Defining Success

The dictionary defines success in many different ways: the accomplishment of an aim or purpose; the attainment of popularity or profit; a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity; the outcome of an undertaking.

But whose aims, whose purpose, whose prosperity is it that we talk about when we talk about what success means to us? Most people define success through their accumulated life experiences, by comparing themselves to others, or by listening to friends and family tell their versions of success. If we define our success by what other people think or feel, if we tie our success to their aims, their vision or popularity or prosperity, we are setting ourselves up for suffering, a loss of joy, and failure.

Tangible Result or Feeling?

What constitutes success for each of us is as different as our fingerprints. But in my experience there are basically two types of individuals when it comes to defining success: those who define it by tangible results and those who define it as a feeling.

If you’re a person who defines success by tangible results then you may say things like: “I’ll be successful when my paycheck is x amount, or I’ll be successful when I close x number of deals every month, or I’ll be successful when I make top producer.”

Conversely, a person who defines success by a feeling might say things like: “I’ll be successful when I no longer have to worry about money, or I’ll be successful when others are envious of me, or I’ll be successful when I’m not anxious about when I’ll get my next referral.”

The one common denominator in both definitions of success is that they take place sometime in the future. There is no appreciation for the successes of here and now. Why is that? Why don’t we celebrate our successes every day? The answer lies in our brains.


Our brains could actually be working against us when it comes to being successful and recognizing that we are. Fortunately our brains aren’t “hard-wired” as neuroscientists once thought. They can evolve and change as the information and sensory date we feed to them changes.

What typically happens is that once we’ve achieved “success” our brain immediately kicks in and says – nope, not good enough you have to do better, etc. The brain moves success further and further out because that’s the behavior we’ve taught it in the past. Maybe we’re always comparing ourselves to others. Maybe our family and friends do the comparing for us. Maybe we’re trying to live up to others’ expectations. Maybe we’ve been made to feel “not good enough” on more than one occasion. By allowing others to define success on our behalf, we’ve taught our brains not to celebrate success in the here and now but always be reaching for something more.

A Harvard study in 2007 proved that the brain can’t distinguish what is real from what is imaginary. That’s why our dreams can often feel so real. By learning to control our thoughts we can rewire our brains and how they handle success. Simply thinking and seeing ourselves as successful is the first step to eventually allowing ourselves to celebrate success in the present moment and not constantly put it off to the future.

Rewire Your Brain for Success

This isn’t something that will happen overnight but here are a few things you can begin to do today to rewire your brain for success:

  1. Resist the urge to use self-defeating language. You know things like, “I’m so stupid,” “What an idiot,” etc. Find one positive thing you did every time something doesn’t go according to plan and tell yourself that instead.
  2. Control your environment. Surround yourself with people who are positive and supporting, not negative or demeaning.
  3. Get used to using superlatives. For example, instead of saying, “I’m fine,” say “I’m awesome!”
  4. Don’t say “I am busy,” or “I am overwhelmed.” You can’t feel successful if you are complaining.

If you take control of your thoughts, if you are conscious and consistent in thinking positively and proactively, then you will begin to experience success. The quicker you can start to celebrate the small stuff, the faster your brain will rewire itself toward success as a natural part of your life.