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7 Habits of unsuccessful people and how to tackle them

Written by Astrid Roest on 3 February 2019 for Professionals

Cover image: HBO

Learn how to adopt a winner’s mindset.

Bad habits can have a significant impact on all aspects of our lives. They can affect our levels of happiness, limit our successes and diminish our relationships. Unfortunately, these habits can be difficult to break. If you aren’t careful, you can turn these patterns into a mindset and stifle your potential. We’ve identified seven habits for unsuccessful people that you should avoid at all costs. A life of success is waiting for you; we’ll show you the routines you should adopt instead.

Avoiding responsibility

Unsuccessful people often feel that life is something that happens to them. They don’t feel in control of their own destiny and shirk their responsibilities at every turn. This often stems from a lack of self-confidence or limited self-esteem. They feel like they are the victims in any situation they find themselves in.

Do this instead: Take ownership of your choices and actions

Successful people take responsibility for what happens in their lives. They avoid blaming external factors and hold themselves accountable for things within their control. They feel in control of their own destiny and take their life and career into their own hands. To make a positive change, take ownership of your decisions. Even when something goes badly, have the courage to admit, “Yes, I decided to do that”.

Dwelling on problems instead of solutions

Unsuccessful people tend to have very pessimistic mindsets and like to find problems in every opportunity. As British politician Winston Churchill (1874-1965) once said: “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Unsuccessful people tend to let the past hang over them and dwell on problems instead of focusing on solutions to their current issues.

Do this instead: Focus on how to solve your problems

Everyone faces difficulties in life and every difficulty can be sorted into one of two categories:

  1. Problems within your control
  2. Problems outside of your control

Unsuccessful people tend to focus on problems outside of their control such as the actions of others, the economy or even global warming. If this sounds like you, try to break this habit by focusing on problems that you can solve. Work on the solutions and take back control.

Never leaving their comfort zone

Unsuccessful people love to attain a level of comfort and stay there. They see challenges as unnecessarily stressful and something to be avoided at all costs. The result? They never grow personally or professionally.

Do this instead: Explore challenges you aren’t comfortable with

Successful people constantly push themselves to try new things and explore new opportunities. They understand that if they’re plateauing, they’re never improving. They recognize that while new technologies such as machine learning and blockchain are changing the world, the future is theirs for the taking. Successful people view every challenge as an opportunity to increase their knowledge and gain new skills.


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If you’re in the habit of always staying in your comfort zone, break this pattern by taking on a new challenge. Whether it’s networking, going back to school or starting a new course, you’ll benefit from expanding your comfort zone and watching yourself grow and improve.

Procrastinating and wasting their time

Unsuccessful people love to put things off and don’t care if they waste their time. If something important comes up, they put if off until the last possible moment. Usually, this doesn’t result in it the task being done better, only later, if at all.

Do this instead: Do stuff now, or improve it later

Successful people understand that time is precious and that every moment matters. They spend their time wisely and rarely put things off. But putting things off can be beneficial as well: You should delay something only if you’ll do it better later. That’s what successful people do, and it gets results.

In case you don’t know what we’re talking about, check out this article about time management and getting things done.

Reacting defensively when criticized

One thing that unites unsuccessful people is that they crumble in the face of criticism. No-one is immune to criticism; it’s a fact of life. What matters is how you respond. Do you quit or fight back? The underlying cause of this habit is a lack of resilience. Resilience doesn’t mean never failing or never getting knocked down. It means recovering from setbacks and rebounding from adversity.

Do this instead: Build your resilience and respond constructively

Criticism is hard to take, but you can build your mental strength to improve the way you react when criticized. You can do this by improving your resilience; this helps you push through resistance, take positive action and respond constructively to criticism.

In a recent post, Steven Geelen, Talent Development Manager at Exellys, observed that “resilience is a vital competency that can be taught and improved”. Smart coaching programs are one of the best ways to learn how to cope with setbacks or stressful situations at work and in life.

Never learning from mistakes

Perhaps due to their skepticism, unsuccessful people never make a conscious effort to learn from their experiences. This ties in very closely to the earlier habits about avoiding responsibilities and dwelling on problems. Unsuccessful people always see themselves as passive victims and therefore never right their wrongs.

Do this instead: Make an effort to fix your mistakes

Successful people understand that we all make mistakes. What separates successful from unsuccessful people is whether we learn from the things we do wrong. Successful people review their past experiences and come back at a problem with a new set of solutions or actions. You can form this habit yourself by making an effort to fix your mistakes. Nobody’s perfect, but does it really hurt to try?


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All talk and no action

The last habit for unsuccessful people is talking the talk without walking the walk. You probably see it all the time on social media or in real life.

You know that guy at the office who announces that he’s “Getting in shape,” but never does? Unsuccessful people love to shoot the breeze with whoever will listen, but rarely put words into action.

Do this instead: Keep your goals to yourself

According to Derek Sivers, scientific evidence shows that talking about your goals is counterproductive. Sivers points out that when we tell someone our goal and they acknowledge it, our brains turn it into what psychologists describe as a “social reality”. You gain the feeling of accomplishment without actually putting in the hard work to make your dreams a reality.

Do you want to know what’s better than talking about your goals?  Actually doing them.

Successful people do things, they don’t just chat about them. So, keep your goals to yourself and become a doer.

Will you be a winner?

We’ve shown you what to do, but the only person who can take action is you. If you’re ready to learn how to develop a positive mindset, visit our brand new website and find out more about our Start and Grow Smart program today. We’ll help you build a winner’s mentality and nurture habits that help you achieve personal and professional excellence. We look forward to hearing from you!

Written by Astrid Roest Talent Development Manager