bring your deadline forward,’ he suggests. ‘High achievers see risk as opportunity rather than danger. They get up at 6am to write their book or work out because they know that at the very worst, they’ll have a manuscript or they’ll be fitter.’
Keep on keeping on
Recognise your success and replicate, advises Adam Zargar. ‘Know that the more you do, the greater your chance of success,’ he says. ‘If you’re a recruiter, pick up the phone daily and hammer out calls. If you want to be an ace golfer, hammer out drive after drive, knowing the more practise you have, the better you will be.’
Accept you will fail from time to time
We often beat ourselves up if we lose a contract or arrive late to an important meeting. But The Lighthouse Arabia’s Sultan says high achievers see failure as an opportunity for growth and regard mistakes as lessons. ‘They will look at a failed project and decode their shortcomings. They spend as much time or more time understanding what went wrong after failures as they spend celebrating successes,’ he says. ‘They know growth lies behind failure.’
Celebrate every success!
Annie says when we beat ourselves up for our mistakes, we obliterate our self-confidence, our self-esteem and our self-respect, and then we lose our enthusiasm. She recommends that we evaluate and celebrate every single success, whether it’s a new client, a small increase in salary or getting 1,000 words of your new book written. ‘Create an inner friend in your mind and let them congratulate you when something goes well. Treat your inner friend with love, compassion and respect,’ she says.