Field Notes: What Successful People Know About Themselves

A few years ago, I bought a Nike Fuel band to help me with my fitness goals. I loved how it cheered me on when I hit a milestone. Wearing it 24/7 bolstered my identity as an athletic person. My current research on the changing relationship between ambition and identity highlighted just how much we crave encouragement when striving for a goal. When Nike killed its Fuel Band line, I set out on a search for a new self-monitor.

When I wrangled a small group of athletes at my local gym to talk about their activity tracking devices, I was stunned to learn that the most prodigious athlete among us had dumped her device. Just a glance at Janice and you’d know she was crushing it at the gym. I followed up with her to learn what I’m about to tell you.

The struggle and consistency needed to stay on track for any achievement benefits from encouragement. A second-year medical student, Janice believed that wearing something on her wrist was a crutch. It got in the way of self-regulation. In the end, it was just more noise, she said. Janice didn’t assume that it would be easy to get and stay fit.

After five years of researching how our ambitions shape us, I’ve concluded that successful people do a several things differently. Chief among them, they anticipate setbacks.


Successful people learn to wait out their frustration. They starve it by depriving it energy.

In essence, they learn about who they are in the face of a challenge. They know how they will react to disappointment and adjust their actions to fit their daily reality, without losing sight of the goal. Car breaks down—oh well, skip the gym and go for a run.

We all want more out of life. Productivity is nearly a national obsession. Cue the tracking devices. What matters more to our success than monitoring our activity, is learning who we are in the face of any quest. And knowing what it takes to keep us motivated, despite our shortcomings.

I look to a future where more brands will help us learn those things about ourselves. After all, isn’t it the job of every product or service to help the customer succeed?

It outta be.

Photo Credit: Mike Baird