Personal Development

The Success Mentality

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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.

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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