5 Quotes on the Psychology of Success

“Child prodigies, it turns out, rarely go on to change the world. When psychologists study history’s most eminent and influential people, they discover that many of them weren’t unusually gifted as children.” ~ Adam Grant, Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

You might be tempted to look at the most successful people on the planet and say their skills are due to innate talent or genetic giftedness.

For example, Ted Williams was one of the best home run hitters of all time. Many thought that his success was due to just having a “gift.” But if you asked those who grew up with him, they would say Ted practiced more than anyone. He was obsessed with hitting baseballs. He would slug balls all day long and pay local kids to shag balls for him.

His talent wasn’t for hitting homeruns. Rather, his gift was having the will and drive to out-practice all his competition until eventually his practice was transformed into what appeared like pure, raw talent.

It’s tempting to forestall the attempt of mastering a subject because it does not come easy to you. But having a knack for something doesn’t mean you’re going to make the most original contribution to that field. It doesn’t mean you are going to be the most successful. Often it’s the case of the tortoise and the hare. Determination, grit, and originality will outshine sheer talent any day of the week.


“People who succeed have momentum. The more they succeed, the more they want to succeed, and the more they find a way to succeed. Similarly, when someone is failing, the tendency is to get on a downward spiral that can even become a self-fulfilling prophecy.” ~ Tony Robbins

This quote cuts to the heart of the “pick up your room” philosophy of motivation. You start with small wins and that momentum builds into a bigger win. And those wins lead to even bigger wins. Soon you will have the momentum needed to push forward in the face of inevitable obstacles. These little streams of momentum will prevent you from failing and seeing that failure as proof that you’re destined to fail. Start small. Accumulate wins.

For example, if you want to get more fit. Do a pushup every day for a week. Then do five. Then 10. Walk for ten minutes a day for a month. Then 15 minutes. Then 30. etc. All progress is incremental. Small, continuous improvements have a much greater chance of leading to future success than trying to generate enough momentum for major shifts all at once.

“Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” ~ Winston Churchill

This is the inverse of the above quote. If you do fail in a project or goal you have to be able to bounce to the next goal with no loss of enthusiasm. If your goal is to gain 10lbs of muscle in a year and you only gained 5, that must not see that as a setback or proof of your failure. You have to simply set your next goal and strive to achieve it with equal passion.

This applies to all goals. The core of Stoic philosophy is that failure should never lead to an emotional setback, which is turning the setback into a double setback. Instead, the key is emotional resilience. You have a setback and you must see it as a challenge that will hone you and make you stronger. The critical goal is to frame the failure in a positive way. Because if you don’t maintain your momentum, you will fall into a negative spiral of self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Even the best pep talk or self-help hack is nothing but a temporary fix. It won’t rewire your brain. It won’t amplify your voice or uplift your life. Motivation changes exactly nobody. The bad hand that was my life was mine, and mine alone to fix.” ~ David Groggins, Can’t Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy Odds

While this might seem contradictory to the previous quotes, the idea is that motivation is not enough for success. Everyone has motivation. And motivation can change from day to day (hence the need for momentum). But drive and grit and passion and enthusiasm are really the keys. You have to want it with a burning passion. That passion must sustain you during the setbacks. You have to maintain the proper mental framework for when life gives you a bad hand. Without the right mindset, motivation will never be enough. But once you get it, you need to maintain the momentum that is generated from your wins. Stoic philosophers thought that this mindset could be instilled through training.

“Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another.” ~ Angela Duckworth, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

This goes back to the psychology of talent. You can have all the talent in the world but if you don’t have the grit to follow through setbacks, pain, and suffering, you will likely never succeed. It’s often not the most natural talents that make it through tough challenges. It’s often those who frame challenges as opportunities for growth. It’s those who love a good challenge and pick themselves up immediately after falling down.


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