We all want better for ourselves. Whether it’s a bigger house, nicer car, higher salary, thriving business, or more recognition, we all want something we don’t have. And most of us spend the majority of our lives chasing these things.
Success looks different to different people, but there’s no arguing that we all have some definition of it and that we often feel far from that definition. Thankfully, we aren’t limited by our current circumstances. With the right tools, we can get to where we want to be. Here is everything you need to start doing today to get ahead.
Start by sleeping on a regular schedule. Sleeping on a regular schedule is a game changer for improving cognitive function and mood. In fact, having a consistent sleep schedule is often more important than sleeping for a specific number of hours. If you wake up at 6 a.m. for work but like to sleep in until 10 a.m. on the weekends, you might want to rethink your sleeping patterns so you sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
Doing this helps your body develop a consistent rhythm and will allow you to build a schedule that works for you and the specific activities that you engage in. When you wake up, the first thing you should do is make your bed. Making your bed right after you get up might seem insignificant, but the reality is that accomplishing this small task at the start of your day sets the tone for the rest of it. You’ll get a feeling of accomplishment that gives you the dopamine boost you need to tackle the more complex tasks you take on as your day progresses.
It also gives you a sense of calm. Even if you can’t control every aspect of your life, you’re in control of where you lay your head to rest. And sorting out your sleeping area also means you’ll be less likely to jump back into bed, which, as I’m sure all of us know, can quickly lead to a very unproductive morning and entire day.
I said sorting your ‘sleeping area’ because even if you don’t sleep on a bed or are currently unhoused, you can still get the benefits of making your bed by simply arranging your sleeping area. Whether it’s rolling up mats or folding sheets, putting these things away gives you the same advantage as making your bed. You want to read books, magazines, newspapers? Just read. Several studies show that regular reading increases the communication between the parts of our brains that control language processing. It can also help improve concentration and prevent cognitive decline in old age.
But just like exercising, meditating, and eating healthy, these are all tips you’ve heard before. So let’s get a little more specific. How do you get ahead at work? Well, first, it’s essential to identify your goals. If you approach every workday with a big question mark, you’ll likely lose focus and sense of direction quickly. But once you identify a goal like a raise, a promotion, or a particular benchmark, you can start each day with ideas on how to get closer to your goal, even if it takes you a while to get there.
That’s why it’s good to be specific.
Think of yourself as a specialist rather than a generalist. With unlimited YouTube videos and college courses, many of us take advantage of dabbling in different skills and hobbies. The problem is that doing too many things can spread our attention so thin that it’s difficult to hone in on that one skill that will move us forward.
By becoming a specialist instead, especially in your work, you’re more likely to build an impressive skill set that makes you stand out in the current difficult labor market. Of course, having hobbies and interests is essential for an excellent work-life balance, but in your career, just being OK at a lot of things doesn’t get you nearly as far as being great at one or two things.
Getting ahead is easier if you love what you do. Or at least like it. Loving your work can sometimes be misunderstood as loving every aspect of your job, which is, quite frankly, impossible. Work is called work for a reason. It’s not helpful to set the unrealistic expectation that you’ll love every second of it. But suppose you are interested enough and perhaps even fulfilled at times by the work you do. In that case, you’re more likely to push yourself further, enjoy building your skill sets, and face challenges with optimism rather than negativity.
Once you get extremely proficient at your job, you soon discover that your skills can only get you so far. To get further ahead, you need to start promoting yourself. Now, self-promotion sometimes gets a bad rap, but if you’ve put in the time and effort to become a better employee, boss, or a more creative thinker, you deserve to brag about it. Also, making others aware of your accomplishments can do wonders to lift you off your plateau and keep moving forward.
And when you do, having the right people around you is crucial. Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Bob Sutton says that your manager can have a more significant effect on your happiness and success than the company you work at.
So whenever you have the opportunity, always choose to work with people who are quick to offer help when necessary. One thing to remember, though, is that if your managers or co-workers are there to help you, you have to be there to help them too. Being liked by the people you work with and liking them back isn’t bad. You don’t need the tough exterior that reigned superior in the workplace for so long. Putting up walls will cut you off from opportunities and, more importantly, relationships.
Ask anyone, anywhere, in any field, and they’ll all tell you that relationships are the key ingredient to a successful career. How do you build relationships? Network. It’s an annoying word, I know. Like me, you probably cringe at the idea of artificially making acquaintances for the sole purpose of advancing your career. But networking doesn’t have to be like that.
Think about all of the people you’ve collaborated with. You might not have become friends with them, but you did get to know their innovative, motivated, and creative sides. If they needed a recommendation, wouldn’t you happily give them one? Exactly.
Networking in a meaningful way doesn’t have to feel forced. It’s building genuine connections with people who understand your work and are likely to help you in the future. As your network expands, you might start to compare yourself to others. But you shouldn’t do that because comparison is the thief of joy.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do to get ahead is to take what you want out of the equation. It may seem counterintuitive, but recognizing how your work contributes to other people’s lives can make you more productive than just thinking about how it benefits you.
Adam Grant is a renowned organizational psychologist who studies human behavior and helps people find motivation and meaning in their lives, especially in the workplace. In one of his earliest jobs selling ads for a travel guide series, he ran an experiment that I think we can all learn from. He brought in a student who had been awarded a scholarship from his travel guide company to meet his colleagues. After meeting the student, the entire company staff spent 142% more time on the phone and brought in 171% more revenue, using the same sales script as before.
Even though the content of their sales pitch didn’t change, they were motivated, consciously and subconsciously, to do better simply by seeing someone who had been positively impacted by their work.
So instead of worrying about what other people can do to help you get ahead, flip the switch and start thinking of what you can do for others. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much more productive you are when you know your work is improving other people’s lives.
Now, the truth is, these things we’ve discussed are not gas pedals you can step on to automatically speed you to the front of the rat race. Because, in reality, getting ahead is about more than a set of quick fixes. In fact, ‘ahead’ isn’t even a destination. It’s a mindset.
And it’s essential to recognize that what might feel good in the short term might limit you in the long term. Eating an entire bowl of ice cream might seem like a fantastic idea today, but keep doing that every day for the next few years, and your health will suffer as a result. The same goes for how you can work to get ahead in life.
Finding shortcuts or avoiding conflict can feel good, but when you decide to take the easy route, you’re cheating yourself out of potential learning opportunities. Of course, it’s equally important to be smart. Dragging things out just to feel like you’re ‘doing something’ can be a nasty trap, mainly because maintaining your stamina is another critical component to getting ahead. It’s easy to quit; plenty of people do it. To become one of the people who don’t, you’ll need to push yourself, but not so hard that you burn out. You have to seek out challenges, nothing impossible, just practical ones that give you a healthy dose of dopamine once you accomplish them.
You’ll find small bits of motivation to hang onto when things get tough. You’ll dig in and hang on even when things get rough. Failure is inevitable in all areas of life. No relationship is perfect. No job is perfect. No family is perfect. But instead of thinking of failure as a setback, think of it as an opportunity.
It’s information about your current mental and physical limitations and data about how you can improve. It’s a reminder of how good it feels to try, even when things don’t work out. Failure teaches you that you aren’t in this alone and that asking for help is never something to be ashamed of.
Asking for help is one of life’s remarkable skills. So is saying, “I’m sorry.”
Accepting responsibility when you’ve done something wrong and not dishing out a meaningless apology allows others to see your humility.
Once you accept that you make mistakes, sometimes even ones that hurt others, you’re freed from the assumption that you always know what to do. Confusion is a part of life. If you want to get ahead, you better learn how to navigate it. And the only way to do that is by being able to adjust. We’re all born into certain circumstances, hold particular beliefs, and expect different things out of life. But change is necessary, even when it doesn’t feel all that great.
Here, science has our backs. You’ve probably heard the distinctions between right and left-brained people. The theory is that if you’re right-brain dominant, you’re more intuitive, a creative thinker, qualitative about the way you perceive things, and you tend to look at the world with a big-picture lens.
On the other hand, if you’re left-brain dominant, you’re said to be analytical. You pay attention to details, are ruled by logic, and you view the world more specifically and objectively. But a 2013 study by the University of Utah looked at the brains of over 1,000 young people between the ages 7 and 29 and found no evidence of what we’ve been told about left and right-brained people. The study found that the activity in the left and right halves of a subject’s brain was similar regardless of their personality.
This is freeing because it means there isn’t some inherent brain chemistry that determines how you think and act. Depending on the situation, you can choose to be more analytical or more intuitive. You can adapt. So what is getting ahead? Earning more money? Or is it more about being able to look back and be proud of not just what you’ve done but who you are? I’d argue for the latter.
Because just as much as you want to get ahead, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself. To a place where you become obsessed with your future. A place where your specific goals and feelings become so crucial to you that you lose sight of your journey. When people say it’s lonely at the top, I often reply that they neglected everyone on their climb who loved them because they were so focused on the summit.
Think about getting ahead more as a process rather than a race that you need to finish. Even as you’re striving for excellence, always remember to stay in the present, looking around to take in the beauty of the experiences you’re given on this beautiful journey of life.
Getting ahead shouldn’t have us running so fast that we pass on in an attempt to pass others. After all, life isn't a race to the finish - but an experience to be relished.