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Characteristics of Successful People - from Tom Butler-Bowdon

CHARACTERISTICS OF SUCCESSFUL PEOPLE - From 50 Success Classics by Tom Butler-Bowdon.

What makes a person successful? What makes them motivated, prosperous, a great leader?

These questions fired the writing of each book covered in 50 Success Classics, and it is possible to draw out some common threads as answers. The following is only a brief and partial list, but may whet your appetite to discover for yourself some of the principles of success.


Optimism is power. This is a secret discovered by all who succeed against great odds. Nelson Mandela, Ernest Shackleton, Eleanor Roosevelt - each admitted that what got them through tough times was an ability to focus on the positives. They understood what Claude Bristol called 'the magic of believing'. Yet great leaders also have an unusual ability to face up to stark reality, so creating a single powerful attribute: 'tough-minded optimism'.

Optimistic people tend to succeed not simply because they believe all will turn out right, but because the expectation of success makes them work harder. If you expect little, you will not be motivated to even try.

Definite aim, purpose or vision

Success requires concentration of effort. Most people disperse their energies over too many things and so fail to be outstanding in anything. In the words of Orison Swett Marden, "The world does not demand that you be a lawyer, minister, doctor, farmer, scientist, or merchant; it does not dictate what you shall do, but it does require that you be a master in whatever you undertake."

Have higher aims and goals and doggedly pursue their realisation. As the Bible says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish".

Willingness to labor

Successful people are willing to engage in drudgery in the cause of something marvellous. The greater part of 'genius' is the years of effort to solve a problem or find the perfect expression of an idea. With hard work you acquire knowledge about yourself which idleness never reveals.

A law of success is that, once first achieved, it can create a momentum that makes it easier to sustain. As Talleyrand put it, "Nothing succeeds like success".


Enduring success is built on discipline, an appreciation that you must give yourself orders and obey them. Like compound interest, this subject may be boring, but its results in the long term can be spectacular.

The great achiever knows that while the universe is built by atoms, success is built by minutes; he or she is a master when it comes to their use of time.

Integrated mind

Successful people have a good relationship with their unconscious or subconscious minds. They trust their intuition, and because intuitions are usually right, they seem to enjoy more luck than others. They have discovered one of the great success secrets: that the non-rational mind infallibly solves problems and creates solutions when trusted to do so.

Prolific reading

Look into the habits of the successful, and you will find that they are usually great readers. Many of the leaders and authors covered in this book attribute the turning point in their lives to picking up a certain book. If you can read about the accomplishments of those you admire, you cannot help but lift your own sights. Anthony Robbins remarked that 'success leaves clues', and reading is one of the best means of absorbing such clues. Curiosity and the capacity to learn are vital for achievement, thus the saying "Leaders are readers". The person who seeks growth, Dale Carnegie said, "must soak and tan his mind constantly in the vats of literature."


The greater the risk, the greater the potential success. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Have a bias for action.

The power of expectation

Successful people expect the best, and they generally get it, because expectations have a way of attracting to us their material equivalent.

Since our lives correspond pretty much to the expectations we have of it, the achiever will argue, why not think big instead of small?


The advanced being can turn any situation to their advantage. They are 'masters of their souls, captains of their fate.'

When other parties are involved, they will seek solutions in which gains are maximised for all. In the words of Catherine Ponder, "You do not have to compromise in life, if you are willing to let go of the idea of compromise."


Achievements mean little if we are not a success as a person. The capacities to love, listen and learn are vital for our own well-being, and without them it is difficult to have the fulfilling relationships that we need to both renew us and inspire achievement.

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