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How Defining Success is the Key to Being Successful



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Could you imagine getting into a car, planning to go somewhere, and yet have no idea as to when you’ve arrived? This seems absolutely ridiculous. How could you get anywhere without being aware of the destination? Yet, the truth is, this is how many of us work towards success. We have the idea in our mind that we’d like to be successful, but there is no clear picture of what this success would be. In other words, we have no destination.

I played college baseball, so this failure to define success was quite evident within myself. Before a game, I would say that I wanted to play well, as most athletes do. But what I failed to realize was what playing well truly meant. Without pinpointing what a successful day would be, I’d be lost in all the ways it went wrong. As a result of having no clear definition of success, I succumbed to all sorts of negative forms of thinking. 

Like clockwork, I could always find areas where I fell short. However, that all changed once I learned a valuable skill. As a result of learning how to define success, I freed myself from much of my perfectionism and anxiety, along with developing a clear picture of what it meant to be successful. 

What Does it Mean to Define Success?

Success is truly subjective. We should never allow anyone else to determine what it means for us to be successful. What is important is how we view success. What does it mean to you to be successful? Operating off the definition of success described by someone else is where much of our stress and anxiety can come from. 

The way we define success is of our own choosing. Up until I realized what it meant to define success, I was operating off the definitions of others. I saw success largely as a comparison to those around me. While this can be seen as a productive way to operate, especially in a competition fueled environment like sports, it actually hinders performance. 

Constant comparison of ourselves to others pulls our focus away from the processes we must follow to actually achieve peak performance. In order to attain our goals and reach what we deem to be successful, first we must define success.

“Define success on your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.” – Anne Sweeney

Goal Setting Procedure

When thinking about how to set goals in order to define success, there are two types to take into consideration: large goals and small goals. 

Large Goals – Large goals are the ones that take a significant amount of time to accomplish. These typically operate under the time frame of years but can sometimes be months. This large amount of time allows for all the necessary actions to unfold that lead to the successful achievement of the goal. 

Small Goals – The next type of goals we must focus on are the small, process goals that seek to achieve the larger one. These are the activities we do on a daily basis. 

The reason they are referred to as process goals is because they are not outcome oriented. When we set a large goal, it is mainly based on an external outcome. It may take the form of a number on a scale, landing a certain job, finishing the season with a specific number of wins, or earning a targeted income. However, focusing on the end result is a key distractor that causes us to never actually achieve our goal. So, enter process goals as the solution. Here you have the habits that you trust will lead you on the path towards your desired outcome.

How to Define Success

We can use the concept of large and small goals to help us define success in any area of our lives. What I would like to do is provide you with an outline you can use to easily define success for yourself. 

Step 1: Define Your Large Goal

The first step in defining success will be to outline your goal. Think about the goal setting procedure discussed above. You want to split your goals into two categories: large and small goals. In this step, you want to be thinking in terms of a large goal. We should always be working towards an outcome we desire, and this step gives us the opportunity to define what that will be. A good rule of thumb when defining your large goal is to make it as specific as possible. This way, you will know exactly when it has been achieved. 

Step 2: Focus on Process Goals

Here is where we really get into the best way defining success helps us become successful. Once a large goal is set, it is now time to focus on the smaller process goals that will get you there. By setting process goals, you will be able to state whether each day was a success. That is where the process of defining success truly becomes powerful.

When defining success using process goals, you want to focus on two areas: mindset and physical goals. These are going to be goals you set which are completely in your control. That way, you can be sure to accomplish them. 

Mindset Goals

Setting mindset goals involves declaring how you want your mental state to be. This can be done for a game, a practice, a meeting, or simply a whole day. Here are some examples of great mindset goals:

  •     Stay confident and positive no matter the result.
  •     Repeat affirmations three times today.
  •     Feel gratitude.
  •     Remain focused on my responsibilities.
  •     Desire success instead of fearing failure.

Each one of these is something we are all capable of achieving, making them fantastic mindset process goals.

“Without dreams and goals there is no living, only merely existing, and that is not why we are here.” – Mark Twain

Physical Goals

Setting physical goals involves outlining and defining how you want to behave from a physical standpoint. It may seem like physical goals are more designed for athletes, but we all can focus on physical process goals to help us define success. Here are some examples of physical process goals:

  •     Walk with my chest up to feel confident. 
  •     Go to the gym for one hour. 
  •     Look everyone in the eye when I talk to them. 
  •     Read for 30 minutes. 
  •     Write 1,000 words.

So, as you can see, these physical goals involve any activity that is necessary on the path towards your goal. By defining mindset and physical process goals, you will have a clear picture of whether your day was a success. Focusing and trusting your process goals will provide you with the opportunity to feel confident and successful each day. This will put you in a great position to achieve the ultimate success you desire. 

Eli Straw is the founder of Success Starts Within and has an M.S. in psychology. Eli's goal is to provide valuable performance psychology information to the public, and help individuals optimize their lives. If you would like to read more articles written by Eli, you can view them here. You can follow Eli on Twitter at @straw_eli. If you would like to learn more about how you can benefit from mental performance coaching, feel free to email Eli at

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