Nearly all of us are looking for the secret to personal success, quite literally. The self-help book “The Secret” has sold over 35 million copies worldwide by claiming success is derived from energy put out into the universe. Similarly, articles touting the “Top Habits of Successful People” promise that the key to a happy, healthy life is discipline: Make your bed in the morning, write down your goals, create a routine, etc. Can becoming successful really be so simple?

Achieving success is more complicated than visualizing goals or avoiding distractions, but it does start in our minds. Let’s look at the psychology of personal success, how our thoughts and behaviors impact our lives, and how, by understanding these processes, we may better ourselves.

Success means something different to everyone, and you’re sure to have your own definition. But for our discussion, success really means self-actualization: realizing one’s full potential. Success is sometimes fleeting, but personal fulfillment is a never-ending journey to make the most of what we’ve been given.

The Power of Belief

Manifestation, a pseudoscience that forms the basis of books like “The Secret” and “The Law of Attraction,” asserts that our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs can influence reality. Want to win the lottery? Just imagine your numbers being chosen. Easy, right?

Concepts like manifestation are so appealing and pervasive because of our innate ability to find patterns. (The neocortex, the outermost layer of the brain, contains about 300 million neurons called pattern recognizers.) If your significant other starts making dinner after you think about ordering out, you can chalk it up to coincidence—or at least a healthy relationship. While manifestation is not a true determinant of success, this doesn’t mean our beliefs and ideas don’t have a significant impact in the trajectory of our lives.

Develop an Internal Locus of Control

Locus of control refers to a person’s sense of agency, or the degree to which they believe their life is shaped by their actions. People with an external locus of control feel like a kite caught in a storm, like life is the result of chance. Conversely, people with an internal locus of control feel like life events are the direct result of their actions, and consequently, they’re more likely to be happier, healthier, and, you guessed it, successful.

There will always be things beyond your control, whether it’s something as small as a surprise bill or as profound as where you’re born. It’s your reaction to hardships that will ultimately determine your success. By refusing to see yourself as a victim, and by focusing on what you can change, you can develop a strong internal locus of control and become a more well-rounded individual.

Attain a Growth Mindset

Psychologist Carol Dweck identifies two mindsets to explain the role of motivation in personal achievement: a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. “At some point, my graduate students and I realized that a student’s mindset was at the foundation of whether [he or she] loved challenges and persisted in the face of failure,” said Dweck to The Atlantic. A person with a fixed mindset considers their abilities set in stone, whereas someone with a growth mindset accepts that they must overcome obstacles to improve. Undeterred by criticism and setbacks, individuals with a growth mindset are more likely to work toward their goals.

[N]obody has a growth mindset in everything all the time,” said Dweck, warning against the pitfalls of a false growth mindset. Being in a growth mindset means going on a journey of self-discovery. It means reflecting on challenges that can trigger a fixed mindset and working through them. Over time, you’ll grow more comfortable with being in the growth mindset.

Think Happy Thoughts

Thoughts and feelings may not manifest winning lotto numbers, but they can manifest good company. Research by Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, has shown that happiness often comes before success. “This may be because happy people frequently experience positive moods,” said Dr. Lyubomirsky, “and these positive moods prompt them to be more likely to work actively toward new goals and build new resources.”

A happy person is more confident, cheerful, and lively. They’re more social and, with an expanded social network, are more likely to experience new opportunities. All told, happy people have more fulfilling relationships, earn higher salaries, are more involved in their communities, and even have a stronger immune system.

Harness the Power of Positivity

Manifestation is a pseudoscience (a fun way to say snake oil). There is, however, truth to the idea that you get back what you put out into the universe. Want to achieve your full potential? Psychology says you need to work hard and work on how you see yourself. But remember to let yourself be happy. This stuff takes time.

Concepts like personal growth, strength, and success are all explored in positive psychology: the scientific study of well-being. Positive psychology asserts that well-being can be defined, measured, and taught and that mental health is more than an absence of mental illness. However, this is just one of the many branches of psychology. If you want to learn more about psychology and how it can change your career and life, we have an online bachelor’s degree program that may interest you. 

Earn a Psychology Degree From UT Permian Basin

The University of Texas Permian Basin offers a 100% online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program that takes an in-depth look at the mental processes that shape our experiences and lives. Through our program, students explore research methods, psychological disorders, and new psychological movements like positive psychology, which has only been around since 1998. Graduates are prepared for careers in and adjacent to the field of psychology, and many go on to pursue their master’s degree or doctorate and become clinical, counseling, research, school and industrial-organizational psychologists. Our program can be completed online anytime and anywhere, which is sure to spread some happiness.

Achieve your full potential. Apply to our 100% online BA in psychology program and explore the many branches of this weird, wonderful science.