In my most recent Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program, one participant asked why some people succeed while others fail. Then she gave several examples of unlikely people succeeding and unlikely people failing.
She, herself, was one of the unlikely people who had succeeded in life. She was one of nine children born into a poverty-stricken family that was verbally, physically, and sexually abusive. She said that she was now the vice president of a corporation, made a substantial income, and was happily married. By contrast, all her siblings had gone through numerous jobs, marriages, and courtrooms and none of them were even close to being successful at anything.
The class exchanged several ideas as to why some succeed and others fail. They talked about why some people perform to the best of their ability while others settle for average or awful.
If I had to limit my answer to just one thing, I would say …
► 1. The number one reason people win or lose is their DETERMINATION or lack of it.
I see it over and over again. Some people will tell me that they never had a chance to succeed. They are the wrong color, gender, or age, or they had the wrong parenting, schooling, or managing. Other people, with the same color, gender, or age, or with similar parenting, schooling, and managing, are doing quite well.
The difference is in their determination. Failures use their circumstances to give up, while successes use their circumstances as a reason to get going. And determination is the resolve to meet every obstacle with the assurance that it can and will be overcome.
Walt Disney showed us that. As a young boy Walt was a dreamer. He loved to dwell in the world of fantasy, entertainment, and cartoon. And so he dreamed. But his success as a cartoonist didn’t come instantly. It took determination.
He approached the editor of the Kansas City newspaper to show him his drawings. The editor curtly replied, “These won’t do. If I were you, I’d give up this work. From these sketches, it’s obvious your talent lies elsewhere.”
But Walt was determined. His desire to be a cartoonist was strong. He believed he could do it in spite of the editor’s negative appraisal. So Walt went to other newspapers, receiving rejection after rejection. Still he persevered. He kept knocking on doors until he finally got a job drawing publicity material for churches.
Then he began searching for a studio. All he could find was an old mice-infested garage, but it was in that studio-garage that Walt continued to draw and write. And it was in that garage and from that determined beginning that Walt — and one of the mice (Mickey Mouse) — eventually became world-famous.
So if determination is the #1 reason win or lose, then you need to know HOW to get more of it.
Well, I’ve got some good news for you. Determination is not genetic. It can be learned.
Determination is the product of three elements: a GOAL, a COMMITMENT, and a FOCUS.
Let’s look at each element.
►2. Determination starts with a GOAL.
You have to have something to strive for. If you want to develop your determination, set a good, solid, important GOAL for yourself.
That’s what Holda Crooks did. She wanted to stand on top of the tallest mountain in North America. She wanted to see the beauty of the world from that perspective.
Age slowed her down a bit, but her goal was so personally important that it set her determination in motion. When she was featured on a television news program, achieving her goal at age 90, she was asked about her age.
The news anchor asked, “When do you think you are going to grow old?” Holda answered, “I haven’t really considered that very much.” Her goals and her determination made her age irrelevant.
Likewise, with your goal in place…
On the courage side, I refer to the pioneering aviator Charles Lindbergh. He said, “I don’t believe in taking foolish chances. But nothing can be accomplished without taking any chance at all.”
On the smarts side, I refer to General George S. Patton. He said, “Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash.”
There are four questions that will help you balance out the courage and smarts, resulting in risks that pay off for you. Ask yourself these four questions. The more “yes” answers you get, the more likely it is that your risks are good, healthy, constructive, and productive.
► 3. Add COMMITMENT.
It’s critical that you have a goal, but then you must believe in your goal. The stronger your belief, the stronger your determination will become.
It’s quite clear that a person who believes in his/her goal and is committed to achieving it has more energy and more success. In fact, once the commitment is made, almost-magical powers come to your aid.
The Scottish mountaineer, William Hutchison Murray, wrote about that in his book, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. He wrote: “Until one is committed there is hesitancy…The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.”
Do you have a goal that is setting your determination in motion? Are you committed to your goal so your determination is glowing?
If so, then all you have to do is…
► 4. Add FOCUS
And finally, you must stay focused on your goal. Yielding to distractions will destroy your determination.
It’s simply another way of saying you’ve got to keep your eye on the goal.
One of three boys learned that. As they were playing in the deep snow, a neighbor asked them if they wanted to have a race. He said he would give a prize to the winner.
It sounded good to the boys, so they gathered around the man to learn more. He told them the winner would not be the one who ran the fastest but the one who ran the straightest line. He said he would go to the other end of the field, give a signal, and have them race to him.
The boys took off. The first one looked at his feet as he ran to make sure they were pointing straight ahead. The second boy wondered how straight the boys on either side of him were running and tried to line himself up with them. The third boy just kept his eyes fixed on the man at the end of the field. He kept his eyes fixed on the goal. And, of course, he won the race. His line was by far the straightest.
The two losers lost their focus. They got distracted from the goal. In fact, they made the two most common mistakes people make when trying to achieve their goals.
The first boy became self-conscious. He spent too much time worrying about the possible mistakes he was making. The second boy spent too much time wondering how his competitors were doing. Don’t make those mistakes. You not only lose the race, but you’ll also lose your determination for other races in life.
You can have DETERMINIATION. You can be as successful as you want — as long as you avoid the excuses — and apply the three keys I’ve outlined today.