Life’s opportunities, career advancement and professional and financial successes don’t just happen—you create them, says Barry A. Franklin, PhD. For more than four decades, Franklin has dedicated himself to the study of highly successful people. He recently finished his 27th book—GPS for Success: Skills, Strategies, and Secrets of Superachievers, which collects the essence of all that he has learned on how to be successful. Bottom Line ­Personal asked Dr. Franklin to share some of those success secrets…

About four decades ago, I became fascinated with the question, “Why do some people and organizations thrive while others seem to tread water and merely survive?” To figure this out, I devoured books by Napoleon Hill, Claude Bristol, Earl Nightingale, Zig Ziglar, Tony ­Robbins, Jim Collins, Steven Covey, Jack Canfield and Rhonda Byrne, to name just a few. Then I started to review studies that addressed the characteristics of highly successful people.

Part of what I realized after reading all those books and scientific studies is that successful people love the work they do…understand that the “luck” in their lives is largely determined by their own behavior…take complete responsibility for their actions…and do their best to serve others and make the world a better place. Following these fundamental principles will yield benefits, but here are a few more steps you can take to ensure your own success…


Close your eyes, and create a detailed, vivid picture of a desired goal—see it as if you have already achieved it. This is all it takes to practice visualization. When you visualize consistently, you’re telling your subconscious mind what you want from life, and your mind responds by finding ways to make that happen. Two examples…

When Jack Canfield and Mark ­Victor Hansen collaborated on their first Chicken Soup for the Soul book, which compiled inspirational, true stories they had heard over the years, they took a copy of The New York Times best-seller list and pasted Chicken Soup for the Soul into the #1 position and they hung ­copies of this list around their office. In about two years, their book was #1 in its category and stayed there for more than a year. To date, Chicken Soup for the Soul has sold more than 11 million copies worldwide, and the entire series of more than 250 titles has been translated in 43 languages and sold more than 500 million copies.

I’m a big fan of the Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. I was amazed by his performance in the 100-meter ­butterfly during the 2008 Olympic Games. He won the gold medal by beating his nearest competitor by one one-hundredth of a second. Later in interviews, Phelps said that, in addition to following a high-intensity, physical training program, he repeatedly visualized himself winning the race.

Best time to practice visualization: The five minutes before you go to sleep and the five minutes before you get out of bed in the morning. Why not use this established routine as the fertile ground in which to plant the seed of a new habit? Write down a list of your goals (see below for advice on how to supercharge that list), and then review each goal for 15 to 20 seconds. Close your eyes, relax and imagine the goal completed—allow yourself to experience the immense satisfaction you will feel when you achieve that goal. Reminder: Keep your list of goals up to date—when you reach one goal, cross it off and add another to your list.

Write Down Your Goals—the Right Way

Writing is the first step between a great idea in your head and seeing that idea come to life. Not convinced that writing down your goals will make a difference? In a 2008 study funded by the National Institute of Health, Kaiser Permanente recruited nearly 1,700 people to keep a food diary to help them lose weight. Result: The more detailed food records the participants kept, the more weight they lost—and those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight as those who kept no records. Knowing their food choices would be recorded was a powerful motivation for healthier choices.

But simply writing down your goals may not be enough—you have to write them down correctly. Use the acronym SMARTER to remember how to structure goals for maximum efficiency…

Specific: Don’t say you want to lose weight—say how many pounds you want to lose and keep off.

Meaningful: A goal should be something that makes a lasting difference in your life or the lives of others.

Achievable: Set achievable short-term goals to keep your momentum—for example, this week commit to writing one short chapter for the book you’re working on.

Relevant: Your goals should be compatible with your core values and what you truly want out of life and/or what may enrich the lives of others.

Time-bound: Set exact dates for when you want to achieve your goals on a daily, weekly and/or monthly basis.

Evaluate: Goals can be easily ignored, so check in with them every day and you’ll likely be more successful at achieving them.

Readjust: Just like pilots need to constantly evaluate and adjust their altitude and trim, do the same for your goals.

Take Action

When I give talks, I sometimes hold up a copy of one of my books, and ask the audience, “Who would like a free copy of my book? It is here for the taking.” Lots of hands go up…but typically everyone remains in their seat until one brave soul walks up to me and takes the book from my hand. What did he/she do that no one else did? He moved in the direction of something he wanted! People who routinely take action to achieve their goals and desires are the most successful.

For many years, psychologist Angela Duckworth, PhD, and her associates at University of Pennsylvania have been investigating what, apart from intelligence and talent, predicts future success. Their findings: Self-discipline is twice as important for achievement as IQ. Passion, perseverance, stamina and how consistently you work toward something over time are the strongest predictors of success.

The late Kobe Bryant became one of the NBA’s superstars by starting practice three hours earlier than his teammates, even when he was injured. In his early career, Elvis Presley performed shows almost daily—315 shows in 1955! In business, Marissa Mayer (former CEO of Yahoo!), Elon Musk (founder of Tesla and Space X) and other top-tier executives report working 80+ hours per week.

You may have heard that such long hours contribute to poor health—and that can be true. But the difference for these high achievers is that they love their work. They have immensely frenetic schedules, so they have to be ultra-efficient at prioritizing their “to do” lists, delegating time-consuming tasks to others and strategically taking time to reenergize themselves. For folks like this, the daily grind actually can be a daily pleasure as they see their lofty goals and aspirations come to life.

Steve Jobs once said, “I’m convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the nonsuccessful ones is pure perseverance.” And Thomas Watson, founder of IBM said “The way to succeed is to double your failure rate.” The world is full of people with great ideas who gave up before achieving their goals. Winners continue to pursue their dreams and aspirations day in and day out, no matter how many failures are between them and their goal.

Sow and Reap

Sowing and reaping—planting seeds and harvesting the results—is a ­metaphor for what you are doing every day. Your action—or inaction—today influences all your tomorrows. What you have in your life today is a result of the sowing that you have done until now. Every farmer understands that we reap not only what we sow, but always more than we sow—meaning, you will ultimately receive more than you put in.

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