I have to admit, I’ve always been skeptical of those pop psychology claims of the one thing you need to do to be successful. Most of those claims are simplistic views of the problems we face or a single concept taken to an illogical conclusion. Having said that, I now find myself making a case for what I believe to be the one true key to lasting success. That key is self-management.

While it may sound simple or naïve, it really is not. The ability to manage yourself, your effort, your persistence, your mindset, and your emotions plays the most critical role in your success. It’s hard to be healthy if you cannot control your diet or other habits like smoking. It’s virtually impossible to reach big financial goals if you have no discipline for saving money, making wise investments or delaying instant gratification. Likewise, it’s tough to be a good leader unless you can put aside your own personal needs in favor of the team.

Ok, perhaps it’s time to define the term self-management. I would define the term as a capacity or set of skills, versus one skill, that enables individuals to control their own thoughts, feelings and actions. In this way, self-management includes concepts such as self-awareness, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-control and self-discipline; notice they all start with “self”, which is the only thing over which we really have control: our thoughts, our feelings, our behaviors (including our responses and reactions to events and other people). And, we know from decades of research that:

  • Thoughts are powerful antecedents to behaviors
  • Feelings can drive motivation and action
  • Certain behavior patterns (e.g. habits) can make or break us physically, financially and emotionally

Therefore, positive change in any realm starts with getting control over YOU…managing your self-talk, your behaviors and making choices about what you believe, what’s possible and how much you are willing to do to achieve your goals.

This is true in the leadership realm as much as in the personal realm. As I coach executives, much of it has to do with areas such as managing their emotions, often referred to as impulse control, thinking through communications before blasting them out, getting control of and/or changing habits that have developed over time. One minor change in a predictable response (behavior) can create a momentum for that executive that leads to additional, more widespread improvement. Positive feedback from that change fuels greater motivation for additional change.

So, if you are looking to be more successful, to change the course of your life; start on the inside. Start with managing you.