Published on December 7, 2020

The Secret to Success: Defining Success on Your Own Term

The Secret to Success: Defining Success on Your Own Term

Whether we admit it or not, we all want to know the secrets to success. We want to uncover the things that are going to help us achieve our goals—whether they’re in work, finances, our relationships, or even our own happiness.

It’s why self-help and productivity book sales have nearly doubled since 2013.[1] It’s why autobiographies and memoirs have surged 42% in the last year alone.[2] We want to study the habits of highly successful people. We want to know what it was that got them to where they were.

And, depending on the book we pick up, there are infinite answers—networking, investments, morning routines, a positive mindset, or the courage to take risks.

With all of the different—and often conflicting—information out there about the secrets to success, how do we actually know what will work for us, specifically? How do we know whose advice to follow or what actions to take?

Is it possible that we have our own personalized blueprint for success? And, rather than blindly follow someone else’s guidance, can we just tap into our own?

Here’s how to discover the real secret to success—on your own terms.

What Are Your Metrics to Success?

A key part of the secret to success is knowing your end goal. It’s impossible to get anywhere if we don’t have a planned destination in mind. Otherwise, we’re just mindlessly driving, hoping that we’ll magically arrive somewhere we want to be.

So, it’s impossible to have a conversation about success without the end goal and metrics in mind. How else will you know if you’re on track to reach your version of success or if you need to course-correct? And how else will you know when you get there?


Success, itself, just means “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.”[3] Therefore, if we don’t have an aim or purpose, it’s impossible to be successful. We can’t achieve success if we don’t define it first. The definition can give us clues on how to go about achieving it.

For example, if I aim to relax on my day off, then mindlessly watching TV might be seen as successful—but if I aim to get a lot accomplished, not so much.

Or, if I aim to spend quality time with my family today, maybe putting off that back-burner work project until tomorrow is the most successful thing I can do.

Life is all about decisions. You are choosing one path over another. You’re sacrificing one thing to get something else. You might sacrifice a night of partying to study for a test. You might sacrifice that vacation with friends to save up some money. Or, you might sacrifice watching TV tonight to finish that work project.

But you can’t make the decisions of what to choose if you don’t know what success looks like. And you can’t know what success looks like if you don’t know what’s important to you.

Success Is About Values

The first secret to success is first knowing what it is about. We measure what’s important to us. I rarely ever remember what my friend ate during our lunch together, but I definitely remember how meaningful our conversation was.

There are infinite things to measure in any given moment. So, what we choose to measure is important because it tells us if we were successful or not. And we’re consistently going to measure what we value in life.

In fact, the life we lead is largely a reflection of our decisions and values. If we consistently choose other people over ourselves, our lives will reflect that. If we consistently choose work over family, our lives will reflect that, too.


Our values dictate our actions. They tell us if we’re actually successful in what we’re really after or not, and then how to course-correct. And that means it’s impossible to achieve any form of success without knowing our values.

If I get a promotion that’s only a little bit more money but a lot more time on the road, and I really value quality time with family, is that promotion really a success for me? If I have tons of fun plans but really value free time for myself, are those plans really a success for me?

Regardless of what the “objective metrics of success” out there say, if something doesn’t align with our values, then it doesn’t measure up to our definition of success.

To define success for yourself, you have to start by knowing your own values so you can be successful at what you care about.

Values Are About Sensitivities

But how do we actually know our values? How do we know what we really care about?

It seems like our values change a lot throughout our lives or in different situations. When we’re young, we might value independence. When we’re older, we might change this and start to value connections more. Or, in work, we value creativity But at home, we value structure.

Furthermore, how can we trust that we aren’t just copying other people’s values like their definitions of success?

The good news is that we have a built-in guidance system that tells us what we value—our sensitivities. Since we were born, we’ve been sensitive to some things but not others.


Maybe we’ve always been sensitive to freedom, and we’re constantly feeling trapped and looking for opportunities to feel freer. Or maybe, we’ve always been sensitive to belonging and feel left out really easily and always want to make people feel like they belong.

We tend to value what we notice and feel deeply. And we tend to feel what we’re most sensitive to because ‘sensitivity’ means we can sense more—see, touch, taste, smell, hear more there than most other people.

Of course, we’re going to have more wants, desires, needs, traumas, and gifts in that area of life because we’re more sensitive to it. Those same sensitivities are going to run through every single experience of our lives, across work and our family life and our friendships—from childhood to the present moment and even our future.

They’re going to show up in our greatest triumphs and painful traumas. They’re going to show up in the best and worst moments of our lives. Every single time we’ve ever been successful, we have felt all of them. Every single time we haven’t been successful, we haven’t felt them.

They’re a reliable, predictable formula for success and fulfillment that works in every situation of our lives. They’re our secret to success—how we define success on our own terms.

Now, all we have to do is map your sensitivities to define success for yourself.

Map Your Sensitivities to Discover Your Definition of Success

To start mapping your sensitivities, you need emotionally potent stories from your life—noticing the sensitivities and, therefore, values and metrics for success that are apparent in your stories.

So, below is a quick exercise to guide you through starting to map your sensitivities:


  1. Think of the happiest, most successful memory in your life. Paint a picture in your mind. Notice what you see, touch, smell, hear and taste in this scene.
    Write down every word that you felt at this moment. Maybe you felt happy, elated, powerful, magical, successful, alive, enriched, or emboldened.
  2. Now, think of one of the most challenging or painful memories in your life (that doesn’t feel re-traumatizing to explore)—a moment you would regard as “unsuccessful.” Again, paint the picture in your mind and use all of your senses to bring it to life.
    Write down every word that captures how you felt at that moment. Maybe you felt sad, abandoned, confused, stuck, lost, or annoyed. Now, next to each word, write down what you wanted to feel. Maybe you wanted to feel happy, connected, clear, motivated, at home, or excited.
  3. Go through your two lists—of your happy moment and your challenging moment—and circle any words that show up twice or more. For example, if you felt Connected in your happy moment, and you wanted to feel Connected in your sad moment, circle it. If any words are very similar, you can circle those, too.
    Now, you’re beginning to map your sensitivities. If you felt all of the words you circled, would you consider it a success? Of course, you would. Because they’re what you’re most sensitive to and, therefore, what you value. You can think back to past moments of success and begin to see those words. You can think back to past moments of “failure” and see the opposites of those words.

While this is a very simple but potent introduction to defining success for yourself, mapping sensitivities can be a lot more in-depth and insightful than this.

The Secrets to Success

We all already have a lifetime of experiences that define success for us. They tell us the things that have been successful for us—from our best friendships to our biggest accomplishments. And they also tell us the things that have been unsuccessful for us. All we have to do is connect the dots between all of those experiences and understand the sensitivities that define success for us.

The real secret to success is following the blueprint that’s already proven to be successful for you. Your entire life already has that evidence. Maybe every single time you’ve connected deeply, been playful and fun, put out strategic ideas, and been unapologetic with your opinions, you’ve been successful. If that’s been true for you, then you already know your secret to success. You’ve seen it in the past and know that it will work in the future.

It’s success on your own terms.

I’ve helped hundreds of people discover their sensitivities, and I can say with certainty that, at the end of the day, we each have our own unique secret to success. And we don’t have to copy anyone else’s formula because no one else has the exact gifts and experiences and sensitivities that we have.

So, map your sensitivities. Discover your own secret to success. And define success on your own terms.

Featured photo credit: Samuel Clara via


[1] The NPD Group: Self Help Book Sales are Rising Fast in the US
[2] The Guardian: Why Real-Life Memoirs Are Such a Hit
[3] Oxford Languages: Success

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Mike Iamele

Mike Iamele is a Purpose + Brand Strategist who figures out what makes you naturally successful. Then helps you do it on purpose.

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Last Updated on April 8, 2021

How to Overcome Fear and Find Success (The Ultimate Guide)

How to Overcome Fear and Find Success (The Ultimate Guide)

Take a moment and imagine what your life would be like if you had no fear. What would you do if you knew how to overcome fear? It’s not difficult to imagine that it would alter your life significantly.

I believe that fear is the single biggest obstacle that holds people back from fulfilling their potential and becoming the best version of themselves. Fear of failure, fear of abandonment, fear of success, fear of not being good enough

The question is, where does it come from?

Neuroscientists claim that humans are the most fearful creatures on the planet because of our ability to learn, think, and create fear in our minds. We scare ourselves by imagining the worst possible outcomes, assuming that we are protecting ourselves from imminent danger.

You make the choice to be a victim of your fear and anxiety or to push them aside and be courageous.

In this article, we’ll look into the root cause of fear and how to conquer fear to realize our potential.

What Is Fear, Really?

This acronym best reflects what fear is[1]:

Learn how to overcome fear with the fear acronym

    Fear is an emotion created by your mind based on real or imagined threats. Fear may be completely founded in reality, or not. It may also manifest as anxiety disorders in some cases, as anxiety is based on worries or fears about the future.

    These imagined scenarios of perceived threats end up feeding your fear to the point where it becomes all-consuming. Often, these scenarios never happen.


    The real issue is not the fear itself, but rather how we hold it in our minds.

    How to Overcome Fear

    Overcoming fear may sound easier said than done. When you are in the thick of fear, it’s hard to see a way out. The good news is that, because you are the root cause of your fears, you are also the solution to them.

    1. Identify Your Fears Through Writing

    There are times when I’ve felt afraid but couldn’t identify why. If you keep your fears inside, you allow your mind to control how you feel.

    In order to prevent this confusion from happening in the first place, identify what your fears are before moving on to learning how to deal with fear.

    What makes you feel afraid?

    Instead of just thinking about these things, write them down. When you write down your fears on paper and actually question them, it forces you to analyze why you are afraid. Questions are designed to trigger your fears and bring them to the surface.

    This isn’t a comfortable process, but deep inner work never is. However, if you continue to keep your feelings in the dark, the scarier they will be, and the more disempowered you will become.

    Once you identify the type of fear and the experience that you associate with your fears, you become armed with the power to take action to change them. Eventually, your fears become smaller and smaller, and your strength gets bigger and bigger.

    As you’re identifying what your fears are, you can try Lifehack’s Free Life Assessment. It will help you identify which areas may be causing you more fear and which you can fall back on as strengths.

    2. Practice Gratitude

    If you want to learn how to overcome fear, gratitude is key. From personal experience, I have learned that it’s difficult to experience fear and gratitude at the same time. They are literally on opposite ends of the continuum of the human experience.


    When you are experiencing difficult times in life, it’s easy to drop into fear and overwhelm. In that energetic space, it can be hard to stay grounded.

    Developing a gratitude practice allows you to not drown in fear. It doesn’t mean that you won’t still feel it, but the blow will be lessened, thereby allowing you to see the brighter side of struggle.

    In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their physical and mental health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships[2].

    Anyone who experiences fear knows that there is almost always a story attached to whatever it is that you’re fearful of.  Fear loves to hang out with your inner critic and come up with worst-case scenarios about what could happen.

    Gratitude helps keep these limiting stories at bay when you’re learning how to overcome fear. When you practice gratitude, your brain shifts to what is currently working instead of what isn’t working.

    The act of being fearful is a future-oriented process, while gratitude is a present-oriented one. The next time that fear tries to creep its way into your head, replace that disempowering thought with an empowering one.

    You can learn more about how to replace fear based practices with more positive ones in this video:

    3. Release Control

    Being a control freak is how a lot of people manage their fears, or so they think. Unfortunately, control has no place on the path to learning how to overcome fear.

    In actuality, all that they are doing is masking their fears by trying to control everything. If you can relate, it’s time to release control. Trust me when I say that this is a losing battle.

    Fear results in controlling behavior, and when this behavior doesn’t give us the results we’re seeking, it further intensifies our fears.


    In your attempt to control fear, you actually become a victim of it. This fear and control cycle leaves a lot of people feeling defeated. The reality is that there will always be things that are far beyond your control.

    The only way that we can move past needing to be in control is to accept that it is not always up to us. While you may be in control of your decisions, you don’t always have control over situations that you are pushed into, nor can you control how others react.

    The only thing that you have control over is your inner world and how you choose to respond to your external environment. The next time you catch yourself trying to control everything, step back and ask yourself what you are afraid of.

    Start to get curious about what thoughts are generating your fear. Curiosity and fear don’t like to co-exist. Once you let go of one, you invite the other in, which will help as you learn how to get rid of fear.

    True freedom comes from fully releasing control. When you are able to do this, you begin the process of releasing your fears as well.

    4. Recite Positive Affirmations

    Positive affirmations can be used to combat almost any negative thought pattern, which can be very helpful when you want to learn how to overcome fear. Using them to help challenge your fears can help retrain your brain and have your fears reframed as powerful statements.

    Research shows that you can actually train your subconscious mind such that it will help you to attract exactly what you desire in life[3].

    Instead of saying “I am afraid of doing this because I might fail,” look in the mirror and say to yourself, “I am prepared for this, I am ready, and I will not fail.”

    The more you use positive affirmations, the stronger they become. The best way to cancel a negative belief is to develop its positive counterpart.

    Commit to making positive affirmations a key component of your morning ritual. It literally takes one thought, repeated over and over again, to set you on the path to transforming your entire life.


    Here are more positive affirmations you can try: 10 Positive Affirmations for Success that will Change your Life

    5. Do One Thing Every Day That Scares You

    Living in your comfort zone will get you nowhere in life, and it certainly won’t help you learn how to overcome fear. In my experience, not doing the things that scare you will only increase the likelihood that your fears will grow and inevitably take over every decision that you make.

    I want to encourage you to do one thing every day that scares you. It can be something small. All that matters is that you take action. Make it a habit to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

    Putting yourself in new and uncomfortable situations triggers a unique part of the brain that releases dopamine, nature’s make-you-happy chemical. Here’s the mind-blower: that unique region of the brain is only activated when you see or experience completely new things[4].

    When you condition yourself to do something every day that scares you, your fear fades away, and your courage grows. Think about it…when you face your fears, how can you fear them again? Soon enough, your confidence will skyrocket.

    Final Thoughts

    The next time that you feel threatened by fear, I encourage you to pull upon one or more of the above strategies. Change your relationship with fear. Instead of letting it knock you down, use it as motivation to grow and achieve more.

    Once you recognize that fear is not real, the obstacles that appear to stand in your way will be removed, and you will feel empowered to take action.

    Your potential in life is limited by only one factor: you. Are you ready to transform fear into action?

    More on How to Overcome Fear

    Featured photo credit: Jonathan Klok via


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