Some time ago I relocated my business, and that required a dreaded task: cleaning out the top drawer of my desk.
Along with several old business cards, 29-cent stamps and a few "thank you" notes, I came upon a reprint of a speech delivered more than 60 years ago in Philadelphia at a seminar for insurance salespeople by a long-since-dead policy peddler named Albert Gray.
Why would I keep a copy of a talk delivered before I was born to an industry I have no interest in? I asked myself that same question. Then I read it and understood.
Gray was answering a question I had often asked myself: what is the prescription for success? Like me, he had been taught that success comes from hard work. But then he looked at some of the most successful people in the world, and saw that concept for what it is: baloney.
So, if hard work isn't the secret, what is?
Gray said he studied the lives of the rich and famous of his day. He came to the conclusion that their secret was not only in what they did but also in why they did it. According to Gray successful people, like those who are not successful, have distastes for performing many of the same tasks and functions. But those who are successful make a habit of doing what needs to be done even if they don't want to do it, while the failures simply don't do them at all.
Wow! That's a definition I can relate to. We are talking simple here. Let's see if, upon examination, it loses its simplicity. What are some of the things failures should do but don't do?
1. Set specific goals and review them often. I continue to be amazed at how many people choose not to make this a habit. Study after study shows how fruitful this routine can be. Yet fewer than 5 percent do it consistently. A Yale study showed that the 3 percent of its alumni who performed this sometimes tedious function outearned the 97 percent who didn't.
2. Prioritize time; do first things first. Making lists, numbering the tasks in order of importance and completing them in that order is a simple task that failures refuse to do while the successful make a habit of it — whether they like it or not.
3. Call on people even if they don't seem to be receptive. Successful entrepreneurs consider prospecting to be a basic activity to success, but failures refuse to do it consistently. Meanwhile, the successful, who may not enjoy the activity, habitually do what it takes to succeed.
4. Keep track of specific tasks performed and the outcomes. A friend of mine puts it this way: "Winners talk in specifics; losers talk in generalities." Successful people keep track. Keeping track helps you reach out; reaching out helps you stretch; stretching helps you grow.
Gray writes that the best way to create a habit is to link it to a definite purpose that can be accomplished by keeping the habit every day. If your purpose is strong enough, you will form habits that will push you toward your purpose. For optimum success, Gray says, you should make your purpose sentimental, not necessarily logical.
Which is why I have decided to make a habit out of cleaning out my top drawer more often — even though I don't like doing it. But I did like reading those "thank you" notes, and that's the real purpose behind the habit.
It isn't logical. But it is sentimental.
Stephen W. Gibson is affiliated with the BYU Center for Entrepreneurship. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.