The Underrated Key to Success

Look! It’s a man on the moon! When the first moon photos were first released, many claimed they were fake, because landing on the moon seemed impossible. Now we know that it is possible and these photos are real. Could successful moon missions teach us how to succeed in other areas? (Photo by bre pettis)

Success means different things to different people, but we all want it.

Typical success advice caters to your emotions—want it more, be determined, and persist through failure. These are fine, albeit flimsy ideas that fade over time and can crack under certain amounts of “life pressure” applied at certain angles.

Success: It’s Like a Moon Mission

Moon missions give us a template for success.

Traveling from Earth through space and landing on the moon is among the most dangerous things humans have ever attempted. The risk of failure (and death) is high. There is one way that astronauts try to succeed: they prepare themselves for everything that could go wrong on their journey.

“You are taught to religiously follow checklists to diagnose vehicle and equipment health and to respond quickly, especially during the dynamic portions of flight, to either correct or safe the situation to prevent loss of mission or life.” (Source: NASA)

For such a perilous mission, meticulous preparation makes sense. If they get something wrong, failure often means death. But why shouldn’t we also apply this concept to our lives? We won’t die from failing to reach a goal, but goals are still very important. Why shouldn’t we prepare for anything and everything that might prevent our goals from being realized? Well… I think we should!

Another way of looking at success is avoiding failure, because if you don’t fail, you will succeed. Most people aim for success directly, but that can be surprisingly inefficient. Here’s an example.

How (Not) to Write a Book

Say you want to write a book (something that most people say they’d like to do in their lifetime). Someone who aims directly for success in this goal may sit down at their computer, open up a word processor, and start typing out a story or concept. (This is the optimistic scenario, many don’t even begin!)

Then it gets tough. They will hit snags along the way, and if all they’re trying to do is “write a book,” they may be unprepared for the obstacles that they will certainly face. As someone who’s written 3 bestselling books and is published in 17 languages, I am (painfully) familiar with the obstacles.

Book Writing Obstacles

Every book has a highly challenging “make or break” point. Writing a book fills you with all sorts of doubts—about the content, your writing (style, correctness, structure, etc), marketability (assuming you plan to sell your book), and more. At some point, all of these doubts will come together in the same way that earth, wind, fire, water, and heart come together to create Captain Planet. When your doubts merge together at once, and it’s a really, really discouraging moment, and it always seems to happen at least once per book. Your plot or main idea seems weak, your writing style feels tired and predictable, and you have no ideas of what to do next. 

If you stop writing and fighting for progress, you’ll probably never finish the book. With my most recent book, Mini Habits for Weight Loss, I reached this point after several months of working on it! I could have easily scrapped the whole project, except that I was systematically prepared to go through it. It was not fun—like walking through thorns with an anvil on my back—but I got through it and began to appreciate the book’s merits and potential again. (When I hit this point with my interactive story, I didn’t make it, and haven’t touched the project since. I wasn’t prepared for it!)

Writing a book requires multiple skills. Writing a book is not just slapping some words on a page and hoping for the best. If you want to write a good book, you need to develop a unique story or topic, structure it logically, consider its pacing and flow, get editing and proofreading; you must figure out how to format it, where to sell it, and how to market it. Above all, you need the time, patience, and money to be able to do it all. You don’t necessarily have to do it all yourself, but you need some sort of plan because the whole process can be overwhelming if you jump in without one.

Your book will be flawed. I can name flaws in all of my books. Imperfection permeates the entire process of book writing—it exists in the final product, too, and you need to prepare yourself mentally to handle it. If you can’t handle it, as I discuss in How to Be an Imperfectionist, you will never finish your book.

You won’t always feel like writing, editing, or doing mundane but necessary formatting tasks. This is the topic that I frequently cover in my books. Motivation comes and goes, and if you aren’t prepared to write when motivation leaves, you’ll lose all of your momentum and your almost-book will gather dust. Are you prepared to write when you’d rather do anything else? Simple grit and “determination to succeed” won’t work every time, as I’m sure we’re all already experienced in our lives.

After reading those, you might not want to even try writing a book. But here’s the thing… it can be done if you’re prepared! In many ways, successfully writing a book is no different from planning a trip to the moon. 

The key to accomplishing any goal is to never be negatively surprised.

Obstacles will be there, so it’s a matter of whether or not you’re ready for them. If you’re surprised at how unmotivated you feel on Thursday because you felt motivated on Monday and you were using motivation as your action strategy, you might quit. If you’re surprised at how difficult it is to organize a book and you were hoping (or expecting) it to be easier, you might quit. If you’re surprised that your writing isn’t very good yet, you might quit.

“The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.”

~ Sun Tzu

The person who prepares for every possible outcome will have an answer for any obstacle they may face. As the Sun Tzu quote above suggests, winners will calculate everything out beforehand to ensure victory before they enter the battlefield. This is not more work, it is less! To the prepared mind, obstacles are expected, routine, and easily overcome. To the unprepared mind, obstacles are treacherous, exhausting, and likely defeating.

Low motivation is the most common goal killer known to man. If you have mini habits for your goals, you are prepared to conquer this obstacle and are well ahead of the game. But don’t stop there. Think of specific obstacles you may face along the way and make a plan right now about how you’ll overcome them.

To the unprepared mind, obstacles are roadblocks. To the prepared mind, obstacles are checkpoints on their way to victory. Be prepared.

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