Stop believing these 4 myths about success

Posted on May 12th, by Dr Rob Yeung .

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of bad advice around online. So I decided I’d debunk four particular myths about success in life.

1. Successful people all get up really early every morning
I often see claims that all millionaires or CEOs or successful people get up incredibly early every day. But I know for a fact that it’s not true. When I was researching a book some years ago, I interviewed several dozen entrepreneurs and executives – many of whom earned six figures a year or had net worths of more than several million pounds each. When I asked them what time they got up in the morning, I found that the majority of them got up somewhere between 6am and 7.30am most mornings. Not one of them got up before 5am.

Yes, you will encounter occasional profiles of celebrities or other successful individuals who do get up insanely early. But just because it works for those few people does not mean that it works for everyone. In fact, a large scale study of over 10,000 people found that the vast majority of people need more than seven hours of sleep every night – and that people who slept significantly less than that actually had poorer problem solving skills as well as other cognitive disadvantages. So if you’re trying to get by on much less sleep, you’re probably not being at your best every day.

2. Successful people read lots of books every year.
I also sometimes see pieces online with headlines like “This is how many books CEOs read every year” or “Millionaires read 5 books every month.”

Even if such headlines are true, the problem here is one of cause and effect. These headlines sort of imply that reading lots of books is a cause and that success (either becoming CEO or becoming a millionaire, for example) is the effect. But from a scientific point of view, we cannot know whether this is true. It could equally be that the success is actually the cause – for instance that their success, position and wealth came first and subsequently allowed them to have so much spare time that they could read lots of books.

In my experience, success is not dependent on the number of books you read. Better to read a small number of books but then actually implement and follow through on the ideas than read lots of books only to forget what you read.

3. Successful people succeed through long hours and hard work
Yes, it helps if you can work hard. But studies show that how you spend your time is often a greater predictor of success than merely how many hours you work.

There are literally dozens of studies showing that networking helps people to get ahead. Employees who network internally within their organisations tend to be offered more promotions. Employees who network externally outside of their own organisations tend to be offered more jobs, too. And business owners who engage in more networking tend to have more innovative business ideas and may make more money, too.

So don’t forget that working long hours will not automatically help you to succeed. The reality is that just doing lots of tasks probably won’t help you to get ahead. Instead, focus on working smartly – focus on building relationships as well as completing tasks.

4. Absolutely anyone can become incredibly successful
I would love for this to be true. But studies find that one of the things that very wealthy individuals most often have in common is that they came from wealthy families. So it is sometimes claimed that Donald Trump made his fortune by himself, but of course he came from a very wealthy family who were able to pay for his education and to loan or give him money to get his business started. Kylie Jenner was once described by Forbes magazine as a “self-made billionaire” – but the truth is that she also came from a wealthy and incredibly famous family.

Of course, thare are people who claw their way up from having very little to creating very successful lives for themselves. But if there’s a lesson here, it’s to stop comparing yourself to other people.

We all have different circumstances. For example, I work with people who have families with young children, which means that they want to be home at a reasonable time to see their children – they can’t work 12-hour days, six days a week. I work with people who have debts to pay off so they can’t raise the cash to start a new business. I work with people who have experienced physical or mental illness. And the truth is that lots of things can act as barriers to success. So stop trying to be “successful” – on setting yourself some external financial target to achieve before you allow yourself to be happy. Instead, give yourself some slack and just focus on being better than you were.

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