My line of work requires that my peers and I undergo a lot of testing, physically and mentally. Our physical fitness is tested frequently and our level of knowledge is tested every week, sometimes several times each week. This has been going on for about a year now and it has allowed me to notice trends that appear with high achievers and low achievers.

One thing I have noticed about the high achievers that sets them up for success and gives them an advantage over the low achievers is that the high achievers are willing to delay gratification in order to get what they need to do done first, and then they enjoy themselves. We are at work for around 10 hours a day, and then required to come in on our own time and study for our tests. We are all tired, stressed and want to go home and relax. However, when we are let out for the day, you will see the low achievers packing up, eager to go home while the high achievers stay back and get their work and studying done before going home.

The advantage to delaying the gratification of going home and doing whatever it is that makes you happy is that if you stay after and get everything done before you go home, then you can actually relax when you get home. There’s no lingering stress of having to worry and go back later to take care of your responsibilities. You’ve already taken care of what you need to do and now you can actually enjoy yourself without knowing that you have to go back eventually to do your work and then get home late.

The low achievers go home as soon as possible and have fun doing what they like to do and they start getting tired because they’ve started relaxing, making it even harder to find motivation to go back in and study or exercise, and what ends up happening is that laziness often wins over and they procrastinate, taking care of what they have to do when they are now low on energy and then they are always tired. Being always tired means poor performance and they wonder why they perform so poorly.

The low achievers wait until the last possible moment to deal with their responsibilities and stress the whole time when they could be genuinely relaxing because they’re also worrying about what they have to get done. The high achievers take care of what they have to do right away and get home after everything is done still having energy and also get to sleep earlier and wake up better rested than the low achievers and they naturally perform better. They’ve gotten better sleep, they’re less stressed and free up the mental energy that the low achievers use stressing to actually learn.

Another trend I’ve noticed is that the high achievers are more willing to put in the extra work. The top scoring people are not only smart, but they are also the ones who put in the most amount of time studying and exercising. The low achievers like to write them off as just naturally talented and intelligent and fail to see and of the time and effort that goes behind the high achievers accomplishments. The low achievers only put in the minimum effort required by them and then fail to recognize why they are getting a minimal result from their efforts.

High achievers have pride in themselves and their reputations. They care about their performance and how it reflects on them. Perhaps having pride is a good thing in this sense because its obvious that those who lack it are nowhere up to par with the ones who have it and this is easily recognized by our superiors. I think its obvious that the ones who have pride in their work will be the ones who are trusted by their superiors and will be the first in line for promotions and opportunities down the road. What kind of boss wants the low achieving employee with no self-pride to do the things they need to get done? No employer that I know of.

Another big difference I see is that of mindset. The high achievers think about how well they can do and how close to perfection they can get and as a result they come very close to doing the best that they possibly can. The low achievers think only about passing or trying not to fail and their results land close to where they aimed.

I knew someone who was incredibly intelligent. She got very high scores on every test she took. Her mindset was this is easy. It frustrated me because I had to put in so much more effort to come close to her results. I suddenly had a realization about her mindset and how it influenced her work. She knew what was going on, and so it was easy for her. And so I would tell myself, its not hard, you just don’t know it yet. Then I thought about my instructors and the scientists before me who discovered these things and learned from their predecessors. What I was learning wasn’t hard for them because they already knew it. I was reminded that hard is unknown.

That realization changed everything for me. When I’d study and come across things that I struggled with I’d just remind myself this isn’t hard, I just don’t know it yet, and then I’d put in the effort necessary to learn and it wasn’t so hard anymore. Going into learning or studying with the mindset that its going to be hard creates a mental block that makes it difficult to learn. Instead of focusing on learning you’re thinking about how hard it is and you convince yourself that hard is unattainable when its really just unknown.

Was I ever going to be as naturally intelligent as my friend? No, and did I still have to put in more effort than her? Yes, but once I changed my mindset the amount of time I had to put into studying and learning decreased because my mindset actually gave me a chance instead of defeating me before I even tried.

Just as she was better than me academically, I was better than her physically. Not because I’m some kind of naturally athletic stud. Its because I put in a lot of time and effort into exercise and I know how to exercise properly. I know how to move my body and how to control my breath and what is easy for me is hard to others because they don’t know what I know. The low achievers think exercise is hard and that it sucks. I love exercise and I do it regularly so physical test aren’t as difficult for me.

What they may think about me physically is what I thought of the academically gifted. I put in effort to get to a place where physical challenges aren’t so hard for me and I exercise regularly and as a result I don’t deal with the same stress that they do when it comes to physical tests. Most of the time the high achievers academically are also the ones who are also high achievers physically. They take time to take care of their bodies which makes them feel better overall, leading to better performance.

In summary things that high achievers do to set themselves up for success are:

  • Delay gratification: Do what you need to get done first.
  • Aim high, not low.
  • Maintain a mindset that aids instead of hinders you.
  • Be willing to put in more effort.
  • Have pride in yourself and in your work.
  • Exercise: Physical health and mental health correspond.
  • Hard is unknown: if you don’t know, find out.

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