How to measure your personal success in a turbulent world

man standing on tower looking out into the horizon
man standing on tower looking out into the horizon

Let me start by asking you a straightforward question, did you succeed last year? Whatever your answer is, you are not alone. 

At the end of every year, I ask myself the same question, trying to understand what went right and wrong and to determine whether or not I really succeeded and deserve to celebrate or have failed, convincing myself that I  learned something. As simple as that question might seem, I always used to answer it subjectively, influenced by everything and everyone around me rather than my own beliefs, goals, and ambitions.  

When answering this question, I find our minds are biased depending on our situation at the time of the question, our cultural background, and our mental status. Still, in all cases, we tend to be harsh on ourselves, always mentioning what went wrong before what went right. So, when asked this question, it might bring to your mind the first thing you failed this year, like failing to lose weight, but wait, what about the good things you accomplished? What about the MBA I started, the relationships I built, or passing through rough times without losing my positivity?  

What makes it worse is how turbulent our world has been in the last few years since Covid-19, we have lost jobs, failed personal goals, and weakened some relationships. Our mind’s measurement of success slowed down and sometimes completely changed with the world’s sudden shutdown.   

I want you to succeed this year in your own way and based on your beliefs and objectives in life. I have taken a relatively objective approach to help you determine and measure your success in our turbulent world, and to try to remain unbiased from any external factors that influence your thoughts. So, let’s dive in. 

1. Set clear and SMART goals for your success  

We discuss and use the word SMART goals in the context of business all year long, so why shy away from it on a personal level? Establishing specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timed goals (SMART goals) can help you define what success means to you and how you will measure it.  

Irrespective of how everyone sees it, make it as personal and attainable as possible. You can use words like “Start” or “Plan” to make it applicable and plan it according to daily, weekly or monthly goals. Again, it is your personal goal, so do it the way that fits you best and stay away from any standard that does not fit your style. 

Example: For 2023, I want to start my MBA at one of the best European business schools. 

2. Track your success progress 

Tracking your progress can be one of the primary motivators to succeed, and it is a practical way to measure success over a specified period. So, it is essential to set up your personalized system to track your progress toward success.  

It does not matter how you build your system; I have seen people doing it on Notion with complicated automated trackers and others doing it on a to-do list on their phones; the most important thing is to do it. Remember that the goal is to track progress and keep yourself motivated daily, so the easier, the better. You can also give different weights and numeric goals to your success plan; this way, you will see what is more critical and assign different priorities in your day accordingly.  

Examples: Habit tracker apps, excel files, Google sheets, or to-do applications. 

3. Reflect, and be honest about it! 

I was listening to a podcast by Jordan Peterson, and he mentioned a statement I found very accurate when measuring success.; “The hardest part is, to tell the truth to yourself and not to lie.” So, let’s build a daily habit of reflecting on your short-term and long-term goals; you are sitting in your room with your journal, a pen, maybe some jazz music in the background, a nice coffee, and writing down all your thoughts on what happened today. The most important thing is, to be honest; in the end, why lie?  

You are the one that needs to understand yourself, how you are progressing towards your goals, what made you motivated today, and what didn’t. Reflection is critical to measuring success; it will put you in front of a mirror every day where you can get your mind and body back on the right path to success. It is also essential to reflect on successes and failures, so you can keep track of the progress and make any necessary changes to your schedule. 

Example: I didn’t eat healthy today because I was feeling down. But why is food related to accomplishments? How are my desires slowing down my goals and success measures? 

4. Celebrate small wins 

According to the scientific paper “The Behavioral Neuroscience of Motivation,: An Overview of Concepts, Measures, and Translational Applications by Elanor H. Simpson and Peter D. Balsam”, research has found that three main factors influence our motivation: our physiological state, environment, and past.  

These factors influence how Dopamine works inside your mind and what can be called the reward pathway in your mind; when you reward yourself for an action you did, your mind associates this action with success and keeps encouraging you to do it more. We can use this to our advantage when we want to achieve our goals to success; whenever you accomplish a goal, give yourself a present, and the bigger the goal, the bigger the celebration.  

Example: If you did not smoke today, reward yourself with a treat, but if you did not smoke for a year, go on that vacation you were dreaming about.  

5. Seek feedback from yourself 

If a close friend approaches you and asks for feedback on a specific goal that they are failing to achieve for any reason, how supportive will you be? So, why do we always give harsh feedback when talking to our minds and bodies, not our friends? Why don’t we start treating our mind as we treat our best friends? Ask yourself for honest feedback on your progress on the goals you seek this year. It is very beneficial to imagine yourself as the third party in the conversation with no bias and watch the effort you are making, then do conclusive and constructive feedback on your performance. The results are significant! 

Example: If you are failing a university course, take the 3rd party seat and ask yourself what is going well and what is going wrong and pat yourself on the back like you will do to your friend, supporting them and pushing them to success. 

6. Seek feedback from friends, family, and mentors 

I kept this one for last because it is a little tricky. During a course titled “Crafting Better Decisions,” taught by Professor Chengwei Liu as a part of the Global Online MBA program at ESMT Berlin, we discussed the different types of biases and their effect on decision-making. To give you a clue, imagine being taught your whole life that the sea is green and not blue, and I come and ask you to provide me with an opinion about a fantastic artwork with a sea-colored blue; what will be your reaction? You will probably tell me this is not the right way to draw the sea! Well, this is information bias, and we are experiencing it among many different other biases daily. 

Seeking feedback from our circle of trust is critical. In the end, they are the people who care about our success and are eager to see us thrive. However, we must be cautious about their bias and differences in perspectives and desires that might make their thought process inefficient. To overcome this, you can always ask multiple people from your circle whom you really trust the same question about any of your goals or success measures, get different feedback and sit with yourself and analyze on your own; this way, you can get the best advice from people that care about you, and at the same time avoid any disturbance to your plan based on personal biases. 

Example: Try asking your spouse, friends, and mentors about your plan to achieve personal growth in an area of interest. Put their responses in a file, read it multiple times then get an individual answer to your question. 

In a turbulent world, be constant 

How can you be certain about success when surrounded by uncertainties everywhere? Well, let me say it, you simply can’t. However, there is one thing you can do to bypass turbulence at work, personal, or even social life; be constant with your personal goals and measures of success. Is the world going through a recession? I am doing my best at work and learning new things every day; this is how I will measure success at the professional level. Is climate change becoming a bigger problem worldwide every single day? I will be my own judge and measure my success against sustainability by lowering my personal carbon footprint and my plastic consumption. Does everyone around me seem miserable and depressed? I will be the positive vibe in our group, try to do a good deed every day and make someone happy, and add that it is one of my personal success goals.  

Measuring success in a turbulent world is hard, but if you are consistent, determined, reflective, and systematic, you will win in your personal race. We are all fighting the same fights, with different magnitudes. Still, our mind’s capabilities to tackle disturbing circumstances are one of our greatest gifts, and we should get used to using it efficiently.  

Our human experience is not identical; my success can differ from yours, and comparing yourself should only be your version of last year. Forbes 30 under 30, or the list of the best CEOs in the world, can be intimidating, but remember that we are battling different wars, and your success would probably be different from mine, so why not avoid the social pressure, believe in yourself and measure your own success, the way you see it right? 

 Finally, if you benefited from anything in this article, can you pay it forward? Speak to someone and tell them they will make it, it will pass, and they can be successful in their own way.