How To Create Your Own Formula For Success

Do you have a saying or ‘mantra’ that you use to guide some of the more important decisions in your life? If you do, then you’re not alone, you have something in common with some of the top achievers in the world.

President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, for example, believed that you should always “Speak softly and carry a big stick”. Whilst this may not be the most positive fall-back position to have in life, it did serve him, and his nation, well when the tough times came. A more positive example is, believe it or not, Justin Bieber. In 2011 he released a film about his concert tour called ‘Never Say Never’, which reflects his view on life. Whilst you might argue that the young Mr Bieber is not the most intellectually challenging of individuals either on stage or off, you certainly can’t argue that in his world he has had significant success and he attributes his own success to his mantra.

So what are the key components to these types of sayings? After twenty years of informal research in this area I have come up with the following four core characteristics:

Characteristic #1: It can apply to the ‘lows’ and the ‘highs’

When you are at your lowest ebb, you have to be able to apply it in a meaningful way. It might be that you need to motivate yourself or a team that have their backs to the wall. It might be that you have to have a difficult conversation with a colleague or a loved one. Regardless of the situation it will give you the resolution to get through it as best you can. At the opposite end of the scale you may be being overwhelmed by an exciting opportunity. At times like this your mantra has to be capable of keeping you on the right track and making the most of the chance that has presented itself to you.

Characteristic #2: It doesn’t drive any single response

If the first characteristic is important, the second is critical. If your mantra is going to be used in tough situations you need to be able to choose the appropriate response in each situation. A saying that locks you into only ever taking one form of action or responding in one highly prescribed way will, at some critical point, let you down.

Characteristic #3: It’s the most natural thing in the world to use it

Though it may sound like I’m stating the obvious, there may be several statements that could be applied by you. Often the reason for one statement resonanting with you more than any other is because it touches some deep-rooted emotion or feeling within you. It might be that a loved one or someone you have huge respect for epitomises the statement. Or it might be that you feel that it keeps you on the right track. The underlying reason will always be that it makes you feel that you are a better person for sticking to it.

Characteristic #4: It’s quick and easy to call on when you’re stressed

There have been many academic and medical studies that have shown that when someone is highly stressed they can forget the most basic facts and information. So whatever you choose as your mantra you need to be able to bring it, and what it means to you, quickly and easily to mind. Building on the third characteristic, the stronger the bond that you have with it, the more quickly and easily it will come to mind.

As you can imagine, in my work as a professional speaker I draw upon this research. I am often asked about the mantras that people have shared with me and the meaning behind them. After twenty years I have quite a few of them stored away in my head. For easy recall I reduce each saying to a simple ‘formula’. Each of these formulas is stacked in a ‘cardex’ in my memory. I simply run through them visualising each in turn until the right one for the situation comes to the front.


I asked Erin Falconer, Editor in Chief of Pick The Brain if she had a life mantra. I wasn’t surprised when, like other successful people, she told me she did have one. She told me that hers was “If not me, who, if not now, when?”

When I saw Erin’s statement I immediately reduced that to be A = M+N (I actually said in my head ‘AMEN’). The formula I have stored in my memory cardex for Erin’s mantra is that for Erin the (A)nswer is always (=) (M)e and (N)ow.

So what’s yours?

I’m assuming that you read blogs like this because you want to improve and develop yourself. If you haven’t got a statement or mantra that you can call upon in tough times to keep you on track and get to whatever your version of success looks like, my advice would be figure out what yours is and start using it ASAP.


Steve Houghton-Burnett is a professional speaker and entrepreneur. Through his work he gives people the courage and confidence to challenge and choose their own attitude and behaviors. He shares his informal research and the mantras that successful people use at

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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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