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The Secret Ingredient of Success

The sign Success made from white pebbles on pebble beach on the sea

Picture this. My new (and very patient) accountant needed my Unique Tax Reference (UTR) number and said I should find it on any HMRC correspondence. So I dug out a few letters and sent him the reference numbers quoted. Only none of them were my UTR. It wasn’t until I spent 20 minutes on the automated HMRC phone line that I got a clue as to what I was looking for… a 10 digit number ending in a letter. Bingo! I found it on the reverse side of a letter, on a payment slip.

It was there all along, but I didn’t know what I was looking for.

It struck me as a powerful metaphor for how we strive for success. Do we even know what it looks like? How do you define it for yourself? And is it available right here, under our noses?

If you haven’t defined what success looks and feels like, how will you know when you have it?

Unfortunately, the word success is inextricably tied up with external accomplishments… levels of promotion and associated pay, business growth and all the lifestyle choices that go with it. But so often we don’t stop to think about what success looks like on the inside… what it is we’re looking to achieve, and dare I say it, whether the pursuit of success leads to happiness.

If success is something to strive for at some future point in time, then happiness is the day-to-day fuel that will make it much more likely to happen. As Dr. Robert Holden says,

We do not become happy because we are successful; we become successful because we are happy.

I do believe future goals are powerful – strong statements of intent that provide clarity and focus for where you need to invest your time and energy.

But the paradox is that while we’re striving to achieve some future state that we’ve determined is important to us, we run the risk of missing the specks of gold along the way, the moments of happiness and joy that sustain us and keep us going. Tapping into this goldmine in the present is crucial if we are not to miss our lives in the here and now.

So if the question is not how can I be successful, but how can I be happy – what’s the answer? Obviously you can only really answer this for yourself, but Dr. Martin Seligman’s research has led to his PERMA acronym, and I invite you to start there:

P: Pleasure

What are the small things in life that give you pleasure? Whether it’s noticing the blossom, playing with your child, eating great food or listening to music, make sure you’ve got enough space in your life to enjoy life’s pleasures.

E: Engagement

When are you in flow? Pay attention to how often in your working life you experience the state of flow, that state where work seems effortless, when all of your attention, gifts and talents are brought to bear on a task. Whatever you’re doing, focus entirely on that.

R: Relationships

Make time for the people that matter to you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about quantity – one hour of quality time every evening is far better than three hours of being physically present but not connecting. And at work, make time to ask questions that matter and listen, listen, listen. People will thank you for it.

M: Meaning

Do you know what matters most to you? What gives your life purpose? You don’t have to have a lofty mission to achieve world peace to have meaning in your life. But people are happiest when they are contributing to something bigger and greater than themselves. What do you want to dedicate your life to?

A: Accomplishments

The sense of reward from having achieved a goal can be huge, especially when that goal has meaning. Make sure you recognise your small and big accomplishments every week and month. The sense of reward and fulfilment gives you the fuel and the ambition to dream and dare even greater goals.

Next time you’re reviewing your long and short term goals in the pursuit of your vision for future success, take a few moments to ask what will make you happy in the here and now. It’ll make the journey so much easier.

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