success plan

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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47 Responses to How To Create Your Own Formula For Success

  1. David says:

    I love the way Steves formulas cut out the chaff to make useful quotes more memorable. I have a saying “I DECIDE ”  that i turned into     I=!

  2. NinjaBaker KimWatkinson says:

    Brilliant!  Similar to fueling the body with wise food choices, the right thoughts, the perfect mantra can provide the most resourceful ways of operating. 

  3. Lucy_herrett says:

    Steve’s 3SWN formula has changed my life – having read this article I now need to go one step further and create one of my own. Great article, thanks Steve.

  4. John at says:

    Trsut your gut feel. If not sure do nothing.

  5. Steve H-B says:

    John there is definitely a formula in there, I’ll have a think about what it might be. I may even write about it in :-) Steve

  6. Mark Hardman says:

    Steve, very interesting article thanks.  For me personally, I think it’s more likely I will use these “mantras” when things are tough !

    I think they can be a great way of orienting yourself when you are faced with a challenge. A couple of examples below:

    1) I remember as a child, and I was faced with a negative situation, my Dad said “Mark, always remember, when life pushes you into a corner, there is always a way out, and often you can find you are actually in a better place than before you were pushed”. That has always stuck with me, and when times are tough, I have always found it a great way of being able to pause, assess, and consider options.

    2) Another saying I heard, and really rings true, is “own the feelings”. For me personally, what this means is “allow” the emotional responses to have their place. Not to be dominant, but to be part of the ensemble.

    For example, lets imagine we pitch for a huge project, and it looks positive, and then , at the last minute  – we lose it  (I know – purely hypothetical [not!]).

    I COULD decide to be macho and just brush it off and pretend it doesn’t matter. But the thing is , it DOES matter. I’ve invested time, effort, energy, and some hope into the proposal, and being turned down, well .. it sort of hurts a bit to be honest. The most useful thing I’ve found is that by ALLOWING that emotion, and recognising it, it really helps to get it out of my system. Basically, you get the negative news, and you just acknowledge . “Hmm, yes – I feel sad about that”. Don’t try and be Mr Happy, just own the feeling, let it happen, and then after half an hour, and a good coffee, I find I’m ready to rock again. If I DON’T own the emotion, I run the risk of trying to pretend it means nothing, and actually it can ruin my whole day (or even week) because it kepps nagging away.

    Steve, I know the above aren’t necessarily “formulas” but, for me, they are working a bit like that, because when relevant, I can pull them out of the bag, and they really do help.

    Thanks –  Mark Hardman

  7. Steve H-B says:

    Hi Mark

    WOW what a well considered and brilliantly illustrative response. In my research over the years I have come across many ‘mantras’ from many people. So for me the formulas are a nice ‘short-hand’ to keep them all nicely stacked in my head (partly because I’m a collector and partly for quick reference when I am speaking professionally).

    So I wouldn’t worry so much about having them as a formula in my context BUT I think what you have hit on is that having a couple of really personal ‘components’ (I noted the emotional ‘anchors’ that you cited) make up the whole ‘formula’ that you live your life by and that is exactly what I was hoping to point out to the readers.

    Thank you for the comment.

  8. UpbeatBrain says:

    I love a good mantra, and I really enjoyed your analysis of putting one to work. Although it was decades ago, I still remember sitting in my mom’s lap as she read The Little Engine that Could, which repeats its own mantra: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. I can hear her reading those words like a train chugging along, faster and faster. I owe lots of great adventures and successes to those words.

  9. Steve H-B says:

    UpbeatBrain you make my point wonderfully well – easy to recall and positively linked to a strong emotional bond. It is exactly this type of mantra that will immediately leap into your head when you are in a tight spot to guide you to the right results. ITIC3 is your formula for a more successful life.

  10. Chadwick12 says:

    mine is ” Don’t cry to quit, cry to keep going”

  11. Danno Sullivan says:

    Another good Teddy Roosevelt one I ‘ve always liked, is “What does not destroy us, makes us stronger.”

    I know we’ve all heard that, to the point of cliché, but sometimes it’s good to re-analyze and remember what made it good enough to become a cliché i the first place!

    Great post.

  12. Hi Steve,
    Wonderful post. I have worked with people on their mantras in my practice as well, and it’s amazing how effective they can be to motivate people to become active in their life. I think one of the best things about mantras is that they bring people self-awareness. When they are able to stop, think, and then act, they are much more productive. Thanks again. 

  13. Steve H-B says:

    Hi Chadwick12 and Danno

    This is uncanny… Did you guys co-ordinate these comments?

    The reason that I am asking is because I recently spoke to an Olympic athlete who used EXACTLY the two mantras that you are citing to drive them through the pain barrier that they felt when they were doing some of the literally unbelievable training sessions that they have to put themselves through to get to the pinnacle of their sporting career.

    Thanks for the feedback.


  14. Steve H-B says:

    Hi Mike

    Thanks for the positive feedback. One of the things that I have also done in my research is talk with people about their visualisations and what images they anchor their positive thoughts to but I won’t say anymore about that just at the moment as their is a blog post coming up about it. If you follow my Twitter account (@bigstevehb:twitter ) or subscribe to my blog you will get a heads up on when it goes live.

    Thanks once again

  15. Steve H-B says:


    You have me wondering if there is a mantra that could be created to remind/encourage people to eat more healthily? If you come up with a concise one I’d happily consider converting it into a formula.

    Thanks for the comment.

  16. TJ Chasteen says:

    First off – Thank you for being the CEO of the company that created “Delivering Happiness” – I am a VHP!

    Mark both of your “mantras” speak to me. I have been pushed into a corner (recent college grad – tough economy) and you just now made me realize some good has come of this because I’ve had time to work on my passion – happiness blogging.

    Owning my emotions is also something I need to work on. I grew up in an environment where guys weren’t supposed to cry and I’ve lived by that my entire life. Sometimes I feel like a robot because I’ve messed with my body’s natural ability to FEEL. It also hurts my relationships at times because I am trying to portray a false image on the outside than what is happening on the inside.

    Thank you for your brilliant insight.


  17. TJ Chasteen says:

     Mine is “smile – someone else is fighting a much harder battle”. Formula is Me = :D/ Not= :(.

    I never realized the power of a mantra before. But I will now view it as a tool for increasing happiness and keeping people on a life path of their choosing.

    Thank you

  18. Natalie says:

    This reminds me of changing my ‘metaphor for life’. I used to think that ‘life was a maze with booby traps’.  I eventually realized that I wanted it to be an adventure. When I started looking for the adventure instead of booby traps, life got so much easier. So my mantra is:

    “Life is an adventure. Learn it. Live it.”

  19. Steve H-B says:

    TJ I LOVE the fact that you have already turned your mantra into a formula and I’m glad that my post helped to turn your mantra light bulb on :-)

  20. Steve H-B says:

    Natalie you must be a mind reader. I have an upcoming post on visualisation and I have another on ‘framing’ which is exactly what you are talking about. One of the topics that I cover when I speak professionally is “The game of life and how to play it”. I love your mantra – If you had to create one, what would your formula for your mantra be?

  21. Sage Grayson says:

    Fun idea! Mine would have to be “this too shall pass.” I use it to remember that stressful times won’t last forever and to remind myself that good times are also fleeting so I should appreciate them now. It keeps me focused on the present moment and calms and centers me.

  22. Hansa Rastogi says:

    Mine is a hindi one- Sochna kya, jo bhi hoga dekha jayega. Kal ke liye, aaj ko na khona, ye hi kal phir aayega. It sounds long but actually, it means : Don’t think, we will see whatever happens. Don’t lose today for tomorrow, for that tomorrow will come anyway 

  23. Steve H-B says:

    Hi Sage

    What a great Mantra to live by and there are plenty of formula spins that could be put on that. t = T for (t)his is (T)emporary springs to mind for me. Thanks for posting your comment.

  24. Steve H-B says:

    Hey Hansa thanks for the comment and thanks for the translation it saved me a trip to Google :-) I’d have to put a bit of thought into a formula for that but in my head the words ‘now’ and ‘important’ spring to mind.

  25. The other day a special person told me I was a superhero but to remain like a batman superhero, I needed to keep developing me. And reading blogs like this just keep me developing. Thanks Steve

  26. pj says:

    Bieber was hand picked. “You didn’t build that”

  27. Steve H-B says:

    Hey pj I’ve never looked into how ‘hand picked’ he was but I’d pose the question what were the qualities that made him right for being hand picked? I’d even venture to offer that having the ‘right attitude and work ethic’ may have been one of them? If that’s the case then I’d say that ‘Never Say Never’ fits well with that wouldn’t you? I’d welcome continuing the debate on this and thanks for stopping by and making the effort to comment.

  28. Steve H-B says:

    Roberta I love the idea of keeping your superhero powers cloaked and developed until they are needed. Again this moves from my formula based memory stacks into visualisations which I will be covering in a separate blog post soon.

  29. Mark Bowness says:

    Thank you so much for this great post, really inspiring and purposeful. My personal mantra is “we live life once”  – whatever situation I face I always come back to this, to the fact that we live life once and therefore we should live our dreams!

  30. Steve H-B says:

    Mark – BRILLIANT it fits at least 3 of the criteria and I’d guess you got it from someone or somewhere that means a lot to you so I’d guess it would fit the 4th as well. As for a formula for this as soon as I saw your mantra L = 1 leapt out at me!

  31. Mark Bowness says:

    Steve, thanks for that… I created it from a personal life situation. I love the way you create these formula’s just love them. L = 1 it is! 

  32. Sara says:

    For me “With God all things are possible”

  33. Steve H-B says:

    Hi Sara so simple but so powerful so it requires an equally simple and powerful formula, how about… G = ∞P (G)od = Infinite (P)osibilities that looks about right to me :-)

  34. NinjaBaker KimWatkinson says:

    Thank you, Steve, for the opportunity to try my hand at a formula or two =)

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  35. I love this article. A lot of people aren’t aware that they can create their own success formula and end up following along with one that doesn’t work well for them.

  36. Steve H-B says:

    I agree so much with your sentiment. I see lots of people quoting ‘famous people’ who are actually only paraphrasing much more learned and deeper thinking people. I would much rather somebody only had one or two mantras that they live their life by as long as they were deeply emotionally bonded to them and they really worked for them

  37. Lubna7 says:

    blog, I got something to learn about myself .

    me saying which always
    gives me energy to deal with any kind of situation in my life,

     is  “Things
    happen for a reason, take every moment as an opportunity of life.”

    thought always keep my compass pointing to north.

    of the time these are hidden reasons and beyond our imagination (only God
    knows).Times passes , and what we get from it is our opportunity cost. I always use my hard time as an opportunity for doing those things, which I probably will never be able to do in my good busy times.Exude positive energy from low moments and pump that energy into good moments.
    Times passes , and what we get from it is our opportunity cost. I always use my hard time as an opportunity for doing those things, which I probably will never be able to do in my good busy times.
    Exude positive energy from low moments and pump that energy into good moments.

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  39. Steve H-B says:

    Hi Lubna

    Thanks for stopping by and for a great contribution to the discussion we have going here. I think that you made a point really well that I didn’t emphasise well in the main article, and that is that a great use of a mantra or success formula may be no more than to help you to live with something that you can’t change at the moment and that you can’t make sense of at the moment.

    I think we often think about mantras as ‘power statements’ that energise us to come out fighting and change or overcome whatever it is that we see ourselves being blocked by. You have reminded me that sometimes just accepting the situation as it is but believing that the reason why things are as they are will become apparent to us in the future is just as powerful.


  40. Steve H-B says:

    I like it :-) I read what you said and I came up with…

    GF >> gf which for me means (G)reat (F)ood BEATS (g)ood (f)ood

  41. Natalie says:

    Life = Adventure (L=A) or
    Life = learn + live (L=l+l)

  42. Steve H-B says:

    Hi Natalie

    I love them both :-)


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  45. morningmist says:

    I always say SUCH IS LIFE it helps me brush off the pain and keep going. And when I’m happy; such is life , happy times come so embrace it. This statement…… such is life also reminds me that I am here; for you will never hear a dead person say such is death! 😛 I use to be be  a stressed person and one day i was like….. such is life, this is expected. Cause the one thing anyone can expect  in life is the unexpected.

  46. Steve H-B says:

    Morningmist this is a PERFECT example of the type of mantra that I was referring to in my post. It serves you well in difficult and exciting times and it leaves your options open as to what the course of action you want/need to take is.

    The origin and meaning of the phrase is often disputed but I like the version that says that the full expression is “Such is life with it’s infinite choices” so I think for me one formula that would fit this would be…L = ∞C which stands for (L)ife has (=) infinite (∞) (C)hoices

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