The Neurology of Success - part I of III

Posted on: Thursday 30, June 2016
Category: Thought Leadership

This is part one of a three part blog exploring the factors behind what makes successful people successful. What’s their secret, is there a formula to success and if so can anyone model it?

[Reading time - 4 minutes]

Muhammad Ali was one of my childhood heroes and it made me wonder what we can learn from his formula for success.

What made him believe in himself when he said, “I knew I was The Greatest even before I was The Greatest!”

What too was behind Martin Luther King’s success that changed history when he spoke to the American nation with his immortal speech, “I have a dream!”

Also what was the driving force behind Steve Jobs’ achievements when he described success as discovering, ”It’s what [is inside you that] makes your heart sing!”

Let’s begin by drawing some inspiration from a couple of sources - one from the world of tennis and another from politics.

Successful people inspire us all by their backstories

At Wimbledon 2016, the world’s attention was briefly captivated by qualifier Marcus Willis’ come-back kid debut - a 25-year-old unknown tennis teaching pro in Coventry. Astonishingly Willis won his first round and was then drawn against 17 times grand-slam champion Roger Federer which caught the media’s attention.

Despite losing to Federer, Willis managed to take seven games off the champion. Through the match, Willis’ easy charm and cheeky-chap smile won the affection of Federer, tennis fans, the media and the peoples' hearts in the UK and around the world. In this brief moment, the world witnessed an underdog who shot to fame by turning his tennis career around on the world sporting stage.

“I’ve earned a beer I think!” was Marcus’s humble comment to the media following the match. 

His back-story started with success playing at Wimbledon in the Junior league. But, then turned his back on his passion, succumbing instead to self-doubt and drink – interference.  A few years later he fell in love with a beautiful woman and through her encouragement and his family’s support he, therefore, fought back to make his debut at Wimbledon. 

Now, going back to the dark days at the beginning of World War II:

In 1940 the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill succeeded in turning around the public opinion of the British people who had resigned themselves to appeasing a Nazi regime.  At that time Nazi Germany was conquering large parts of Western Europe. However, through Churchill’s powerful argument he convinced the whole nation to ‘take up the sword and fight to the end instead’. Churchill’s oratory skill was to paint a new picture of hope – that of the British successfully defeating Hitler’s army.

“What is our aim?” said Churchill:

“Victory, victory at all costs. Victory in spite of terror. Victory however long and hard the road may be. For without victory there is no survival.” (Winston Churchill 1940)

That was the beginning of 5 years of Churchill being at his very best, leading Britain through the darkest moments of the mid 20th century. Churchill passion believed it to be his purpose.

But, Churchill’s back-story was full of hardship and issues. Blighted with a stammer, a lisp and a fear of public speaking. He was mediocre at school and had no university education.  Earlier in his career, he endured a humiliating and catastrophic failure at Gallipoli where many thousands of troops lost their lives - known as ‘Churchill’s folly’. Despite these acute interferences, Churchill found a way to overcome these and changed history by doing so. At his death, Churchill’s achievement was honoured by a Royal State funeral.

These sorts of stories don't just happen to those lucky few successful people though, we all have our back-stories to access. These are the moments that perhaps forged a decisive decision you made, or something you learned to overcome that transformed your life. It might have been a particular event that became a turning point for you. So ask yourself - what's your back-story?

Is there a formula for success?

We all love a hero, who despite the odds overcomes adversity and makes the world better.  We all love to identify with true-grit life-changing turn-around stories like those of Muhammad Ali, Steve Jobs, Churchill and even Marcus Willis’ brief moment of fame. Universally we all become inspired by these sorts of stories because they strongly signal courage, resolve, endurance and the human spirit to overcome. It is these moments that all humans yearn for deep down - to find a purpose and a passion for fighting back and turning life around.

Earlier I asked is there a formula for success? Well, I think there is. We can learn a lot from the stories already mentioned. Perhaps the reason why success stories inspire us so much is that they point to our human potential being already present, albeit deeply embedded (pre-coded) within our neurology.

I believe that successful people discover a way to tap into their success neurology. Therefore, this implies that anyone can then follow this principle too and achieve their individual success.

Here’s a simple formula that I’ve been working with to do just that. It’s adapted from T. W Gallwey’s work from his Inner Game book series.

Success = Passion – Interference

The principle here is that any success comes after a period of testing, trial and error by working on minimising inner interferences that get in the way of success. Mixed-in with this is also the awakening and then honing of what’s the unique passion that is deeply alive inside every one of us – as Steve Jobs puts it, “What makes your heart sing?

In my opinion, working on both these notions is a prerequisite for success. It seems that success comes through deserving – it begins with hard work, that then sets up a later bow-wave for success to flow, although, a bit of beginners luck helps as well!

Interferences and Passions

To minimise your interferences, you first have become aware of them and then learn to push through your limiting attitudes and your negative inner mind chatter. It means moving past your unwarranted default survival mechanisms and your reactive attitudes. Bottom line - your interferences ultimately limit your potential and personal power.

Going back to the above stories, they teach us that successful people instinctively know they need to work hard to overcome such interferences before they can earn the right to success.

There is a pay-off, overcoming life’s interferences then forms successful people’s back-story. So when we hear them talk, it is this that we find so inspirational.

Studies at Harvard Business School on entrepreneurs (above) show some essential qualities of success. These seem to come by working on them and discovering them by being tested, but once learned they become impressive indicators of success.

Applying this to you…

Interestingly it is the awakening of your passion and purpose that form the driving force for change and the motivation to overcome your interferences. Overcoming your interferences and discovering your passions go hand-in-hand. So when you start to understand ‘what makes your heart sing’, your inner desires become ignited.

At that point, the payoff is your imagination becomes engaged too and when that happens, it means that you will begin to gain access to other positive and optimistic sides of you (like those in the passion graphic above), as well as other infinite unconscious resources too.

Part two

Defining success is complicated and this article is just a start - it doesn't end here. Part two continues to unpack easy, practical ways for you to plan ahead so you can practise gaining access to your own brain's pre-coded success neurology. Part two will explore how you:

  1. Awaken your passion and purpose - thoughts.
  2. Set up positive and optimistic mind-sets - feelings.
  3. Open body language - actions.


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Great article, Andrew.

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