15 Key Differences of Successful People vs Unsuccessful People


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What is it about successful people vs unsuccessful people?

Have you ever wondered what causes one person to (seemingly) succeed in life while others flounder or tread water?

Do they know something we don’t or were they given something we don’t have?

The short answer is no.

And you too can have the kind of success that others only dream of. The differences between successful people vs unsuccessful people are just a few key habits!

You see successful people bandied about across TV, news and social media.  You can’t look anywhere, even at the grocery check out lanes, without seeing someone in front of you more successful than you.

What is it about these people? 

    • Were they just born smarter than you?
    • Did they go to an Ivy League school?
    • Perhaps they had rich benefactors who gave them their success on a silver platter?

While some of that does happen, on average over 80% of millionaires weren’t born into wealth and earned it on their own.

So in this post, we’re going to explore the core differences between successful people vs unsuccessful people. What tips, strategies, and actions that they know that we don’t. Most importantly, we’ll learn how to implement them in our own lives today for a better tomorrow.

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Successful People aren’t smarter than you

For the record, I don’t want you to think I only equate success with being a millionaire. That is one, but certainly not the only, measure of success.

Successful people aren’t necessarily smarter than you.  They may not have even completed college, such as John Mackey CEO and founder of Whole Foods Market.

The main thing between successful people vs unsuccessful people is they just think differently.  They behave differently. Over time, they have developed habits that less successful people don’t have.

The good news is that their behaviors, habits and mental outlook can be adopted by ANYONE!

One key thing that most successful people do is focus on one task at a time.  Multitasking is dead.  It never really worked.

These days, if you want to succeed, it’s time to embrace mono-tasking!  Hear more on that in this short video from Huffington Post!

Successful People just don’t accept defeat

Anyone who has tried has failed.

Anyone who claims they haven’t failed is either lying or playing it way too safe.  Failure is a part of life.  But what separates successful people vs unsuccessful people is how they handle defeat.

Successful people don’t just roll over and accept defeat.  They challenge it.  Successful people learn from defeat.  They try again.

Yoda very famously said, “do or do not; there is no try”. 

Yoda statue successful people vs unsuccessful people Middle class Dad

What he means is either you’re going to accomplish your goal or you’re not.  And if you don’t accomplish it on your first attempt you just keep trying until it works.  Each time you attempt it you tweak it a little from what you learned about the prior failure.

Entrepreneurial Personality Type

My friend Alex Charfen believes there is a personality type called the Entrepreneurial Personality Type.

Essentially its an additional personality type to the traditional Myers-Briggs personality types and other similar programs.  This personality type is what Alex claims people like “Edison and Ford, Jobs and Musk, Winfrey and Gates” fall into.

He goes on to say “Their personality type offers unique abilities. They see the world differently. With the right support and guidance, they will contribute to humanity and change the world. They’re the trailblazers, the innovators, the creators.”

He has a free e-book on this subject so if you’re wondering if you might be an entrepreneurial personality type, get Alex’s free e-book!

Successful People embrace their mistakes

Successful people don’t wallow in mistakes and failure the way most of us do.

They may feel the spark of disappointment, but they don’t stay in that head-space.  The learn from it, try again, and keep going until they achieve their desired goal.  Perseverance and tenacity are the defining trait differences between successful people vs unsuccessful people.

The main difference between successful people vs unsuccessful people is in how they see mistakes.  They see them as an opportunity to gather vital information not previously available.

Sure the mistake may have been costly, but you sure aren’t going to earn that money back or fix the problem by feeling sorry for yourself.  No; the only way to recoup what was lost in the failure is to try again.  And keep trying until you succeed.

The only shame in a mistake is not taking ownership of your actions and/or repeating the same mistake.

Not convinced mistakes can help your personal growth?  Then I highly recommend you check out my post on How Failure Can Inspire You to Greatness.  Not that I have it all figured out, but I’ve certainly made plenty of mistakes and I’ve also had the benefit of listening to a lot of great people expound on failures and change.

Successful People are more productive than the rest of us

I was listening, as I often do, to Pat Flynn‘s podcasts the other day and he was interviewing productivity expert Chris Bailey, author of the book The Productivity Project.  In the interview, which you can listen to right here, Bailey deconstructs a number of myths about productivity and successful people vs unsuccessful people in terms of productivity habits.


For instance:

  1. He explores (and debunks in some cases) impacts on success of wake up time, meditation, diet and physical exercise
  2. How many hours a week you work is irrelevant
  3. How much you do is not as important as how meaningful your accomplishments are

So what are my . . .

15 Key Differences of Successful People vs Unsuccessful People?

1. Focus on 1 task at a time

Monotasking has replaced multitasking as the new norm.

Show me someone who says they can do 2 (or more) things at once and I’ll show you someone who isn’t doing either to the best of their ability.  Successful people may well have a lot of goals and items on their to-do list, but they focus on doing them one at a time.

Mindfulness, the idea of being focused, intentional and present to what you’re doing is the key here. Explore this concept more in this excellent edition of Time Magazine!

Time Magazine The Mindful Revolution cover successful people vs unsuccessful people Middle class Dad

2. Have an organizational system to keep track of daily tasks

Whether you use a dry erase board, a notebook, an old-school planner or an online calendar or app; have a system to keep track of what you need to accomplish. This is a key difference between successful people vs unsuccessful people.

GQUEUES is a great web-based to-do list program.  They also have mobile apps as well.  You can create many different lists, or queues, and share them with whoever you like.  When a task gets completed, they can check it off and it gets archived.  You, in turn, can see what has been archived and what is still pending.  Sync it with your Google calendar and set due dates for all tasks.  Read more about it in my GQueues Review.

3. Learn how to say no and not feel guilty

The more successful the person, the more requests they get. And you can bet, the more they say no. If you say yes to everything everyone asks you, you’ll run yourself ragged and never accomplish your goals.

There’s no shame in saying no.  Just make sure your communication is timely & professional

4. Take ownership of mistakes and choices

If you’re constantly blaming everyone else for your shortcomings or troubles you’ll never get ahead. If you never accept your role in a failure, you’ll never learn the lesson from it. Thus you’re much more likely to repeat that mistake.

The only shame in making mistakes is in not owning it and/or repeating them. If there is one defining difference between successful people vs unsuccessful people, it would be this one.

5. Successful people surround themselves with other successful people

If your circle of friends is constantly griping about the world or what they don’t have in their lives, guess what you’re likely to start doing? Success breeds success. We are the product of the people we spend the most time with. Distance yourself from negative people and seek out those who inspire you to be a better person.

6. Make time for themselves

Think of your energy, motivation and drive as being fueled by a gas tank. Time to yourself is what refills that gas tank. Even if it’s just 15 minutes of meditation each morning, fitness a few hours a week or some other practice outside work and family, make it a priority!

You can’t serve anyone else well if you’re run down.

7. They get the right amount of rest for their body

As I mentioned above, Chris Bailey debunks the myth that you have to rise at 4 or 5 am each day to be successful. However, it is important to get the right amount of rest for your body.

The “right amount” will vary by age and other factors, so figure out what your body needs. Einstein reportedly got 10 hours per day.  I, on the other hand like between 6 and 8.  Find what’s right for your body and make it a priority.

8. Avoid comparisons

If you want to succeed, focus on your life, your goals and learning from your mistakes.

It’s totally OK to be mentored or inspired by others. But avoid comparing yourself to others or constantly wanting what someone else has; that’s energy and focus that could be directed at your goals.

9. Don’t listen to the naysayers

It’s totally OK to get feedback or opinions, but there will always be someone in our lives who doesn’t think we can accomplish our goals. Maybe it’s a jealous family member or friend who hasn’t made a lot of great choices.

Follow what’s in your heart and don’t be deterred by those who don’t believe in you. If you don’t believe in yourself, how can you expect anyone else to?

10. Use the T.R.A.F. system

I fell in love with this system 25 years ago. Essentially when you come into contact with a piece of paper (or an email), do one of the following things with it right away:

1. Trash it
2. Refer it (to someone else to deal with)
3. Act on it (right then or at least put it on your schedule)
4.  File it (as in something you might later need to access but for now it’s unnecessary

Many of us fall into the habit of picking up a bill or opening an email and then just leaving it to come back to later. Repeat that process a few times a day every day and it’s no wonder we have giants stacks of paper at our desks and never accomplish our goals

11. They set daily, short term and long term goals and regularly measure their progress

You can’t get to Anchorage Alaska without a roadmap (or at least GPS). So how do you expect to accomplish your goals if you aren’t clear on what they are and don’t measure where you’re at on the journey of hitting them?

Break your goals down into digestible and realistic chunks for the day, week, month, year and beyond.  Then check in periodically to see where you’re at in working on them.

12. Schedule time for distractions rather than getting distracted throughout the day

How much time do all of us waste checking Facebook or email throughout the day?  LOTS. What if you scheduled a time to do those things and ONLY did them during those scheduled times? How much more productive could you be if you weren’t constantly stopping one task to do those others?

13. Practice Gratitude

As Tony Robbins is fond of saying” trade your expectations for appreciation and your whole world changes in an instant”.

In other words, don’t focus on what you think you deserve or should expect from others. Focus on being grateful for what you have and what they do. That doesn’t mean if you’re the boss you shouldn’t hold your people accountable. But if you go your whole life only focused on what you don’t have, you’ll never be happy or as successful as you could be.

Do you struggle to feel grateful?  Or maybe you’re always having expectations not met and feeling frustrated?  I’ve been there!  If that’s you, take a moment and check out my 7 Amazing Ways Gratefulness Can Improve Your Life.  These easy steps helped me and I know they can help you!

14. Learn to be OK with moving tasks to the next day’s list

I used to be that guy that HAD to get everything done on my to-do list or I felt like a failure.

Learn to be OK with moving less important things to other days and not feeling like you have to do EVERYTHING. The most successful people pick from 1 to 3 top goals for each day; setting that intention in the morning. Everything else takes a back seat to accomplishing those top goals.

15. They don’t expect anyone to do anything for them

It’s great to have a team and to count on your team, but don’t fall into the trap of expecting others to make your dreams happen.

Ralph Waldo Emerson‘s Essay on Self Reliance motivated me in high school to make things happen for myself and not wait for others to do it for me. You are in the driver’s seat of your life.

Don’t like where you’re at?  CHANGE IT!

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What are the differences you see between successful people vs unsuccessful people?

What drives your success?

In this post, we explored exactly what causes one person to succeed while another person fails. We looked at the strategies, tips, and actions we should be taking if we want to succeed. Most importantly we reviewed how to put those things in motion in our own lives.

Feel free to comment here or email me with any questions as I am here to help!

If you like this post, please consider sharing on Facebook because if it helped you, it just might help someone else!


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Photo credits (that aren’t mine or which require attribution):
Yoda by Kamesg licensed under CC BY 2.0


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Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a husband, father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market.

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