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The One Trait All Successful People Have In Common

Steve Jobs, Successful, Apple, Self-Control
Photo Credit: PhotoPin License

Which trait is the best predictor of success?

(A) Intelligence Quotient (IQ)
(B) Emotional Intelligence (EI)
(C) Grit
(D) Self-Control
(E) Vision

The answer: self-control. Self-control is the most universal and accurate predictor of success. If you want to be successful, you need to be able to manage emotions, delay gratification, and work hard. All of this requires significant self-control.

However, possessing self-control is harder than ever today. Technology has added numerous distractions to our daily lives: e-mail, text messaging, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube, NetFlix, etc. Having the self-control to avoid all of these enticing platforms is no easy task.

If you want to produce massive value, turn off the internet, silence your phone, and work in a distraction-free environment. As I write this article, my MacBook is disconnected from the internet, my iPhone is in my bag, and my Apple Watch is set to “Do Not Disturb.”

I have continually practiced self-control to avoid distractions. For example, when I wanted to author an SAT prep book, I spent over 1000 hours writing. I often skipped fun social activities in order to write. The book ended up being picked up by the world’s largest education publisher (McGraw-Hill) and a #1 bestseller on Amazon for SAT Prep. I could not have achieved that had I not practiced self-control.

But don’t just take it from me. This article was inspired by a guest lecture on personal change given by social psychologist Dr. Victoria Brescoll at the Yale School of Management during our MBA Leadership course. Professor Brescoll pointed to the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment as proof that self-control is crucial to success.

In the 1972 experiment, researchers would place a 4-6 year-old child in a room with just a marshmallow. The children were told that they could eat the one marshmallow now, but if they waited 15 minutes, they would be rewarded with two marshmallows. This experiment was conducted on over 600 children. Only a third of the children were able to exercise enough self-control to not eat the marshmallow immediately. Years later, these children were found to be more successful based on a variety of life outcomes:

  • Scoring 210 points higher on average on the SAT
  • Earning higher salaries
  • Being more popular with peers and teachers
  • Having lower BMIs & better overall health
  • Possessing fewer drug and alcohol problems

Many other studies have continuously found that self-control is a massive predictor of achievement. What’s the secret to success? Self-control.



Shaan Patel

Shaan Patel is the founder of Prep Expert Test Preparation (formerly 2400 Expert), a #1 bestselling SAT prep author, an MD/MBA student at Yale and USC, and winner of an investment deal with billionaire Mark Cuban on ABC's Shark Tank. He raised his own SAT score from average to perfect and teaches students his methods in an online SAT prep class.