The maxim that talent will only get you so far is one borne out in every field from professional sports, to your personal life. The path to success is littered with incredibly talented people who lacked the application to bring their formidable gifts to bear on the task at hand – whether behind a desk or on a sports field. And one of the keys to successfully utilising any talent you have, is the ability to form habits that allow it to shine.

“Everyone has a talent for something – undiscovered and untapped, or not – and the proper application of that talent is the key to succeed in anything,” says Helene Vermaak, Business Director of corporate culture experts, The Human Edge. “Talent without application is nothing – and even if your work isn’t linked to your talent itself, the ability to apply yourself and develop behaviours that give you the best chance at success, is a type of talent worth developing.”

survey of nearly 2 000 workers by leadership training company VitalSmarts showed that 46% of respondents attributed their career success to having the right habits. Only 24% attributed their success to natural talent and 22.5% said their success was down to making the right decisions. “When it comes to success, nothing trumps good habits,” says VitalSmarts Lead Researcher, Emily Gregory. “No amount of luck, talent, brains, or good decisions can compensate for your habits and your routines.”

Is forming the right habits, a type of talent? According to Gregory, a disproportionate amount of habits are thinking habits, the self-talk we do throughout the course of the day, which has a huge impact on our results and what we can achieve. “The ability to train yourself to form behaviours that lead to your success is definitely a skill – and turning those behaviours into habits should definitely be considered a type of learned talent,” Vermaak concurs.

The survey suggests four habitual starting points that could prime you for success. 

Consider ‘Yes’ over ‘No’ Responses

Immediately saying ‘no’ to something without understanding why you’ve formed that response so viscerally, is a limiting behaviour. Instead, get into the habit of rationally considering what effect a positive response would have on the situation. Look beyond the obvious and consider the long-term effects.

“This doesn’t mean you have to say ‘yes,’ but a lot of the time we have an automatic, knee-jerk response and say ‘no’ when we feel overwhelmed or stressed,” says Gregory. “Be open to thinking and evaluating choices you’re making. Be mindful and conscious, rather than simply reacting.” 

Gregory’s theory is that habits fall into two categories: creating energy and then focusing that energy. “Habits for creating energy are sleep, meditation, physical activity, and nutrition,” she says. “When focusing energy, thinking ‘yes’ before saying ‘no’ allows you to be conscious and go deeply into your energy.”

Don’t Overthink It

While taking time to consider decisions and your reactions to situations, Gregory also warns against analysis paralysis because of the way it can hinder potential career success. “Do your research, but stop at 80% confidence rather than striving for 110%,” says Gregory. “There is a point of diminishing returns – when you keep putting energy into something and you’re not getting a bang out of it. Know when you get good enough, it’s good enough. Then do other things with your energy.”

Feed Your Curiosity

Taking time out to dream a little and research things that have sparked your imagination is a necessity, according to Gregory. “To form this habit, choose something very specific and small in the beginning. Being curious can show up in different ways for different people – some people read, while others prefer [things like] striking up new conversations. You can be curious about attending conferences and workshops. The idea is to be a lifelong learner.”

Success may look different in the future to the way it does now – but every experience you have, influences your thinking and sets you up for opportunities. So give yourself the best possible chance at success by giving yourself license to be open to it!

Sweat the Small Stuff after tackling the Hard Stuff

Participants in the survey who had achieved success had a common, powerful habit – developing and practising the discipline to do the difficult things on their list at the beginning of the day.

“Some of the most common habits are around our morning routines – and there are so many flavours which can all be powerful,” says Gregory. “There is not one best way to form a morning routine. There is thoughtfulness and a plan to the day when you choose to knock out the hardest thing first. When you get the hardest thing out of the way, you can be coasting through the rest of the day. Pushing down the biggest block is like pushing down the first domino.”

No matter how small, behaviours compounded over time become habits. “A lot of these habits are what we call trigger habits,” says Gregory. “While they seem small, they actually trigger a series of other powerful habits. When you want to achieve a big goal, you need an entry point—a habit that’s as small as possible, so you’re most likely to do it and set your day into action.”

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