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23 Things Successful People Never Do

Sometimes the key to success is focusing on what successful people's don't lists.

When you're looking for inspiration as you try to move up in your career or improve yourself generally, the best source, of course, is those who've achieved what you're setting out to achieve. But that doesn't only mean doing what other successful people have done—it's just as important to pay attention to what they're not doing. Successful people know to avoid time-wasting activities, morale-draining company, and generally negative ways of thinking. And when you know what not to do, too, you can focus your attention on all the forward-moving changes that will propel you in the right direction. With that in mind, we spoke with career and lifestyle experts to share the find out all the things that successful people never do. Because the don'ts are just as important as the dos.

Speak negatively of themselves.

black woman looking in mirror

It may sound overly simplistic, but the most important difference between those who succeed in life and those who don't is how they talk about themselves. If you speak negatively about yourself, discounting your achievements and insinuating you can't do something, that only serves to hurt your ability to succeed down the line.

"You can transform your life using the power of the spoken word," says James Sweigert, a lifestyle expert and author of If You Say So. "There is greatness in all of us and the universe wants us all to flourish. Claim and manifest the things you want. Make your mind up to be happy! The universe will present any story you tell it, negative or positive. So be on your own side."

Start the day without a plan.

young asian woman waking up with a smile

Your chance at success starts from the first moments of your day. Successful people don't just go where the wind takes them every morning—they decide what to direct their energy toward, and they follow through throughout the day.

"Outlining your day is essential to ongoing consistent success," says Erica Latrice, a career and business development coach. "Without a plan for the day, it's easy to get sucked into time drainers like checking your email nonstop, social media scrolling, and tackling other people's emergencies while putting your priorities on the back burner."

Let their skills atrophy.

Woman writing down her goals in a notebook

You know that you need to work out your body, but are you working out your mind? Just like your muscles, your professional skills need to be developed and improved on to stay in good shape. Successful people make sure to balance leg day with some serious stretching and refreshing of their knowledge.

"After studying the patterns of hundreds of people in business that I admire, one thing that they all have in common is a hunger for learning," says Latrice. "They are constantly reading books, watching training, and feeding their minds with tools to grow in their field."

Dwell on their haters.

young Asian woman looking worried with hands over face

Everyone's a critic. Sometimes it's helpful to know what your haters are saying about you, but you don't want to let them plant seeds of self-doubt in your mind, and you definitely don't want to internalize their critical voices. It's easy to become so focused on proving the haters wrong that you forget what you wanted to do in the first place. So the best solution is to tune them out.

"Successful people know they're doing amazing things with their life, and continue to focus on their dreams and goals," says Lindsey Dinneen, a success, wellness, and lifestyle coach at Life, But Better. "View your opposition as supporters in disguise, because they wouldn't hate or compete with you if you weren't 'worthy' of their notice."

Wait until they're ready.

man checking watch when someone is late

When major opportunities arrive, they're going to feel overwhelming and daunting—that's what makes them major! But successful people power through the feeling that they don't have enough experience and can't meet the challenge. Don't let your self-doubt keep you from trying.

"You will never be fully ready to start that business, or ask for that promotion, so be as prepared as you can, but then dive in headfirst," says Dinneen. "If you wait until you're ready, you'll be waiting your entire life."


older black man checking his phone at his desk

Let's be honest, we all procrastinate every now and then, whether it's about that pile of laundry you keep putting off or that résumé you keep saying you'll update, but never do. Successful people have learned how to overcome the habit of putting off what's most important. They get a rush not from the relief they feel by delaying something to another day, but by pushing forward, getting the task done that they said they'd do, and checking it off their list.

"If there's something that needs to get done, it's imperative to meet your deadline," urges Dinneen. "Putting off a difficult or unpleasant task only wastes precious time and can lead you to worrying about it for way longer than you need to."

Relentlessly collaborate.

Shot of a team of colleagues having a meeting in a modern office

As anyone who has ever done a group project can tell you, collaboration is not always easy. But successful people tend to know when it's a better idea to go it alone, or bring other individuals into the fold. Maybe a project is in its early stages, and you'd be better off tinkering with it before getting others involved—or maybe the people you'd loop in would only make you less productive. The key to success is knowing the difference.

"Sometimes, because of unaddressed, deeply held values and emotions, one or more people are not prepared to collaborate," says conflict and organizational psychology expert Jennifer Goldman-Wetzler, author of the upcoming book Optimal Outcomes: Free Yourself from Conflict at Work, at Home, and in Life. "Your seeking to collaborate in those circumstances can be highly counterproductive. You waste valuable time and energy devising potential solutions that will never satisfy the others involved. You either create 'Band-Aid' solutions that unravel later, or things escalate into more heated disputes, all while time ticks by."

Avoid any conflict.

annoyed white woman at work rejecting a document from her male coworker

Like collaboration, avoiding conflict generally falls into the "things you should do" category. But there are definitely limits. If you're avoiding conflict even in situations where you've been seriously wronged, you'll find that you've opened the door to more lines being crossed. If you don't address something that bothers you, it's only going to get worse.

"Avoiding conflict can be useful in situations where you're too upset to have a productive conversation," says Goldman-Wetzler. "But when you avoid conflict regardless of the particular circumstances, you become incommunicative, which allows situations to fester, making them worse, not better. Conflict is prolonged in 'simmer mode' and often eventually breaks out again, sometimes more intensely than before."

Blame others.

white woman at work pointing a finger at shrugging white male coworker

When something goes wrong, it's tempting to put the blame on literally anyone else. But over time, that kind of behavior can hurt you even more than it hurts the people you're blaming.

"When your good intention to 'win' a conflict warps into blaming and attacking others, your behavior can have a demoralizing effect: Other people with strong personalities are liable to react by counterattacking you, while people who are conflict avoidant shut down completely," says Goldman-Wetzler. "This produces a loss rather than the win you intended. Sometimes you lose face, while other times you lose money, relationships, time, energy, and focus."

Allow their emotions to be hijacked.

asian man in a suit sitting on a bench with his head in his hands

"Top performers don't allow the people around them to dictate their emotions," says former U.S. Marine Eric Rittmeyer, the author of The Emotional Marine: 68 Mental Toughness and Emotional Intelligence Secrets to Make Anyone Instantly Like You.

He points out that those who succeed have a solid understanding of their surroundings—and the people they spend time with.

"High EQ individuals understand while they can't control the emotions of others, they do have 100 percent control of their own emotions," adds Rittmeyer. "They don't allow anyone to dictate how they think. Their thoughts are their own and they have complete control over how they feel at all times."

Have "ruined days."

young black woman clutching her knees and looking concerned

We've all been there. Something goes wrong—your boss yells at you, you get into a fender bender on your morning commute, or your dog tears up your only pair of work shoes—and you feel like it "ruined" the rest of your day. It's so tempting to throw up your hands when things go sideways. Why not just go home and crawl back into bed, right? But that's not how successful people handle minor issues.

"Successful people never let something small completely ruin their day," says Logan Allec, a CPA and owner of personal finance site Money Done Right. "Everyone faces small setbacks—being late to a meeting or not saying hi to their boss—but successful people don't let that bother them."

He emphasizes that those who succeed accept that they've hit a bump, but then quickly start pumping the gas to move on to the next thing.

"A day is long," Allec adds. "A few seconds can't ruin your day, but if you let it, you can end up becoming a very negative person."

Let email dictate to-do's.


You can't just ignore your email. But it seems like successful people do it all the time. OK, not completely, but they're not so responsive to the constant pings from their inbox that it derails their plans for the day.

"Successful people rarely spend time on email if they can avoid it," says Allec. "The reason why is every email in your inbox is something you need to do. The constant growth of your inbox is distracting and takes you away from the things you actually need to work on."

He suggests just checking email twice a day, and keeping those time frames focused on that specific task, so the rest of your day can be focused on the to-do list items you've decided matter most.

Say yes to everything.

woman sitting at her computer giving two thumbs up

You're an overachiever: Of course you want to raise your hand at every opportunity that comes your way. But overextending yourself so much that you can't follow through is no one's definition of success.

"To be a success, you must be a man/woman of your word," says Damon Nailer, a career consultant, leadership trainer, educator, and author. "As a result, successful people only commit to things that they know they will be able to do. They don't constantly volunteer themselves for tasks and events of which they may not be able to participate in because they are fully aware of their limitations and availability."

Invite negative people into their orbit.

man looking annoyed while listening to woman complain

You're selective with your time—you have to be selective when it comes to the people you spend it with, too.

"Avoiding negative people is a must," says Nailer. "The majority of successful people possess a positive and upbeat attitude, so they make it a point to not allow depressing, discouraging individuals to occupy their space, especially for long periods of time."

Isolate themselves.

girl thinking about Bad Dating Marriage Tips

But keep in mind, there's a fine line between staying away from negative people and staying away from everyone. Isolating yourself completely will only hold you back.

"Do you ever worry that if you share your ideas with others that they will steal them? Do you ever feel like receiving feedback on your book or next business idea will derail you from your big vision? Do you simply want to do things your way?" asks Nicole Hernandez, conscious entrepreneur, and the host of The Daring Kind podcast. "If so, you may be isolating yourself from the necessary resources that will block your success."

She points out that the most successful leaders have always kept a close counsel to help them spot potential roadblocks and predict public opinion. "This structure has endured for a reason," says Hernandez. "We aren't able to see all facets of any opportunity or problem, as we are restricted to our own worldview and experiences. When we isolate, we miss the opportunity to address possible misconceptions and mistakes that could have been easily avoided. In short, don't isolate; choose to invite."

Focus on societal expectations.

upset woman on bed, midlife crisis signs

Seeking success and personal improvement? Great. Beating up on yourself whenever you fall short? Not so great.

"It's really easy to get derailed by life traps and social norms that make us believe that we must be thin, exceedingly attractive, youthful, wealthy, and Ivy league-educated to have a voice, a contribution, or a thriving business," says Hernandez. "By trying to measure up to these elitist standards, we simply drain ourselves of enthusiasm and resourcefulness."

She adds that after interviewing more than 20 entrepreneurs, coaches, and authors for her podcast, she began to notice a pattern among those who broke through this habit of thinking. "At some point in each of their lives, they gave themselves permission to explore their calling," says Hernandez. "They allowed curiosity to be their guide. In understanding the negativity bias, they looked for new evidence to support how they were already resourceful, strong, effective, and confident."

Take everything seriously.

white man looking shocked at work next to older white woman putting up her hands

Being focused doesn't mean you can't ever be chill. Almost everything in your life could be taken a little less seriously. By all means, handle things that need to be handled, and treat significant issues with the appropriate level of concern—but you can also find ways to sprinkle in a little humor and perspective, even in the most serious moments.

"Many professionals assume that in order to be taken seriously, we must act stoic and serious," says Hernandez. "There's a time and place for serious conversations, but the truth is that in business, we choose to work with people who are not only proficient—they connect with us on an emotional level."

She points to figures like Richard Branson and John Legere whose amusing antics and enthusiasm have drawn others to them and helped raise their profile.

"Masking the part of your personality that is lighthearted (and perhaps even quirky) is a disservice to yourself; it keeps you trapped in an inauthentic energy that informs 8 to 10 hours of your day," says Hernandez. "It leads to disengagement at work and burnout. It also leads to a lack of engagement among colleagues, and it could potentially cost you business opportunities and promotions."

Act arrogant.

man crossing his arms and ating arrogant

Successful people know that they're successful, but they're not jerks about it. You can't let your high opinion of yourself blind you to potential areas of improvement.

"When we are convinced that we are always right, we stop listening to information around us," says transition and prosperity expert Elisa Robyn, a PhD in Educational Psychology. "We miss important information that will help us make better decisions. In the long run, we build a reputation that chases away the best team members, support staff, and mentors."


Two Muslim Women Gossiping How Ramadan is Celebrated

"There is a difference between information and gossip, just as there is a difference between coaching or mentoring and criticism and rudeness," says Robyn. "Gossip and rudeness, in the end, isolates people and will make us the object of future gossip. Successful people spend time building up those around them rather than finding ways to tear them down."

It's also just not a good look! Successful people don't spend their time trying to knock others down a peg to make themselves feel better. Long-term, it's going to have the opposite effect.

Practice poor posture.

white man with bad posture slouching over his computer

Slouching might feel nice, but good posture is hugely important. It has such a massive effect on our lives—the impression we make on others, as well as our physical and mental health—that it's kind of surprising we don't practice it like our multiplication tables.

"We are judged as soon as we walk in a room, and our posture communicates our confidence," says Robyn. "Standing straight while holding our core muscles strong projects a sense of power to those around, and makes us feel younger and stronger. When we walk bent over, with our head pushed forward, we look older and tend to shuffle or scurry rather than walk with confidence."

Commit to more than five to-do's a day.

to do list

No, that doesn't mean you can't do more than five things in a given day. The point is that focus is key when laying out your day's plan. Cluttering up your to-do list with more than you can handle—or with so many little things that you don't know where to begin—is just going to be counterproductive.

"Those who put too many to-do's on their list simply can't get everything they want done, done. So, they don't," says healthy living expert and coach Erica Ballard, MS, CHC. "They focus on things that will move the needle—be it in their health or business—to make sure they always get what they need done done."

Hold others to unrealistic (or undefined) standards.

young black woman yelling at black man while eating breakfast
skynesher / iStock

You probably hold yourself to high standards, and that's a good thing. Trouble arises when you don't clearly define those standards for others, and then get upset when they don't meet your vague expectations.

"Just because you think there is a right way to behave or to succeed doesn't mean anyone else agreed to do it your way," says Matthew Ferry, author of Quiet Mind Epic Life and longtime success coach. "If you make assumptions about how everyone is supposed to behave, you will be consistently disappointed."

Pretend to know everything.

Man with No Smile, rude behavior

Successful people walk through life with confidence, but they also know the world still has plenty to teach them. Rather than being know-it-alls, successful people "are curious," according to Ferry. "Pretending to know everything limits creativity and options."

Alex Daniel
A journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. Read more
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