Stop Imitating The Habits Of Successful People: It’s Killing You

Stop Imitating The Habits Of Successful People

Have you seen them? Articles and books that promise you the secrets to success? Save yourself some time and stop reading them. I’ll tell you why in a minute.

There are many kinds of those “success-articles.” The ones that suggest there’s a difference between winners and losers are my favorite.

Stuff like: “This behavior separates successful people from average people.” Or how about articles that list the habits of Millionaires or Billionaires? It’s so predictable.

Those type of articles and books are designed to give you a good feeling about yourself. “See! I have all the traits of successful people. I’m one of them!”

They always focus on the outcome. Not the process. Studying, learning, and stealing productive habits or tactics are all smart things to do. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I talk about people who only focus on the outcome. I.e. success.

Also, everyone pretends that the word success has nothing to do with money and status. But that’s simply not true. When we talk about success, we all talk about getting rich. Just be honest.

Derek Sivers, author of Anything You Want, said it best on the Tim Ferriss Show when he was asked about success:

“Notice how we all assume that when you say “become successful” you really mean “get rich”.”

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting rich. People can pursue anything they want.

But let’s keep it real and not pretend that “only you can determine the definition of success,” and then talk about the habits of millionaires. 

Last week I was speaking to my mentor about this phenomenon. He never reads anything online. He likes newspapers and physical books. He’s not really into new technology.

Until a year ago, he still had a Nokia 6310i. You can only call, text, and play Snake II on those phones.

He literally bought 5 or 6 of them when he heard that Nokia discontinued that phone. He loves the battery life. Apparently, those things lasted forever on one charge.

Anyway, my mentor is old school. And we were talking about how a lot of people love to dissect success. This is what he said:

“There’s a difference between studying success and actually building a business or career that matters. It’s the same as talent and hard work. I know a lot of talented people who never contributed anything to the world.

And I also know a lot of people without talent who did wonderful things in life. Knowing how to be successful will not guarantee success. I believe it’s the opposite. People who don’t assume they know everything often accomplish the most.”

I think that was such a great point he made. I must be honest. I’ve also tried to “study the habits of successful people” in the past. But I’ve never looked at it that way.

My mentor tried to make me aware that success doesn’t happen by imitating others. No matter how many habits of successful people you might have, it doesn’t mean anything.

Correlation doesn’t mean causation.

That’s the exact phrase he used. Reading articles and books that talk about success is a waste of time because they are not teaching you anything useful.

Worse, they can cause tunnel vision. You might pursue things that lead you in the wrong direction. (more on that later)

For instance, take waking up early. That’s always part of the lists of habits. But waking up is not a skill that does something. When you try to imitate a rich person who wakes up early, will you become rich by waking up early?

That’s why I find it odd that people try to imitate successful people. What’s the point? Even if you know the EXACT ingredients of success, it’s no good to you.

Richard Branson is one of the most well-known people in the world, and many believe he’s the most successful entrepreneur there is.

He’s written books and articles. He’s also been interviewed, analyzed, and researched to death. We know all about Branson’s habits and mindset.

I wonder: If we’re all trying to imitate him, why are there not more world-famous entrepreneurs? Exactly. It’s not that simple.

I get why we study successful people. We all want the outcome but no one wants to put in the work themselves.

I don’t read articles about success. I don’t care whether someone is only talking the talk or has backed it up with results. You just can’t promise someone success if they do xyz. But that’s not the most important reason I don’t care about imitating success.

There’s beauty in the struggle.

If you blindly try to imitate others, you kill your character. Ralph Waldo Emerson put it best:

“Envy is ignorance, imitation is suicide.”

Be yourself. It’s the biggest cliché in the book of an amateur philosopher. “Imitation is death” sounds better than the lame old “just be yourself.” And it means the same.

But let’s pretend for a second that someone can provide you with an exact roadmap to success. Would you still imitate it? Or would you rather pave your own path?

Because why even care about the outcome? Life is not about success, no matter how you define it. Life is about the struggle of figuring things out. The very thing that many of us run away from.

One of my favorite musicians, J. Cole, wrote a song called “Love Yourz” about this concept. He says:

“There’s beauty in the struggle. Ugliness in the success.”

Think about it. What if you get to a destination to find out that you arrived at the wrong place?

That’s what imitation does.

Be bigger than that.

Always create your own path—no matter how hard it is. And you better love it too. Because that’s the only right path there is.



Thanks for reading! Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. Wonderful article. I am successful because I am brilliant at being me. I’m the only one who knows how to do it and can do it.😊

  2. “Correlation is not causation.” Very true. I always ask myself, what about all the “unsuccessful” people who follow the same rituals/habits/routines without achieving “success”. Sometimes, the correlation might not even be there if we pay attention to the disconfirming evidence…

    Thanks Darius. Great reminder of the importance of being yourself. Like that vintage Sesame Street song says, “There is only one me”.

  3. I always read the articles but never had posted here but once I read this article, I felt I had to do it.

    I can not be most agree with this theory. All of us, in this case I speak by myself, can build our own path. And that is what I am actually doing.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Sebastián Rico.

  4. Im still working on being me. But I do agree that one needs their own pathway and be themselves. Not always easy because you need to be honest, but rewarding!

  5. Excellent article Darius, however, there still and always will be varying degrees of correlation, depending on life’s circumstances, mindsets, and environmental constraints. That is to say, if I follow in someone’s footsteps whose successful(whatever that means) and it works for me and I can go forward and build on that, the only thing left to do would be to improve on that foundation, and/or instruction and model that was given to me or sought out by diligence and perseverance of trials and tribulations of being ignorant or naive about how life really works. I can teach you how to fish, and it will work for you as it works for me, but it is still up to you to take it further and improve on my example given to you, makes sense?

  6. hey Darius , I like to read your blog. I happened to read some of the articles about the habits of succesful people as well. I agree with not imitating blindly all theirs traits and rather personlize our own path, but I dont think reading these articles is a total waste of time. I guess sometimes people can find ideas and inspirations in these, dont you think? X

  7. Those lists end up containing the *least* causal pieces of the puzzle. The hard things are either too obvious (thus boring/invisible) or totally context-dependent.

    It’s more about becoming self-reliant (as Emerson suggests 🙂 ) and placing the micro before the macro.

  8. Darius, I am your regular reader and this is your greatest work. Motivational articles are usually banal but this article is so true to heart, no sugar coating. And this has given me many new insights.
    When are you writing a book? I am eager to read something more than an article from you.

  9. Well written, insightful article. I have also looked at several of the type of article that offer me the keys to success if I do the same thing as another successful person. First, I consider myself a success right now. I am happily married to someone who supports my efforts. Second, I work at something I enjoy enough to look forward to going in to do. Third, I enjoy the freedom to pursue my writing and music. I don’t need to be like anyone else. Plus, as you pointed out, the same steps cannot guarantee the same destination.

  10. Great message articulated here Darius. I like Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote “imitation is death”, kind of like be whatever coloured sheep/ creature you want to be, don’t get caught in to trying to be something you are not, or a similar white sheep in the heard.

    From my experiences, I have always not felt my best if I didn’t have my heart and mindset behind an action suggested to do, or had been asked to do from colleagues, family or friends. I’ve realised with my experiences that the best revelations I receive is when I am pursuing my own path, actions and roadmap. As well as just being me, and being present.

    Thank you for your thoughts about this.


  11. Hi Darius,

    Great article.

    My personal definition of success, is going to sleep every single night, with my heart, mind, body and soul at peace with each other. I feel this definition of success is universal and can be applied to anyone, anywhere,anytime,anyplace.

    Heart at peace – Knowing that the people that know you the best, love you the most.
    Mind at peace – Knowing that your non-negotiable expenses are taken care of and you have 3-6 months expenses in your savings.
    Body at peace – Knowing that you both have your internal and external health in working condition, if not in thriving condition. This means that you are pain-free and ideally suffering-free too.
    Soul at peace – Knowing that you are living your life’s purpose and understanding failure is part of the success equation.

    Would love your thoughts/comments/judgement on my verbal diarrhoea above in the spur of the moment!

  12. Maybe other people define success by monetary wealth, but I prefer to define by doing good in the world, having a positive influence in the world, while sticking to one’s values.

    Perhaps, part of the reason people who adopt the trappings of success do not become successful is that they have no plan or values to stick to.

  13. What a refreshing, smart way to look at the world — thank you for reminding me to create my own path. It’s so easy to envy others their seemingly successful lives and to be like them as well. But it takes guts to find your own voice in life.

  14. This is a kick in the gut in all the right ways. Thank you. I haven’t given myself permission for this and have always made everything so much more difficult than simply getting to know myself, what I want, and doing that. Good stuff. Actually, such freeing truth!

  15. Great write up indeed. It is laden with facts. Self discovery is the key. Of course there is a great lot to learn from those who have gone ahead of you ….it helps you not to make the same mistake they made. But being yourself and not ” killing ” yourself while at it is the the key. Success means different things to different people. But simple defination right here, right now is BEING ALL THAT GOD HAS CREATED YOU AND WANTS YOU TO BE.

  16. Wow that’s a mind awakening post its jolted me into reality . Our minds play tricks on us to avoid confronting reality which is hard and tough …we need such wisdom to wake up .Great post Darius .

  17. Wow, that’s so amazing and true. Our culture of meritocracy builds on those often useless tips on success. I once read an article by a guy who said he quit these self-help books and articles after watching his dad. The dad was a success coach, he knew an the right words and how to engage a crowd but never had the success he preached.

  18. There is an imminent flaw towards the end of this article, the assumption that imitating absolves one of the work that comes with paving “your own path”. Imitating successful people doesn’t immediately skid your way to success: all it means is, you’re putting stricter rules upon yourself as to how to “pave” the very way you’re talking about.
    Correction aside, I do agree with the sentiment of not imitating successful people, and I hate that there is such a lucrative business built off such a vapid, must I say, idea. Am I an hypocrite though, because even though I don’t imitate rich people (don’t count on me to try to be a morning person), I do imitate dancers whose choreographies I’m learning? My mindset is that, by imitating them, I am learning about music and movement, through their understating as it’s presented by their body. Ofc, how they perceive music might be different from how I perceive it, but that’s something I look out for prior to imitating; i make sure the dancer aligns with my vision of genuine, skillful dancing. Maybe that’s how some people look at getting rich?

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