Last Updated on October 25, 2018

15 Ways Successful People Think That Make Them Extraordinary

15 Ways Successful People Think That Make Them Extraordinary

Sometimes, the only thing that makes a particular situation a good one, or a bad one, is simply how you choose to react to it. A career setback can be seen as something devastating, or a a chance for change and growth. Ultimately, the choice is yours. It’s all about having the right mindset.

This list will give you fifteen examples of the mindsets of 15 hugely successful or influential individuals.

1. Focus on what matters

Mark Zuckerberg has lived his life for the fulfilment of one single ambition: To make the world more connected. In Harvard, he founded Facebook, and once he realized he needed to focus entirely on the site, he left university.

To many, leaving such a prestigious university would be unthinkable. But the success of Facebook was what mattered to him.

By focusing entirely on this, and cutting away things which distracted, he has been able to achieve his life’s ambition.

2. No endless to-do-lists

It can be useful to organize your day according to a to-do list. After all, keeping track of your plans ensures they won’t be forgotten.

However, it is important to realize that there are surprises every day. If you plan every moment of your day according to a list, you won’t be able to adapt to surprises. The most successful people are those who are adaptable.

Take, the legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan as an example. If you listen from a song from each one of his albums in sequence, you can hear him adapting to the changing styles and interests of his listeners. Because of this, he has been able to remain relevant for over 50 years.

3. Bounce off ideas with other people

In 1999, when Stephen King was in hospital recovering from an injury, he began to reflect on his career, how he wrote, and the nature of creativity. He turned these thoughts into the book On Writing. There is a passage in it which I often think about. He says:

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open..”

What this means is, once you have an idea for something and found an effective way to express it, you should be open to the thoughts of others.

It is easy to become precious and protective of your work and ideas. But other people may be able to see things you can’t.


So while focusing on your plans and ideas can important, you need to be open and receptive to the ideas of others.

4. Use the 80/20 rule

The 80/20 rule, otherwise known as the Pareto Principle came to be when Vilfredo Pareto, a hugely influential Italian economist noticed that 80% of the wealth of Italy belonged to only 20% of the population.

Over time, a similar distribution between wealth was noticed in other countries too. This suggested that this wealth distribution was a naturally occurring economic rule.

Eventually, this observation spread to business and management, where it still applied. So from it, we should understand that 80% of an outcome stems from only 20% of efforts towards it..

We’ve discussed the Pareto Principle before with this Interview with Tim Ferriss of The 4-Hour Workweek – Part 1

5. Learn to quiet the mind

In 1997, Steve Jobs was at a major developers conference. After he gave a brief talk, he decided to take some questions from the audience. One question inspired him to give some very wise advise on how to focus, he said:

“Focusing is about saying no”

It’s easy for your mind to fill with thoughts and ideas. Many of them, unfortunately are not very helpful. It’s impossible to pay attention to these thoughts, and if you ever tried to.

So, simply learn to say no to them. By doing this, you will remain focused.

6. Be grateful

Oprah Winfrey’s life is a story of true personal growth. She grew up in a small farm in Mississippi and a poor inner city Milwaukee Ghetto. Despite this difficult upbringing, she has become one of the most influential women on the planet.

I believe this stems from her eternal optimism and positivity. But how does someone get such optimism when faced with the hardship she has?


From an early age, she made herself “practice being grateful”.[1] For ten years, she kept a journal where she kept a list of things she was grateful for. She credits this sense of gratitude for her success.

With such an attitude, she was able to limit the damage of negative influences, and strengthen the impact of positive ones.

7. Not afraid to be unconventional

Bill Gates has always been a person of exceptional intelligence. Even in Harvard, a university which is regularly placed in the top five best universities in the world, Bill Gates became known as someone particularly gifted. Yet he didn’t follow the path expected of him. In fact, when he left Harvard to start Microsoft, someone who knew him at the time remarked “Such a brilliant kid. What a waste.” [2]

The conventional route for someone like him would have been to stay in university, become a professor, and make a career in academia and science. The idea of going away to start a computer company was almost unknown.

But by going down an unconventional pathway, Gates was able to change the world.

8. Follow through

By the time Harper Lee died, she had only published one novel. That novel was To Kill A Mockingbird, it was a success on release and to this day remains influential and beloved.

To write it, Lee took one year off from work with the single goal of writing a novel. With only one year, she had no time to make mistakes, no time to second guess herself. She simply had an idea for a novel, and ensured it got written. It would have been a significant gamble to take a large amount of time from work. Yet her desire to see the novel through was so strong that she took the risk even if it would harm her career.

It’s a risk many probably wouldn’t take. But by following through with her idea, she was able to produce a piece of work that has inspired millions.

9. Collaborate with others

Miles Davis’s album Kind of Blue is considered by many to be the greatest Jazz recording of all time. The music is simple, yet complex and endlessly intricate. Though it was recorded over 60 years ago, it feels fresh and timeless.

Do you know it is wrong to consider it a Miles Davis album? Although he led the project and his name is credited for it, the album would have been not nearly as influential if Davis didn’t trust the skill, knowledge and experience of the other great musicians in it. Miles Davis wouldn’t be the icon he is today if he only worked alone.

Like with any great musical icon, the ideas behind the pieces are meaningless if other musicians don’t contribute. For some ideas and projects to work, the input of others is vital.

10. Know you can do it

Picture this, you’re running for the president of the United States. Your opponents at the moment, is a war hero who has been a respected politician for decades and the wife of a former president, herself a political icon.


You’re Barack Obama, at the moment you’ve had no real impact on national politics aside from a few years in the US Senate. Nobody really expects you to win. What do you do?

What Obama did was remain focused. He didn’t listen to the many thousands who said he probably couldn’t or shouldn’t. Instead, he kept working, sticking to his political campaign and he won. Four years later, he won again.

What we can learn is that if you truly believe in yourself and your cause, you can’t be stopped.

11. Develop your thoughts

The famous poet TS Eliot worked on his most famous work The Waste Land  for well over a year. What makes this poet interesting is that we know a great deal of the poem’s drafting history. The earlier drafts were far longer than the finished piece, some of the poem’s most famous lines were removed. The style of some sections was different.

Comparing the different drafts, it is possible to see his idea truly takes shape.

    It can be easy to think that once you have first finished a piece, the process is over. However if you continue to expand and develop your ideas, you might come up with something truly special.

    When The Waste Land was released, it has a huge impact and is now regarded as one of the greatest poems of the 20th century.

    12. Be different

    Alan Turing was without a doubt one of the most brilliant scientists of the 20th century, perhaps of all time.

    Though he died in the 1950s, many of his ideas and texts continue to influence us. He was a pioneer of computing and artificial intelligence (he invented The Turing Test). During the Second World War, he was instrumental in cracking the supposedly unbreakable Nazi enigma code which almost certainly changed the course of the war. His ideas were utterly revolutionary at the time.

    Were he to take the safe route, the expected route, the world we live in today would be a very different place indeed.

    13. Stand for what you believe in no matter what

    Nelson Mandela was probably one of the most inspiring leaders of the 20th century. Yet for most of his adult life he was a wanted criminal. He, and many like him, stood against the racist apartheid system in South Africa. For this, he was considered a terrorist and was sent to prison for twenty five years.


    While in prison, he became an icon. Upon release, apartheid ended. Mandela became the president of South Africa and led it into an era of peace.

    You can truly learn the character of Nelson Mandela from a speech he gave just before going to prison when he spoke of his dream of a South Africa at peace:

    “It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

    The world is a far better place because Nelson Mandela believed from the very beginning that what he was doing was right.

    14. Go all in

    It is probable you have come across the website Humans of New York. In 2010, Brandon Stanton moved to the city with the idea of starting a photo blog. Before this, he had worked as a bond trader in Chicago but soon quit and wanted to follow his passion of photography instead.

    In New York, he took photos of people who he came across and started uploading them to a blog, working minimum wage jobs to pay the rent. The popularity of Humans of New York took off. Now several books of photos from the site has been published, he’s continued his work all over the world, interviewed world leaders and major celebrities and his success continues to grow.

    None of this would have happened if he decided to stay in Chicago as a bond tradesman and didn’t fully invest in his passion.

    15. Learn from failures

    The idea of the Disney company going bankrupt is almost unthinkable now. However, Walt Disney’s first studio Laugh-O-Grams, went bankrupt in 1923. It was forced to close, many of his animators and designers left to find work elsewhere.

    For many people, the story would end here, few would dust themselves off as Disney did and started another studio. Walt Disney kept to his idea, and started again in Los Angeles. A few years later, he founded Disney Brothers Studio with his brother. This became the Walt Disney Company.

    What we can learn from this, is to see each failure, each rejection as merely another obstacle to overcome on the pathway to success.

    Final thoughts

    One thing that connects all the people above is that they didn’t do the normal or expected thing.

    But if you think about it, this makes sense. The norm, is the regular, the conventional standard.

    To truly stand out, to truly become a success, you need to do things differently.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via


    More by this author

    Leon Ho

    Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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    Last Updated on April 23, 2019

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

    Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

    While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

    For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

    While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

    I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

    Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

    Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

    Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

    The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

    Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

    What Is a Stretch Goal?

    A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.


    In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

    For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

    This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

    It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

    The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

    The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

    I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

    Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

    1. Get Outside of Your Head

    If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

    If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

    I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

    Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.


    2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

    When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

    I see this in so many areas of life:

    When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

    In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

    “Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

    Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

    3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

    When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

    The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

    For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

    We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

    From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.


    When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

    Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

    4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals


    is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

    While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

    Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

    For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

    By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

    5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

    I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

    The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

    When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.


    One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

    Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

    I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

    A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

    As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

    From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

    The Bottom Line

    These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

    For instance, LinkedIn’s platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

    Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via


    [1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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