A Few Secrets of Success (In Fitness and Life)

Successful people do more than just “work hard” or “do the right thing.” Success requires strategic planning, structure, good management around obstacles, self-awareness, and leadership.

Do you share these traits?


Whether they know it or not, successful people follow a set of guidelines. If we observe successful people, leaders in their respective fields, we find a shared pattern of behavior. Of course we can always throw out key words like discipline, self-control, and focus, but success does not always come from just “working hard” or “doing the right thing”, although those are very important. Success requires strategic planning, structure, good management around obstacles, self-awareness, and leadership. Over my athletic career and nearly 10-years of personal training, I’ve discovered a few key secrets that all successful people share. Read the list below for a quick summary, continue reading for an in-depth analysis.

While reading, take an honest assessment of yourself. Do you share a few of these secrets to success?

Here’s your need-to-know summary. Successful people:

  1. Establish a goal and deadline – they don’t just “do whatever”. Successful people understand WHY they chose the goal. They make it specific and measurable.
  2. Create structure around the goal – a schedule, a plan, a log. Successful people have support groups and don’t take the process for granted or just go through the motions. Success requires rearranging priorities.
  3. Frame their goals around behaviors, not the end result. This means they focus on the patterns which lead to success, rather than success itself.
  4. Expect and tolerate setbacks – they know physical and mental pain. They understand disruptions and setbacks. Successful people have a plan to work around unexpected obstacles.
  5. Have confidence, but leave their ego behind – Successful people don’t let attitude interfere with their goals. They understand where they are in the journey, and they don’t rush the process or compare themselves to others. Everyone thinks others are judging, but in reality we are our own worst critics!
  6. Successful people seek out a mentor or coach – someone outside their circle of friends. They find someone who’s not tied to their immediate success or failure. They seek an outside perspective.

What separates successful people from the rest?

If we break it down, there are a handful of patterns or behaviors all successful people share, regardless of what field or area of success. When we look at each individual case, it may seem that everyone does something different but look closely, and you’ll realize that each success story shares a few key elements. Let’s review the list and go further into what separates the best from the rest.

1) Successful People Establish Goals AND Deadlines

When a new client comes to me for fitness help, the first thing I ask is for a clearly defined goal. Usually I a few similar responses:

“I just want to get in shape.”
“I need a lose a few pounds.”
“I want to tone up and slim down.”

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these goals, in a sense it’s exactly what most people want out of a fitness plan. But that’s not good enough for successful people. You see, the average person decides they want to accomplish something, and they make the first step toward that goal – they wish for something to happen. Unfortunately that’s where the progress ends.

Successful people, on the other hand, establish SMART goals. They set a Specific target – with Measurable progress – within Attainable and Realistic boundaries – in a Timely manner. Successful people approach their goals with very specific guidelines. The details are laid out and measured. Big goals are broken into smaller attainable steps. No goal is set beyond the realm of realism, and nothing is set too far out in the future or with an unspecified timeline. This, I think, is the key that separates a successful goal setter from the others, an end date. Deadlines force us to evaluate our process and measure our progression on a daily basis. Without deadlines or goal dates, we will fall into a routine and never progress past the first stage of wishing for something better to happen.

2) Successful People Establish Structure Around a Goal

Once a goal has been established, a successful person creatures structure around that goal. Structure is a framework around the goal that allows measurable and consistent progress. For example, a successful weightloss plan will require an exercise schedule. Depending on what is realistic, a good structure will consist of two or more planned exercise sessions. These sessions would be treated as importantly as any other planned activity such as work, school, or a visit to the doctor. Successful people will rearrange their priorities in order to stick to the schedule.

Furthermore, understanding that good nutrition is the key to weightloss a successful person will log their food on a daily basis. This allows them to monitor and track their progress and make changes accordingly. If mistakes occur, a successful person will be able to look over the log and determine what common element triggers the mistakes. For example, do you find yourself always snacking at night? Maybe it’s not the snacks themselves, it’s the nightly routine which triggers the cravings. It doesn’t matter if you’re munching on a bag of chips or creeping into the pantry for a cookie, it’s the fact that you’re looking for something at night. Understanding what triggers the cravings is more important than addressing the snack itself. A food log can help identify problem areas and fix them before they sabotage your goal.

A successful person will also seek out support groups to aid them in their journey. Perhaps a like-minded friend with similar goals, or a weekly fitness class to maintain accountability. Successful people surround themselves with other successful people. I believe this is another key element. If you don’t like your current position, surrounding yourself with people who put you there will only keep you there. Successful people seek out others who are BETTER than them. Iron sharpens iron, as the saying goes.

You’ll notice in our weightloss example, it’s not the food log itself that made the difference. It’s not the schedule or the fitness class that created success. It’s the whole structure of accountability  that sets successful people apart. Everything combined together. The more pieces you have in place, the more support you have to reach the top.

3) Successful People Frame Their Goals Around Behaviors

When it comes time to run a race, thinking about the finish line doesn’t help. Especially if it’s a long race. Instead, thinking about the first few steps, the first mile, and each individual mile after that leads to the finish line. We never magically appear at the end goal. And those who do find themselves disappointed! You’ve probably heard about the stories of lottery winners and their million dollar payouts. Financial freedom, right? It’s currently estimated that 70% of lottery winners go BROKE after winning. Why? They magically appeared at the finish line rather than training and getting to the end through discipline.

Successful people don’t magically appear at the finish line. Instead, they improve each day over the previous day. We can apply this same principle to our weightloss example. Don’t focus on the 50 pounds you’ve set as your end goal, focus on how you’re going to approach the next five pounds.

Set your small daily goals around the structure and foundation of your training plan. For example, “I need to lose 5 pounds to hit the next step” becomes “I will stick to the schedule I’ve created and log every day for the next two weeks.” This will break up the end goal and frame your mind around the process itself. It’s not about the finish line, it’s about getting there.

4) Successful People Tolerate and Plan Around Setbacks

Every road has a crack. Every golf course has a sand-pit. No plan goes without a hitch. Think about the last time you made a personal goal or new years resolution. What caused you to stray? Did something stop you? Did someone stop you?

Successful people understand that there will be obstacles along the way. We may never be able to predict the obstacle, but if you’ve created an appropriate framework around your goals, the obstacle doesn’t matter! Maybe your overall goal is to lose 50 pounds, but you’ve sprained your ankle and cannot walk or run. Does it matter?

A successful person will take their framework to support the ankle. Nutrition, for example, isn’t affected by a sprained ankle. A successful person will continue logging their food, stay under their calorie budget, and come up with unique ideas for exercise that don’t affect the foot. Because the framework was in place, a setback or two won’t stop your progress. Mentally, understanding that setbacks happen will also keep you in the right frame of mind. Be prepared for the unexpected setback, and you won’t be thrown off balance when it happens.

5) Successful People Choose to be Confident Without an Ego

It’s true that confidence is an important trait for success. Confidence is required to make difficult decisions in business and life, push yourself to the next level in fitness, and properly evaluate yourself to find your weaknesses. Confidence can be the difference between reaching your goal or never making it past the first step. Ego, on the other hand, is the nemesis of success. Ego strives to find approval and validation from the wrong places. Ego is resistant to feedback and instruction. Ego hides a lack of true motive or desire. It’s important not to confuse ego and confidence, as successful people choose to be confident while leaving their ego behind.

How is it, then, that we can leave our ego behind? How can we separate confidence from ego? What’s the difference between the two? Here are a few habits of someone who chooses confidence over ego:

  • Confident people understand their flaws and look for weaknesses.
  • As a result, they seek advice and follow it.
  • Confident people don’t try to do everything themselves. They know when to delegate tasks or ask for help.
  • Confident people are able to self-analyze and understand when they’re wrong.
  • Confident people naturally build a core group of friends and support.

You could simplify this and consider that ego is an extreme false confidence in the self, whereas true confidence is understanding and trusting in the system and framework in which you have built to succeed.

6) Successful People Seek Out a Mentor

There’s probably nothing in this world you can do that someone hasn’t already done or attempted to do. However that doesn’t mean you can’t improve upon it! Recall the expression by Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Newton understood that every achievement in the field of science and mathematics came because someone else had paved the way. The same is true in fitness!

Back in the 60s, during the Cold War era, the Soviets were INTENT on beating the rest of the world in every aspect and proving their dominance. We know how the space race and the cold war turned out, but while they were attempting to win the battle on the science front, they were also pushing the boundaries on physical fitness and trying to build a “New Man.” The Soviet government pushed physical fitness programs in every school and on every citizen. The goal was to seek out and develop the best of the best, and raise the bar of physicality. As a result, there were gyms in nearly every neighborhood. Each coach and gym was encouraged to seek out new training programs for strength, speed, athleticism, flexibility, and so on. This caused a surge in various training programs and equipment. Eventually, the best fitness programs rose to the top. The Soviets learned the best ways to build strength and speed and as a result, attempted to conquer the fitness and Olympic scene.

After the Iron Curtain fell, these training programs began to leak out to the rest of the world. Because the Soviets had so many people participating in physical training, we were able to see (on a large scale) the difference between 3 sets of 10, 4 sets of 8, 12 sets of 3, and so on. On a fitness level, the rest of the world was able to learn and improve because the Soviets tried literally every method and learned what worked. Modern day Strength and Conditioning techniques stem from Soviet era training.

This story is an example of why it’s important to seek out leaders in our field or those who have gone before us. In America, we call them Coaches or Professors. In Japan, Sensei. Literally “One who has gone before.” Why waste time on things that have already been tried? Successful people know that they must look at what has already been done, and find a way to IMPROVE upon it. We an apply this to our fitness journey as well. How many times have you jumped from one fitness program to the other? How often have you stuck with an eating plan or diet and wondered “Is this really supposed to work?”

Be a successful person. Find a coach or mentor, someone who has gone before. Leave your ego behind and seek an outside perspective. Do it today and make sure you’re on the right track!

Author: bushongtraining

A personal trainer and fitness instructor in Bentonville.

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