Why You Should Stop Reading The Habits of Successful People

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Guilty as charged.

Eye glasses on a floral tablecloth

Oh listicle, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways (there are usually six or seven). Is there anything more seemingly satisfying than a list that unmasks the pre-coffee routines of those we admire? Just reading the daily dos of prosperous entrepreneurs somehow makes us feel like we’re succeeding at life – and, yes, we’re guilty as any regarding this falsehood. Unsurprisingly, though, that’s part of the problem.

Harvard Business Review has hit upon a truth by explaining that reading too many simplistic lists about the little tweaks and variances of top echelon entrepreneurs is pretty unlikely to translate into the same effectiveness for you.

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While we see no harm in presenting insightful and unique tactics that everyday entrepreneurs employ in their day-to-day that act as suggestions that can be integrated into your every day, we have to concur: an abundance of reductive lists actually does more damage than good.

Here are four reasons (note: we’ve refrained from numbering them) that HBR outlines as the reason why simplified advice about a sleek morning routine doesn’t always mean you’re the next Arianna Huffington.

Success (and how to achieve it) is subjective

“For advice to be relevant, the beginnings, aims and conditions of those who are analysed and those who receive the advice should match, at least approximately,” outlines Emre Soyer, an assistant professor at Istanbul’s Özyeğin University. “Yet our careers, families, social lives, priorities, and visions may differ significantly from those who are hailed as successful by a particular expert. Given the things they had to do and give up for success, we might not wish to trade places with them.”

Further to that is the point that if you decide to suddenly become Anna Wintour and engage in early morning tennis, despite the fact you’re hard-wired for afternoon productivity, there’s very little point in making that switch.

Proof is only anecdotal…

Emre points out that the majority of these lists are based on personal accounts of ‘success’, rather than tried or tested methods proven by research. And considering that, more often than not, we take such ideas from very successful people, the outcomes can be skewed even further.

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“Is someone successful because they avoided meetings, or are they able to avoid meetings because they are successful?” he asks. “A host of behaviours that successful people supposedly share – not caring what others think of them, avoiding meetings, putting first things first, saying no to almost everything – may be luxuries that only the extremely successful can enjoy, and only after they became successful in the eyes of others.”

…and research is contextual

As with any study, the context in which it’s performed is highly important. In scientific studies, the conditions are carefully controlled, so as not to allow any differences in results, based on that context. Consider this, for example: the CEO who can run eight kilometres before 6am may not have themselves a five-year-old with a penchant for eating Rice Bubbles one by one. That factor alone will dramatically differ your results of an attempt at a strict morning routine, we would think.

Success always has the loudest voice

Unlike a disappointing brunch experience, it’s always the successes we hear, rather than the failures. Emre explains that no listicle is outlining those tactics that successful people have tried and failed at, rather than just expounding those that worked for them. It goes without saying that what works for others may not work for you. So, try these suggestions by all means but don’t expect these tweaks to be the creditable reason for your future success – that’s a whole other listicle.

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