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Laws of Lifetime Growth

Sullivan presents seven absolutes for continued growth and success in your career and life.

By Dan Sullivan

The most successful individuals in today’s world of continual change are those who can grow throughout their lives. “Lifetime growth” itself obviously requires intelligence, but that is just the start. Many highly intelligent people stop growing in terms of their enthusiasm, alertness, receptivity, flexibility and adaptability long before they are physically old. What’s missing from their lives is a set of basic attitudes and habits that keeps them fresh and innovative in their responses to the world around them. The following are seven “laws” for experiencing continual growth, based on observing the behavior of individuals who are still motivated, learning, changing and succeeding at an advanced age.

1. Always make your future bigger than your past.
A bigger future is essential for lifetime growth. The past has two main uses: It is rich with experiences that are worth thinking about in new ways—and all of these valuable experiences can become raw material for creating an even bigger future. Approach your past with this attitude, and you will have an insatiable desire for even better, more enjoyable experiences. Use your past to continually create a bigger future, and you will separate yourself from situations, relationships and activities that can trap you in the past. Continually use your past only as a foundation for what lies ahead, and ensure that your future is always bigger than your past.

2. Always make your contribution bigger than your reward.
Increased contribution to others is essential for lifetime growth. As you become more successful, numerous rewards will come your way: increased income, praise, recognition, reputation, status, capabilities, resources and opportunities. These are all desirable things, but they can be growth-stoppers. They may tempt you to become fixated on just the rewards, rather than on making still greater contributions. The one sure guarantee that rewards will continually increase is not to think too much about them. Instead, continue making an even greater contribution—by helping others eliminate their dangers, capture their opportunities and maximize their strengths. Greater rewards will automatically result from this. Always focus on creating new kinds of value for larger numbers of people, and ensure that your contribution is always greater than your reward.

Continually use your past only as a foundation for what lies ahead, and ensure that your future is always bigger than your past.

3. Always make your learning greater than your experience.
Continual learning is essential for lifetime growth. You can have a great deal of experience and be no smarter for all of the things you’ve done, seen and heard. Experience alone is no guarantee of intellectual growth. But continually transform your experiences into new lessons, and you will make each day of your life a source of growth. The smartest people are those who can transform the smallest event or situation into breakthroughs in thinking and action. Look at all of life as a school and every experience as a lesson, and your learning will always be greater than your experience.

4. Always make your performance greater than your applause.
Increased performance is essential for lifetime growth. If you become more skillful and useful, you will receive greater applause from an expanded audience. This can be intoxicating, and the temptation will be to start organizing your life around other people’s recognition and praise. You’ll keep repeating what got you the applause in the first place—rather than moving on to something new, better and different. The applause will become more important to you than your improved performance. The greatest performers in all fields are those who always strive to get better. No matter how much acclaim they receive they keep working to improve their performance. Continually work to surpass everything you’ve done so far, and your performance will always be greater than your applause.

5. Always make your gratitude greater than your success.
Increased gratitude is essential to lifetime growth. Only a small number of people in life are continually successful over the long run. The reason? They recognize that every success comes from the assistance of many other people—and they are continually grateful for this support. Conversely, the people whose success stops at some point are those who cut themselves off from everyone who has helped them. They see themselves as the sole cause of their own achievements. As they become more self-centered and isolated, they lose their creativity and ability to succeed. Continually acknowledge others’ contributions, however, and you will automatically create room in your brain and in the world for much greater success. You will continually be motivated to achieve even more for those who have helped you. Focus on appreciating and thanking others, and the conditions will always grow for your increased success.

6. Always make your enjoyment greater than your effort.
Increased enjoyment is essential for lifetime growth. Some high achievers continually brag about how hard they work, about how much they’ve sacrificed to be successful. They use this as a psychological weapon to prove their superiority over people who don’t put in an equal amount of effort. But this arrogant attitude regarding hard work quickly makes them boring to themselves and others—preventing them from being more creative and useful in the world. To grow continually requires increasing enjoyment from your work. Creativity in all fields of activity is intimately linked to playfulness—the constant desire to do new things just for the fun of it. Approach everything you do with this sense of play, and you will always ensure that your enjoyment is greater than your effort.

7. Always make your confidence greater than your comfort.
Increased confidence is crucial for lifetime growth. Many successful people start off life as dreamers and risk-takers, but the moment they become successful, they start seeking greater security and comfort as their main goal. This attitude puts them to sleep motivationally, and they lose the confidence that made them so successful. Security and comfort are desirable by-products of goal achievement, but when they become the goal itself, they quickly stop lifetime growth. Treat any increase of comfort in your life as only a temporary stage for establishing bigger goals. Continually strive for higher goals and achievement, and your confidence will always be greater than your comfort.

TM & ©2002. The Strategic Coach Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Dan Sullivan is co-founder and president of The Strategic Coach.

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