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The Only Thing All Successful People Have in Common

| “Identify the areas that will lead to your growth and begin taking the right action. It’s simple, but that’s it.”

I have been fortunate enough to spend time with some highly successful people. I have found that some are very intelligent, but not all. Many were born into great families, and many into abusive or traumatic homes. Some had money growing up, many did not. 

Perhaps surprisingly, there is one– and only one– thing that ALL of them have in common.

Listen in to learn why a bias for action seems to be the ONLY thing all of these successful people I know have in common. You’ll also hear:


  • Guiding questions to better understand your relationship with stress
  • Visualization exercise to help you prepare for stressful situations
  • A tool you can use to strengthen your mindset during stressful times
  • How to identify the stakes that cause stress in your life

     And so much more.


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Welcome back to season two of the Ivy League Prep Academy Podcast. Equipping you to successfully pursue the college of your dreams. We believe everyone deserves to reach their full potential and the admissions process shouldn't hold you back.

What do all six successful people have in common? Okay, maybe this is a little bit presumptuous of me, but I can say, what do all of the successful people who I know have in common? The truly successful people I know have one thing in common now. It's not their intelligence. I have met people who are highly intelligent and also very successful, but I've also met people who just aren't.

They just are very simple minds. They don't process things in a very sharp or articulate way, not highly intelligent, they're not focused on that element. And it's not wealth.

Some people might feel like, yeah, all the successful people have all the advantages that wealth brings them. A lot of these highly successful people did not grow up wealthy. They grew up in, some of them, extreme poverty, many of them just regular poverty, but certainly below the poverty threshold.

And many of them were middle class or lower middle class or upper middle class. And many of them came from wealth in the family. So it's not wealth that all successful people I know have in common, certainly not social skills.

I have found that most of the successful people I know are very kind, very empathetic, very generous and loving people, but certainly not all and social skills. We really don't need to try to argue that they have the most impressive social skills. I will say it helps to become successful if you're intelligent and wealthy and have social skills.

But certainly this is not the thread that ties all of the successful people I know together. And it's also not organizational skills, right? It's, boy, I've seen some highly successful people who are also highly disorganized and it's not academic qualifications. And this one's pretty obvious, right? There are very, very successful people who never finished high school and certainly many, many others who either did not finish university or dropped out or never went to university.

Some very, very successful people who do not have academic qualifications. So if it's not intelligence, it's not wealth, it's not social skills, it's not organization, it's not academic qualifications, and it's not a whole host of other things. Some of these highly successful people are very healthy, some of them are not.

Some of them are in wonderful, loving family relationships, some of them have very difficult family relationships, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, except for one thing. The one thing that ties all of the successful people together who I know is a bias for action, okay? A bias for action. Everyone I know who is successful has this tendency to act, has a bias towards action.

Now, sometimes the way that this bias manifests is different. Many successful people plan, but when they plan before they act. They're planning with the intention of acting.

And it's a very active planning. Not only that, it is a plan that leads directly to action. And so they have a bias for action.

Some of these highly successful people I know don't worry about planning. They get just a rough idea of where they're headed and they begin acting. And as they begin acting, they start to see success and they start to see failure.

And that success. And failure helps give them information, gives them data about how to take further action. And most of the successful people I know are right in between.

They'll plan as much as they can while still having this bias for action and then immediately start taking the smaller steps that they know to do. And those small steps give them the feedback, the information, the data that they need to course correct to pivot and to take better action or to make better plans. So everyone that I know who is highly successful has this bias for action.

And this bias for action helps them to maintain that level of success in all of these very wide and ranging different ways. So the crazy thing, in my opinion, is that all of us are born with this bias for action. We are born curious and excited to explore until we decide to stop.

I know a lot of listeners have already participated in the Ivy League Challenge, and you're going to recognize this content and some of this advice from pillar Three where we develop your authentic impact project. But for the rest of you, let me just share kind of the tip of the iceberg, some of the most important ideas around this bias for action. Because most of you listening.

Even if you have not participated in the Ivy League challenge, you have a bias for action. If you didn't, you wouldn't be listening. And if you are listening and you feel like, you know what? I don't.

I don't have a bias for action, I wish I did, then you are probably being held back by fear. And maybe this fear holds you back because you think you need more time to plan or you need more coaching or more money or more resources. But if you do not have this bias for action, then you can probably rest assured that that extra planning, the extra motivation, the waiting for more coaching, waiting for more money, waiting for more resources, these are just excuses.

They nearly always are. Now, to tilt yourself back to a healthy bias for action, I have one simple suggestion. But in order to understand this suggestion, I need you to think about the four stages of competence first.

Now, you may have heard of the four stages of competence. It goes something like this. At the beginning, before you've ever participated in an activity, you have unconscious incompetence.

In other words, there is so much that you don't know about this new activity that you don't even know what you don't know. You are unaware of the incompetence. You are unaware of how little you know to do.

Okay? That's the first stage of competence. The second stage is conscious incompetence. You've begun to take action.

You started taking action, and based on that action, you began to fail. And you realized that you do not have competence. So you realize that there are areas in your ability, in your skill set, in your understanding that lack competence, where you are not good enough yet.

Okay? And that's great. That is one stage above unconscious incompetence. Now you know what you need to do, or at least what you need to learn in order to develop competence.

Once you get to that stage, you can move to stage three, which is conscious competence. In conscious competence, you are new to the skill. You're learning the skill, and you are developing the skill.

And you can do it as long as you are focused and as long as you are putting all of your focus into that activity. Finally, once you go beyond conscious competence, you've done it enough that it becomes easy for you. You begin to do it without too much effort, and you move to stage four, which is unconscious competence.

This is the stage where you don't even need to think about what you're doing. You can just do it easily. So to understand this very, very simply, consider riding a bike for the first time when you're three years old or four years old, and you first have the desire to ride the bike.

Maybe that's because you see your older brother or you see your friends riding their bikes and you think, I want to ride a bike. And in that stage of unconscious incompetence, you don't know how difficult it is to keep balance. You don't even know that you need to keep balance.

You just see people getting on a bike and moving really, really fast, and it looks so cool and you want to do it too. Then second stage, you get on the bike and you start to move the bike. But immediately you fall over and you say, boy, this isn't as easy as I thought.

And over time, the next few minutes or the next few hours, you continue to pick the bike back up, and you continue to figure out that in order to ride the bike, you need to stay balanced. You need to keep your head looking forward. You need to avoid obstacles that are going to trip you up, and you need to keep moving.

And it's that movement as well as the steady handlebars that allows you to stay upright on your bicycle. At that point, you know what you need to do in order to ride your bike. So then you move into stage three, where as long as you focus really, really hard and you pedal and you keep your handlebars straight, and you keep your head up, then you can stay on your bike and it is exhilarating.

It's really, really exciting. You are learning a new skill and you can ride the bike. But as soon as you lose focus, as soon as you think about something else or something distracts you, you might fall over again.

It takes total concentration to stay upright. And after you've been riding your bike for a few days or a few weeks, then you pick up your bike, you jump on and you don't even think about balance. You don't think about motion, you don't think about where your head or your eyes should be.

Everything comes naturally. At that point, you are in unconscious competence. You can ride your bike without thinking about it.

And at that point, of course, when you go on bike rides, you might think about other things. Riding your bike can be a joy because you can enjoy the scenery or you can think about important ideas. You can listen to podcasts, et cetera.

That is the journey from unconscious incompetence in stage one all the way to stage four of unconscious competence. So what do you do if you want to tilt yourself back towards this healthy bias for action? In order to do this, for you to be growing and progressing with a bias for action and the inevitable success that comes with this, you should look at your day and decide how many of your activities are in the sweet spot of conscious competence. All right? Stage four activities.

This is your zone of excellence. You're already really good at these things, okay? They don't require a lot of your focus, they don't require your attention. And yeah, you should be doing a lot of stage four activities, unconscious competence activities that you're really good at, that you don't have to focus in order to do well.

Those are things, those are within your zone of excellence. But if you are not successful at the level that you wish to be at, that means you have not developed yourself to the point that you're creating that success for yourself. So how do you do that? You try to find more areas of activity that would lead to greater success where you are not growing.

Those activities are the key drivers to your success. And once you're clear about which skill sets and which activities are going to lead to a more successful experience, a more successful life, then look at where you are within those stages. So, stage four, it's too easy.

Clearly, those are not the things you need to develop. Stages one and two are too difficult, and that's what's going to lead to overwhelm. It feels overwhelming and it can paralyze you.

That's where you create the bias for planning, for organization, for distraction, in the form of social media or internet browsing or TV watching, right? That's where you get stuck in believing that other people have it made because of some advantage that is outside the realm of reality. The truth is, people become successful because they spend more time in zone three in this conscious competence region. So that's it.

If you want to join the ranks of the truly successful people, the highly productive and successful people in this world, in whatever arena you want to be in, then identify those areas that will lead to your growth and begin taking action on those skills that you will need to develop that require conscious competence, that require your focus, that require your attention, in order for you to develop them. That's it. A bias towards action is going to lead you to greater success.

Whether you're a student or whether you're a parent of a student, whether you're focusing on getting into a better school, or whether you are focusing on finding a new job or starting your own company, that bias for action is going to lead you to where you want to go. In order to tilt yourself towards a healthy bias for action, find skills that you need to develop that require that you step into stage three activities, this conscious competence region of activities, and start doing them. This is going to help you make your impact, and this is going to help you develop yourself into the person you choose to become. You got this!