Personal Development

The Success Mentality

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Written by R.C. Thornton

As a junior in college in the summer of 2009, I decided, of my own volition: “I should learn Chinese!”

We’ve all heard the anecdotes about why Chinese is “hard”: it’s one of the hardest languages for English-speakers to learn.  It’s impossible to memorize the characters (“they all look the same!”.  There are in excess of 50,000 characters; a literate Chinese would need to know about 4,000 to read and understand a newspaper).  That’s going to take a lot of time.

I wasn’t a Chinese major (I was an accounting major), so it’s not like I had all day to study the language.  I didn’t know much about China or Chinese, but I decided I didn’t care enough about stories like these: I was going to try anyway.

So I did.

Fast forward to April, 2012.

Three years later, I:

  • Studied abroad in Shanghai for a semester
  • Know in excess of 1,500 characters, and likely twice as many vocabulary words
  • Can read a Chinese newspaper fairly well, with the help of a Chinese-English dictionary at times, especially when the article’s topic matter is complicated
  • Can carry on intermediate-level conversations in Chinese
  • Entertain friends by my extensive knowledge of Chinese-language “bad words”

So I have quite a ways to go, but I’ve gotten quite far.

Whenever I tell people I meet about my learning Chinese, they’re always very impressed.  They usually mention one of the stories above (“wow, that must have been so hard to learn!”).

They think I pulled off something truly amazing.  A friend commented that I have a true “gift for language”.

A “gift for language”?  Yeah, right.  In fact, there’s nothing impressive at all about my accomplishment.

What I do have—that most people who seem impressed by my accomplishments with Chinese do not understand—is a mindset for success: a desire for accomplishment so strong and so pervasive that it permeates the way I spend my time, the way I think about things, and the things I value in life.  This mindset pushed me through the thousands of hours of study needed to get to even my current high-intermediate, low-advanced level of Chinese.

My mindset inspired my action.  My mindset said “keep going”, and my action was to go to and keep reading newspaper articles.

And that’s why my accomplishment is unimpressive.  It’s unimpressive because anybody possessing a mindset for success could accomplish learning Chinese, or any other worthwhile goal.

But it seems impressive to others, I think, because they misunderstand what’s needed to be successful.  For example, some of my friends—fed up with their jobs—talk about starting a business.  But they have been unsuccessful because:

  1. Fair-weather efforts.  They try for a while: they write a business plan, tell their buddies about it… and then nothing.
  2. Stronger value on “knowing everything beforehand” rather than action.  They think they don’t “know enough” to be successful, and as such don’t try.
  3. Truly believing that barriers are holding you back.  “What if I’m not successful?”  “What if I’m not good enough?”… and therefore not trying.
  4. High emphasis on short-term results.  “Only 80 views in my first 2 weeks of blogging?  It’s all over!”

Have you noticed any of these attributes when you try to accomplish your goals?

The solution is to adopt the proper mindset—“The Success Mindset”—to guide your actions and make you apt to be successful in your endeavors.

The Success Mindset is more of a lifestyle.  It’s not something you compartmentalize, and use only on weekends when you want to undertake a new project.  It’s the way you think about all of your actions, and the framework you use to make all of your decisions.

The Success Mindset:

Valuing success over distractions; jettisoning slovenly dispositions. 

What do you do in your free time?  Watch TV or relax, or work on your business plan?  People with a success mindset actually don’t find it enjoyable to waste time.  Being successful is much cooler than that.

Proper sense of temporality: ability to discount the need for immediate gratification.  For example, some of the world’s most successful companies—e.g. Microsoft, Apple and Facebook—were founded years before becoming massively successful.  Do you think these companies would still exist if Gates, Jobs and Zuckerberg gave up after 3 months?

Scaling one’s efforts.  Scaling, in start-up parlance, means a business model that leverages the fledgling company’s current strengths, and smoothly continuing to construct the business at it expands: in other words, “having a plan, and not doing too much (or too little) at any given time”.  Do you try to do everything at once, get burned out, and then give up?  Or do you usually have a plan?

Proper Understanding of Failure: In middle school and high school, I lost 8 student council elections before claiming the ultimate prize: student body president my senior year.  You might say I was obsessed.  I say, I understood that “failure” was not something to be feared, and believed that I would be successful in the long run.  Actually, I kind of like failure, because it’s a sign that I learned, and can do better next time.

Developing the success mentality:

So how do you transition from where you are now to developing an all-encompassing success mentality?  Pages and pages have been written on this topic by me and others.  I recommend starting to develop the success mentality by accomplishing these things:

Have a disinterested, objective perspective (so as to not be held back by limiting beliefs imposed by yourself, society, etc.)

I use the fancy word “disinterested” because it describes the ideal perspective perfectly: impartial and free from bias.  A disinterested perspective is important because it means having few preconceptions and being willing to form opinions based on fact and argumentation.  Think of how many opinions you form based on a “hunch” or irrelevant factors: “the only way I can make money is by having this job I don’t like”.  “I need to watch 3 hours of TV daily to unwind.  What a stressful day!”  A disinterested perspective would say “I can make money through my job, but are there some other options?”, and “I like to watch TV, but do I really need to, and am I really getting value from doing so?”

Good habit formation.  Good habit formation is important because it allows you to automatically want to do things that make you successful.

This is one of my favorites, for exactly the reason that so many people think they “can’t do it”.

The reality is that most of us are excellent at forming habits.  We’re just used to feeling pressure to get us started.  Think of school kids: don’t they get their homework done, though they’d rather play video games?  Think of you: don’t you go to work, even though you’d rather be at home?

Good habits that lend towards the success mindset are:

  • Spending free time well
  • Constantly reading and learning
  • Lowering the importance of short-term goals

Most of us have trouble because we think the pain and discomfort felt at first will persist.  But we know (thinking about it logically, from a disinterested perspective), that the discomfort subsides quickly.

Unwavering drive to improve. Successful people are also humble people: they recognize their deficiencies and want to improve, rather than being swallowed by their own ego and complacent.  Successful people make improvement a habit, and constantly endeavor to get better.

Do you actively try to better yourself, or are you “fine with things the way you are”?


Success isn’t magic.  My experience and observations have shown me that success is actually rather formulaic: it comes from a proper mindset, which in turn leads to actions that secure success.  If you actively challenge the bad habits and debilitating mindsets, you can accomplish you goals.  That is The Success Mindset.

Some Amazing Comments


About the author

R.C. Thornton

R.C. Thornton is an entrepreneur with a penchant for personal development. He writes about personal development with an emphasis on intelligent analysis of problems at solutions at his blog, You can follow him on Twitter (, or e-mail him at


  • “Do you think these companies would still exist if Gates, Jobs and Zuckerberg gave up after 3 months?”

    No I don’t, but I also know that to keep going is the hardest part. And it’s not always the solution.

    So what can you do when the “what’s the point” thought comes up?

    Sometimes that thought is trying to tell us something, and that may be that this project is not going anywhere. I wonder how many projects Gates or Jobs started and then stopped?

    I believe getting behind “what’s the point” is what we need to decide if we want to keep going, or if our energy would be better invested somewhere else.


    • That’s an excellent point. The viability of any one undertaking is entirely determined by the situation itself; in my own life, I’ve tried to start a number of businesses, and had some of them fail or go nowhere. I made strategic decisions to stop when it seemed like success was not possible.

      The key point I want to make is to emphasize against giving up *on the whole*. Though I failed in some previous ventures, I kept going and kept trying. I’ve learned a lot, and become better able to handle bigger challenges as a result of that practice.

      Without the success mentality, I would have just given up after the first failure.

      I like your focus on knowing when “enough is enough”. I wrote an article on my blog about scaling efforts, which is similar to what you discussed. Please read if you’re interested:


    • Marien,

      That’s a good point and a subtle distinction that must be made.

      Whether or not we will succeed at any one task is highly dependent on the specific variables of that situation. So it’s important to know if it’s time to turn in the towel.

      But in the long run, our success is determined by something similar to the success mentality I’ve written about here.

      In my own life: there’s been plenty of things I’ve failed at, such as business ventures and the elections I wrote about in the article. With those businesses that failed, I quit them before they got out of hand.

      But in the long run, what I learned has proven to be invaluable. Now that I’m working on new ventures, I feel much more confident, and better understand what’s needed for success.

      I really appreciate your point. I wrote about something similar in one of my blog articles-scaling your efforts: This means being strategic in the way you take risks. Please let me know what you think!


  • I love this RC. Indeed, there is no such thing as a “language” gene that makes learning a foreign language easier for some folks. John Steinbeck said, “Man is the only kind of varmint sets his own trap, baits it, then steps in it.” The Counterfeit Self is the varmint that sets traps, baits them,and then waits for you to step in them. I call them NO-Traps whenever you attempt to improve your life. NO-Traps are falsehoods, cleverly disguising themselves as truths, to ensnare you. They are baited with pictures of past failures that reinforce discouraging thought-voices. By adopting the success mentality and diligently working on a a mental management program we can convince our mind that there is possibility where it now sees defeat.

  • As someone learning Czech I can totally relate. It’s not that hard if you have this mindset, or build on thinking this way. Very helpful reminder.


  • Excellent article, with practical and useful advice.

    A lot of people dream about success, but do nothing about it, because they think it is too much effort for them. Some think that you have to be rich and well informed first, but as you point out in your article, it’s a matter of a success mentality.

    I liked what you said about having a disinterested, objective perspective. I call it “detachment”.

    Detachment goes with the ability to weigh the pros and cons of situations, circumstances and actions, in an impartial way, and to make rational decisions, which are not based on moods. It helps to keep a clear and focused mind, and this leads to the ability to recognize opportunities that otherswise one might not have noticed.

  • Hi, wonderful article!
    I was raptured by the sentence “Lowering the importance of short-term goals”…

    This is exactly what we should do on a day to day basis, but how?

    I mean, short term goals and the actions needed are most of the time unavoidable…

    Would you suggest leaving everything else and single-mindedly concentrate on our most important goals?

    I’d agree, but then my ultra-down-to-earth mind says “you can’t leave everything else, you need balance in your life, you can’t abandon your lifestyle and passions, or you will fall behind on those areas you love…”

    What do you thing about it?

    • That’s an excellent point Alex.

      What I meant by that (looking back, I didn’t phrase that well) was not being discouraged by a lack of quick success. For example, think of Microsoft and Apple, which I mentioned earlier; neither of them were “breakout successes”, and if Gates or Jobs had over-emphasized short-term success, I’m sure they would have given up within the first three months.

      Did that clarify?

      To answer your other question about concentrating on one’s most important goals-

      It’s difficult for me to answer that question for your or for anyone, because I don’t know what your goals are, and what you have to balance them against. For example: is your most important goal something you can use to accomplish a lot of other goals or make your life significantly better, or is it just something less important? Do you need to be successful at your most important goal now, or later?

      That’s why, in general, I try not to give advice by trying to tell people exactly what they should do. The best I can do, without knowing an individual’s specific details, is say that you should weigh the importance of your most important goals against the other things going on in your life, and make a decision.

      But I think with a good mindset, most people should always be able to come to the right conclusion for themselves.

      I’m glad you brought this up. I will probably write an article about it on my blog.

      Thanks for so thoroughly reading this!!


  • What a very encouraging post!

    A good reminder that success isn’t instant. Accepting that we need to work hard and make sacrifices is already part of success. If we go on thinking that we don’t need to do anything and success will just find us, we already failed.

    Thanks for a great piece!

  • Hi R.C.,

    I see what you mean about having the proper success mindset. Without that, most goals will never materialize into reality.

    I have to agree about not letting failure get in the way. To many avoid risks because of the fear of failure.

    Thanks for the very thorough post today!

    • Justin, you’re welcome and it was my pleasure! I’m grateful to be writing alongside the many other wonderful posts that have been submitted to Change Your Thoughts.

      I really think failure is a huge “paper tiger”, it looks scary at first, but if you manage it well, it’s not necessary bad at all.

  • Hi R.C.,
    This was a very easy read, I quite enjoyed it and you have some very good points but I’d like to tell you about something. Have you ever heard of memory techniques? They can help you learn Chinese much faster. I don’t want that statement to discredit the message of you article to any other readers, It’s just a personal suggestion.

    • Brandon, I’m glad you liked it! Actually I would be interested in the memory techniques. Anything to help me learn more and faster!

  • Love your take on your learning Chinese as “unimpressive” but rather the result of your success mindset.

    It’s all about thought, isn’t it? Whether we’re happy or unhappy, successful or frustrated, our thinking is what gets us there.

    • It’s entirely about thought! I hope that more people can understand that if we can change our thoughts, changing our actions isn’t nearly as difficult.

  • Very enjoyable article, and a subject I can personally relate to in a very BIG way. I started out in the hotel business as a secretary and when I decided I wanted to go into sales everyone laughed at me. First because they thought I was nuts to give up the perks of working for the VP of Development, and secondly because I not only didn’t have a college degree, this was my first job in the hotel business. What I did have going for me was I did my job VERY well and had earned the respect and friendship of many of the higer ups in our company. It still took me 2 years, and I quit 3 times (they refused to accept) but eventually I was accepted into the company’s executive training program. Graduated with honors and was rewarded with my sales job and territory of my choice. Fast forward – I advanced to Director of Sales & Marketing. It wasn’t easy and it sure wasn’t fast but – like you – I had that determination and nothing was going to stop me. This was a good reminder because I’m going through yet another major career transition … gotta keep on plugging away! Thanks,

    • Marquita, your career sounds very interesting! I admire your tenacity, and I think your efforts show exactly what it takes to be successful. The determination is what matters.

      Thank you for reading!

  • I have consistently read your articles and for sure they’ve truly changed me alot. My business, which is an insurance agency, has almost tripled in production due to invaluable stuff i’ve learnt from you.

    You no idea at all what this program is doing to my life. Keep it up.

    Kindest regards,

    Benjamin Mutili
    Mombasa – Kenya

    • Benjamin,

      I’m glad the Change Your Thoughts blog has been so helpful for you! (though I can’t take credit for that, it’s all Steve and the various authors who have submitted their materials here!).

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