Successful Habits Don’t Make You Successful

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By Kareem Taylor

I have something new to say about how to be successful.

If there is one thing that I hate more than when Dunkin’ Donuts puts sugar in my iced coffee, it’s when successful people write lazy articles about how to be successful. My traditional favorites are work really hard, invest in yourself and sometimes, when they’re really trying to tap into our “I’m too fat” triggers, eat lots and lots of kale. And then, I promise, you’ll be happy and enjoy a fulfilling life.

So, yesterday at the coffee shop, when I kept seeing a popular post titled “20 Successful Habits I Learned Working for Two Billionaires”, I was preparing to be sick to my stomach because I knew it would not include the usual missing link. Here’s the thing: We know that working hard, investing in yourself and hanging around good people are great ideas. But dammit, it’s not how we go from trial to triumph. It’s not what gets us up in the morning excited to give it another try. It’s not what puts a smile on our face.

In 2011, I was unemployed, sleeping on the floor and eating Chinese takeout and Cheetos for dinner. I felt alone and empty and began to question my existence. And if someone would’ve handed me the latest self-help book, I probably would’ve exploded because those books, like this ’20 habits’ myth, never address the true secret to success. Those habits are no longer enough. This article is about a new and exceptionally relevant habit.

The new habit is called the mental dip. I should know, because it’s all I had.

Oprah doesn’t get to be Oprah because she works really hard. My mom works hard. The busboys I work with in NYC restaurants work hard. The construction workers building the Freedom Tower work hard. Both you and I, I’m sure, work hard. Oprah gets to be Oprah, though, because she knows how to cope with tough times and how to push through the mental dip. The battle between activated and lazy. The fight among lethargic and energetic, inspired and uninspired.

When the only response you’re getting from employers is “We’ve found another candidate who closely matches the skills for this role…” then you need more than hard work to stop you from ripping your laptop’s face off. You don’t need to work harder, you just need to push through the mental dip and keep doing what you’re doing. It is, in the end, all mental.

It turns out, anyone who should be successful already possesses the core qualities.

That ambition, determination and consistency is already inside of you. It’s what drives us. There’s a reason why people start happily on Day One of their new challenge, but quit by Day Four. The more important solution that interests me is how more of us can get to Day Five. Perhaps we’re talking ourselves out of it. Perhaps we’re giving in to the voice of resistance in our heads. Perhaps we should quit and focus on something else. Or, as it may be, we just need to push through the mental dip.

Articles on success aren’t turning people out. They’re not inspiring people who aren’t already inspired. Here’s the tricky part that authors and content creators leave out: How to push up and over the mental dip when uncertainty hits the hardest. Look, we all work hard. But three years ago when I was at my wit’s end, no amount of hard work got me out of that slump.

Today, my work ethic is the same. I work hard, I try and fail at new things, and I’m still very curious about what I can make possible. It is, however, my acknowledgement of the mental dip that helps me push through. And when you’re doing creative work, or any work that requires you put your heart into it, it’s a necessity.