Importance of Defining Success in Your Life

Defining success builds confidence and focus and decreases anxiety. Learn an easy process you can use to define success for yourself.

Without a destination, a journey can be long, tiresome, and frustrating. You’re constantly seeking an end, yet when you get there, you do not even realize you’ve arrived. Similarly, success can be an equally never-ending adventure. Without a clear idea of when you’ve reached what you deem to be success, you invite many negative thoughts into your mind. There is a way to fix this, a simple process that allows you to define what success means to you. Finally giving yourself the opportunity to arrive.

The Problem with an Open-Ended Definition

I spent much of my time as a college baseball player having no idea what it meant to be successful. I thought I knew what I was chasing. But in reality, the picture I held was so vague, it allowed for constant alterations.

After a game, I would examine my performance, asking myself the question, “What did I do wrong?” Everyone knows there is always room for improvement, so of course I could find areas of fault.

Now you may be thinking that this is a great way to progress and develop as a player. I agree, there must be continuous improvement being made in ourselves. However, the problem developed because I had no idea what that success would ever look like for me.

I’m not one to believe that success is a final destination in which life afterwards is a comfortable coast until the end. But I do know that success, on either a small or large scale, must be defined in order to build confidence and ward off negative thinking.

Not defining success was translated into all areas of my life. What resulted was constantly feeling not good enough and as if I always could have done better. There is a fine line between wanting to continually better yourself and being a perfectionist who never is satisfied.

What allows you to shape your personal growth in a healthy way is celebrating small successes. Relishing in those times where you hit a target or accomplished a goal before moving onto the next one.

This can only be done when a clear picture of what that success means is present in your mind. Soon we will go into more detail about what this means. But first, I would like to highlight the main problem area that arises when success is left open to interpretation.


When there is no clear idea of what success will look like, it is easy to fall into a pattern of perfectionist thinking. Each game, performance, or day will be examined through a lens to see what needs to be improved.

I mentioned earlier how my mind would go straight to analyzing everything I did wrong during a baseball game. Well, that is exactly what I am referring to here. Perfectionism involves striving for an imagined ideal of perfection, while such perfection is never actually attainable.

No matter whether you are an athlete, performer, or any other professional, leaving success to be defined after the fact allows for the entrance of perfectionism into your mind.

While we would like to believe our minds will look to all the areas that went well, the fact is, it’s much easier to look for shortcomings and failures.

This is where the danger lies in not defining what success will look like for you.

What Does it Mean to Define Success?

Now that you understand the danger of leaving success open to interpretation, let’s get into what it truly means to define success.

When I say, define success, what comes to your mind? When I first began learning about this concept, my idea was of an ultimate end goal. My understanding was, you set a goal to work towards, and then once you attain it, you call yourself successful.

While I was on the right path with my definition, it did not fully encompass what it means to define success. By only focusing on an ultimate goal, you do not gain all the benefits defining success can provide.

To truly define success, there are two parts to the equation. First, you do want to set an ultimate goal. This will be a large target you are striving for. Next, you’ll want to set process, daily goals. These can be goals for a specific game, performance, or ones to accomplish by the end of a day.

By focusing on daily tasks that will deem you successful, there are countless benefits that you can expect. But first, what and how should you decide on success for yourself.

What Does Success Look Like for You?

Knowing the need to define success can raise another question in your mind, and that’s how you should decide on success?

I don’t know about you, but for me, the concept of success was often derived from other people’s opinions. This is very understandable, since we are inundated with ideas and images of what it means to be successful.

But, true success can only be described individually. Success is a subjective topic. Meaning, your definition of success will probably be different than mine. What this means is, you have to think about what it is you want to accomplish.

Take into consideration what you need to work on, and what you are actually after.

As an example, when I was working to overcome performance anxiety and find joy in playing baseball, my definition of success for a game was very much in line with that goal.

I had to shift my focus from stats, to how I approached my performance. So, success for me meant staying positive, and remembering to follow my set plan and routine. Instead of defining a successful game off my stat line, I shifted it onto process goals.

You want to think for yourself and allow you and only you to define what it means to be successful. That in itself is a major accomplishment.

Benefits of Defining Success

Through the process of defining success, there are multiple benefits that you can expect. If done consistently, this process can have a significantly positive impact on your life.

When I truly began to define success for myself, both on a large and small scale, it was an incredible experience. I felt as if a weight of stress had been lifted off my shoulders. That’s a tremendous result from simply outlining and defining a goal and vision.

I would like to highlight the key benefits that come when you begin to define success for yourself.

Less Stress and Anxiety

For me, this was one of the main benefits that I was after when first starting to define success. I was experiencing a lot of performance anxiety when it came to baseball, along with all other areas of my life.

However, once I started to outline my goals and what success would look like for me, a large portion of this stress melted away.

Anxiety lives in the future, well worrying about the future that is. I would constantly be concerned about how I would do in a game, what my stats would look like if I messed up, and whether my training was going to allow me to succeed in the future.

With defining success, I was able to relax and trust the process. This is in large part due to the implementation of process goals. We will talk more about these in the section on how to define success.

Once you begin to define success based on controllable process goals, you are free to trust in yourself and the goals you have set in place. This in turn reduces the amount of stress and anxiety you feel.

Improved Positivity

With the help of your success definition, it will be much easier to look back on your day or performance and feel positive. Without a clear definition, it is easy to go straight into areas of improvement.

I know that is exactly how my mind works. If I do not preoccupy it with a goal to focus on, thoughts will begin to flood in regarding all the aspects of my game or day that went wrong.

This is natural, especially if you have the continued desire to better yourself. However, it is very important to first focus on the positives. That is exactly what defining success allows you to do.

By first focusing on the accomplishment of your goals, you will begin to feel more positive and confident about yourself and your performance.

Increased Focus

How much time do we spend on tasks that are not in line with our goals? I know that I often find myself doing something and then realizing, this is not pushing me closer to my vision.

What defining success does, especially when performed on a daily basis, is provide you with an increased focus. You begin each day knowing what is required for you to call that a day a success.

As a result, your days will be centered around tasks and behaviors that you deem to be success oriented. This means, more productivity and increased focus on what matters to you.

How to Define Success for Yourself

As I touched on earlier in the article, success is going to be a definition completely of your own choosing. No one should be allowed to dictate what it means for you to be successful. This is a process that each of us must undertake on our own.

With that being said, there is a way to go about doing it that makes the process much more impactful. I believe that success is an ongoing process. Something that can be altered and shifted from year to year or even month to month.

In this process I am going to outline to you, there are three steps. The first one will be more along the lines of a larger definition for yourself, with the following two steps being centered around daily activities.

Step 1: Create a Clear Vision

We should all have a vision that we are working towards. This will be the main direction or purpose for your smaller goals. For you, think here in terms of a large goal.

It can be on any scale you choose, be it a year or more. But, you must have a vision or aim that you are seeking to reach. With this step, get very clear. Remember, the point of this practice is to define what success means so that there is no room for negative interpretation.

You do not have to only have one vision either. Creating a vision for yourself can be as simple as how you would like your season to go, or as large as where you want to be in five years.

The point of this step is to get clear about what it is you want, so that the following two steps can follow precisely in line with that.

Step 2: Outline Process Goals

Here is the step in which holds the true substance for defining your success. When I talk about process goals, I am referring to tasks and activities you want to accomplish that are in line with your vision.

That is why creating a vision for yourself is step number one. Now, you must begin to put in place goals that you trust will help you reach that level of success.

What I have noticed is that this step allows for many of the benefits that arise from defining success.

Setting process goals is very simple, but often harder to adhere to.

You can utilize these in terms of a game or a performance, or simply for a whole day. Right now, I am using process goals to outline what a successful day looks like for me. In college, I would use process goals to describe what it would mean for a game to be successful.

What you describe as a process goal is completely up to you. Just remember to keep them in line with your vision and make sure they are in your control.

Step 3: Revisit Process Goals

To complete the process of defining success, you must go back over your process goals and judge how well you did.

This will take place at night or maybe after a game. Here is where the confidence and positivity I talked about earlier come into play. Now that your day or performance is over, it is time to decide on whether or not it was a success.

In order to come to such a conclusion, there is one simple question you must ask yourself: Did I stick to my process goals?

If you completed and followed through on all your process goals, then the day was a success. Now, instead of allowing your mind to becoming filled with all the things you didn’t do or all the ways you messed up, you have a clear-cut definition of what it means to be successful.

Final Thoughts

The process of defining success is simple enough. The only question is, can you stick with it?

Once that game ends or a day is over, it can be tough to focus on your definition of success and not get caught up in your old way of thinking. But just stick with it and trust in your own vision.

After a while of doing this, it will become a natural self-evaluation process that you do on a daily basis.

How do you currently define success for yourself?

If you have any questions about defining success or any other performance psychology topic, please feel free to reach out to me.

I hope that this article was helpful, and you can begin to use the practice of defining success to elevate your performances and life.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all you do.

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Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.

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