Here at Science of People we’re constantly being asked: “How can I become more successful?” We set out to answer that question by scouring research to uncover secrets to success of the most successful people.

Let’s see how they optimize their lives and accomplish their goals.

#1 It’s Not About IQ

The smartest people are the most successful, right? Not quite… Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University, says that it might actually be an advantage not to be a genius.

Here’s why:

When he studied elite chess players, he found that there is no correlation between IQ and success. In fact, players with lower IQs were often more successful. This is shocking, but not when you consider the reason why.

The players with lower IQs felt like they were at a disadvantage because of their lack of extraordinary intelligence so they worked harder to master their skills. Meanwhile, many of the the naturally smart players lost because they figured they didn’t have to try very hard to win. They failed because effort beats IQ.

Angela Lee Duckworth noticed the same thing when predicting the success of individuals in a variety of contexts. She gave a great TED talk about how grit – the willingness to consistently work hard through difficult scenarios – not IQ,  is the most accurate indicator of success.

Check it out:

The other key that sets successful individuals apart is their ability to understand people. A study conducted by the Carnegie Foundation found that 85% of a person’s success is based on their interpersonal skills. Because of this, we know that PQ (people intelligence) is more important than IQ.  

Ask yourself: How well do you work with others? If your answer is not very well, then your focus needs to be on improving your social skills and building better relationships.

Luckily, you’re finding this out about yourself while on Science of People and we have lots of great resources that will give you the tools you need to increase your PQ.

#2 Become a Master at 10,000 Hours

Another key to success is consistent practice. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell studied successful people and found that the world’s top experts are not naturally skilled or talented. They simply practice several hours every week until they reach the 10,000 hour mastery point.

The theory is that once someone practices a task for 10,000 hours, they become an expert because they’ve invested enough time to develop an extraordinary ability to perform the task.

Sounds like a lot of work, right? It is and that’s why it sets apart the most successful people from those who never move past mediocre skill levels. People who are committed to greatness  have the discipline to put in the hours it takes to achieve mastery.

Are you setting aside time to be an expert at what you do?

Remember: just like you’re not going to become an expert overnight, you don’t have to dramatically change your life to become one either. Making a simple commitment to spending a few extra hours per week improving your skills can put you on the path to success. Just don’t stop practicing.

#3 Learn to Read Hidden Emotions

As you spend more time improving your technical skills, don’t forget to also master your people skills. One of the most effective strategies to understand people is to learn how to read microexpressions. They are unconscious facial expressions that reveal inner emotions.

Today I want to teach you how to recognize contempt, because it is the sneakiest.

Here’s what contempt looks like:

You should always know that a smirk is not a full smile and unlike smiling, it conveys a negative emotion. Once you’re able to read microexpressions, you’ll be able to judge how successful your interactions with other people are.

Learn all 7 universal microexpressions

#4 Succeed at Failing

The most successful people embrace the possibility of failure. Why? Because failing means learning and learning is the only way to improve. It’s how you react to failure that determines if it is negative or not.

Dan Coyle, bestselling author of The Talent Code, says that if you’re setting great goals, you should only succeed in 50-80% of your attempts. It sounds counterintuitive, but just knowing you might fail increases your likelihood of success because your fear will motivate you to work harder and develop more creative solutions when obstacles arise. 

When you do fail, do a post-mortem on your failures. Critically evaluate what caused the failure and brainstorm ideas for how you can avoid doing the same thing again. Record your ideas in a failure file so you can turn your mistakes into learning.

#5 Find a Mentor Who Will Hold You Accountable

So far we’ve looked at how success is a lot of work – and it is – but what we’ve yet to touch on is that you don’t become successful on your own.

Have you ever heard the saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” ?

It’s a great way to describe success because you can’t accomplish amazing things without the help of other people.  

Regardless of whether you’re trying to be a more successful parent or a more successful CEO, you need to find at least one person to be your mentor and accountability partner.

Having a mentor allows you to learn from experiences of someone who has gone through many of the same struggles you are dealing with and is succeeding at levels that you hope to achieve. It doesn’t matter who they are as long as they inspire you and push you to become better.

#6 Powerful Body Language Will Fuel  Confidence

You could practice hundreds of hours a month, have the best best mentor in the world and be a master at understanding other people but unless you’re able to physically exude confidence, you’ll struggle to be successful.

Winners, leaders and alphas have winning body language. This means they take up physical space. Why? When we take up space we feel like we belong in our space. This sense of belonging gives us the pride to believe that we can be successful.  

Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that when athletes win a race, the more expansive their body language and when athletes lose a race, the more defeated their body language. Want to look like a winner? Roll your shoulders back, firmly plant your feet, open your chest and keep your head up. The more confident your body looks, the more confident you will be perceived as. This is called high body power—taking up space with your body.


About Vanessa Van Edwards

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Lead Investigator, Science of People

I'm the author of the national bestselling book Captivate, creator of People School, and behavioral investigator.

I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.

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