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Why We Strive for Success, According to Science

Updated on January 22, 2016

The need to succeed is a kind of hunger we all experience at one time or another. Striving for success is so natural we don't always think about why we do it. Why do we need to accomplish something great, to be part of something bigger than ourselves?

Science, fortunately, has an answer. First, we need to be clear about what success means - to you, to your best friend, to some of the most successful people on the planet.

How do we define success?

Everyone looks at the more abstract idea of success through a different lens. For some, it's all about using your values and beliefs to frame your decisions. For you, it might mean finding a healthy balance between doing things for yourself and dedicating time to do things for others. For someone else, the peace and satisfaction that often comes with succeeding might spring up every time a smaller goal is achieved, even if their largest one never is.

How we define success depends on where we want to be, when we want to be there and how we're getting closer to that destination every day. Sure, Bill Gates is successful, but you personally might not feel the need to associate success with being a CEO or having a lot of money. Your lens is no less valuable than someone else's.

Why we need to achieve

Whether you invest fully in Maslow's work or not, the major takeaway from the basic needs of humanity is that we need to feel fulfilled. We need to be able to self-document our own growth and pinpoint our own potential and self-worth.

When Maslow's needs aren't met, we strive to meet them. When we're unsafe, we seek shelter. When we are lonely, we seek companionship. We strive to succeed, to accomplish our goals and be recognized for our hard work, because that is when we are supposedly at our best. You are never "selfish" or "unrealistic" for wanting to succeed. You are just acting like a normal human being.

How to find success and peace of mind

If success is human nature, why is it so difficult to find? It isn't, if you know where to look. Psychotherapist Joyce Marter reminds us success is an individual effort. We have to look deep inside ourselves to understand the why behind every task we assign ourselves.

We have to stand still and allow ourselves to exist in the present and plan for the future. We must be honest with ourselves and build our own visions for the life we want to live. It turns out, the only person who can decide whether or not you are leading a successful life is you.

You know what it feels like to want to achieve something you don't yet have. Deep down, you know what you want, where you want to be, when you want to be there and how you're going to do it. Believe you can, set goals and achieve them, one by one.


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