The (true) hierarchy of success

“Your own Self-Realization is the greatest service you can render the world.”Ramana Maharshi

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I’ve previously shared Seth Godin’s Hierarchy of Success:

“The hierarchy of success

I think it looks like this:

  • Attitude
  • Approach
  • Goals
  • Strategy
  • Tactics
  • Execution”

And I still stand by it, in a business setting. (The trouble is, very few people follow it — they thrash around in the business, and never work out that working on the business (and life) is the sine qua non of SUCCESS!)

But, what I’ve never done, in the context of our humanness, is explore points 1 and 2, beyond a simple, slightly puerile message of ‘get better’.

Before I get to that, let me make one thing clear: I fundamentally believe in the inside-out message when it comes to mindset. In other words, what we manifest in the outside world is a product of how we see and interact with the world, not the influence, subjective or negative, it has on us.

What I’m pointing to is the work of Sydney Banks, more commonly termed The Three Principles. I’ve no need to adumbrate the details save to say that in reading and studying his works — see in particular his book, The Missing Link — what I’ve come to appreciate, more than ever, is the import of the link between thoughts/feelings and how we operate in the world.

If I now touch on point 1 (Attitude) of said hierarchy, and I don’t mean “Hey, you’ve an attitude” but how mindfully or otherwise you approach your work, you can see why the inside-out approach is so important. Let me be more illustrative. The usual message we exhort is ‘think positive’, namely look forward with an attitude that posits the good that can come from your efforts (the lower parts of the hierarchy would be meaningless otherwise). But does this mean we have to whip ourselves into a frenzy of activity, assuming one mental approach over another? Possibly. But if we strip things back, what we quickly realise is that despite the panoply of available tools, we can no more think positive than we can turn off the tide of negative thoughts. (I’m not saying Napoleon Hill had it all wrong with his book, Think and Grow Rich, but ditto you can’t make up thoughts or suppress them.)

I’m not suggesting that surrounding ourselves with right-thinking people, avoiding the gloom sprayers and being open to all possibilities isn’t a good place to start, but there’s still a fallacy at play when we try to think our positive thinking into being.

Look at it another way. How often have you gone into a (new) situation assuming you had the right attitude, only to be confronted with a negative reaction, i.e. “You’re bound to fail and make a fool of yourself”? If you had the right attitude either in that moment or better still beforehand, you’d be able to switch off the stream of negative thinking or turn it around and think positive (you can do it) thoughts.

But it never works like that. In fact, for a lot of people, once the negative seed has been sown, they’re often overwhelmed with a torrent of negative thoughts that stops them in their tracks.

If there’s a way to come to attitude, then it’s much simpler than all this pop psychology speak. Without wanting to sound too flippant, my experience tells me that we simply need to ignore our thinking self or not judge the thoughts and see the situation, genuinely, through beginner’s mind.

Some call this is-ness, others allowing things to be but whatever your slant, we would do well not to judge anything as good or bad. This doesn’t mean we don’t have good and bad days where we feel more or less inclined to act but everything evens itself out, and as long as we see that and don’t continually try to traverse our inner landscape by bending our will to fit the situation or adapt the world to our liking then everything will work out just fine. 

If this no mind approach appeals to you — it’s certainly less stressful — the next question might be to ask how much willpower is involved in not judging your thoughts? It’s a good question. When I started down this path, it was very much brawn over brain but, these days, I find the moment I don’t engage with my thoughts a much larger space opens up, which is akin to that state of flow we’re apt to experience in moments of bliss or high-stakes drama.

In fairness to Seth, perhaps he only meant to make us think what might be an appropriate hierarchy, but attitude requires more than a cursory examination.

As to approach, it’s difficult to know what to say without applying it to a real life situation but one thing’s for sure, there’s no point putting ourselves into the red by dint of our herculean efforts. I mean it’s all well and good to talk about the strongest and fittest but from a place of flow, my experience is we’re much more likely to see through problems and adopt the right approach than we are by trial and error. I know it might sound churlish, but if it feels right, it usually is.

Before I sign off, I would just add the rider that talking about the inside-out message of The Three Principles is a lot harder to write about than it is to live. Until you’ve experienced the bliss-consciousness that comes from disengaging from your mind, it’s hard to put into words the liberation that comes from not having to work so damn hard on every situation by dint of going into battle with your mind-made self.

In the final analysis, whether you need a hierarchy to tune into life remains open to doubt. Just being, without judging is perhaps all you need.


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