15 Tips for Success

My most profound realizations in life (and in the gym)

The Path to Success

The older and wiser you get, the more you start to realize there are certain "universalities" common to successful outcomes in all of life's endeavors. These realizations are as certain as the law of gravity, albeit less obvious. You should know and understand these common threads because they make success less random and more predictable.

Here are my top 15 tips for success, both in life and in the gym. As you read, try to apply the information by identifying corollaries to your own life. Remember, it isn't what you know, it's what you do that makes all the difference!

1) Do the Opposite!

How successful are most people? Not very. Look at divorce rates, obesity levels, literacy rates, and average incomes. In almost every area of life, the majority of people are woefully unsuccessful. Tony Robbins says success leaves clues. I say failure leaves clues as well! So, do the opposite!

During a presentation on eccentric training a while back, it suddenly struck me: most people focus on lifting weights, and yet one of the most productive training strategies is lowering weights! Yes, this does indeed apply to virtually everything we do. Hey, if everyone around you is doing one thing and not having any success, learn from them and do the opposite!

Here's another pearl for you: most people try to make a lot of money in order to become happy, however, the most surefire way to make a lot of money is to simply do what makes you happy.

2) Embrace Behavior Based Training

Over the years I've noticed that the most successful athletes don't have particularly ingenious training or nutritional strategies. While you and I sweat the details ("I wonder if my eccentric strength deficit is unbalanced?"), these guys are busting their humps doing really basic, unimaginative stuff. But it's stuff that works, if that stuff is supported by great behaviors (consistency, work ethic, etc.)

I once read an article about the training habits of a handful of select US military personnel, all of whom were bona-fide bad asses. Their training programs were, shall we say, pedestrian at best. Toward the end of the article however, one marine explained his take on motivation:

"I have a sign pasted on the ceiling right above my bed. When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I see is "WHY ISN'T YOUR ASS IN THE GYM, YOU FAT F**K!?"

Now that's behavior based training! (And please notice the tie-in to #4 below).

3) Fake It 'Till Ya Make It!

I first applied this concept as a martial arts competitor in the early 80's. Right before a match, I'd walk over to my competitor (who was usually bigger, faster, stronger, and probably smarter than I was) and joke, "Hey man, let's give them a show they'll never forget!"

Now, the purpose of this little tactic wasn't to intimidate my opponent (although it most certainly had that effect!); it was to create cognitive dissonance in my own mind. In other words, it's hard to act one way and feel the opposite way. By feigning confidence and feeling scared shitless, something had to give, and usually, my confidence level was boosted tremendously.

In the gym, I love using Olympic bumper plates (which are much thicker than standard metal plates of the same weight) for all my lifts because it helps you visualize success before you actually achieve it. A 245 bench now looks like a 455 bench, and in time, you can really imagine yourself lifting that weight.

4) Do the Right Thing!

An average person doing the right things beats a genius doing average things! A tip of the hat to Jeff Smith for that one (he's a super-coach for CEO's and entrepreneurs all over the world). All it means is that average people can get the upper hand if they do the right things.

Place the focus on actions, rather than the person performing the actions, and you'll benefit almost right away. Don't procrastinate by telling yourself, "I shouldn't do this because I can't do it really well." Instead, work on doing the right things, even if poorly, and over time it'll pay off in spades for you.

What are the "right things?" Hmm, Olympic lifts, sprinting, masters athletics, hiring a great coach.... (That should get you started.)

5) Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow!

I alluded to this in #1 above. Did you follow The Apprentice in its first season? One of the interesting things that "The Donald" always advises is that you must love what you do; there's no way around it.

Trump is a successful guy, no doubt about it. He's doing what he loves, making obscene amounts of money, and dates supermodels. Does he follow #1 above? I know he doesn't drink alcohol at all – interesting, isn't it?

How does this relate to training, you ask? Well, if you love your job and make lots of money doing it....

6) Don't Have Beliefs (Unless They Improve Your Life!)

I've always been fascinated with belief: the act of placing faith in things that are unknown. Religiously speaking, there are three kinds of people: believers (who obviously have belief in God), atheists (those who believe God doesn't exist) and agnostics, who have no belief either way. Agnostics simply say, "Hey, I just don't know, and that's okay."

There's another way to look at beliefs: adopt them based on whether or not they improve your life. For example, you may think of yourself as a great athlete (which may be completely untrue!), but if this belief makes you train harder in the gym, then so be it.

One other thing: in large measure, your beliefs create your world (rather than the other way around, which is how most people think it works). Look at "Fake It 'Till Ya Make It" as an example.

7) Business is the Ultimate Expression of Morality

I first ran across this amazingly profound realization through a very interesting guy by the name of Dave Kekich. At first, it made no sense to me, but eventually, I got it: it's easy to be "moral" when you live in a commune with no opportunity to get yourself into trouble. But most of us need to make a living somehow in order to survive, and that's both your challenge and your opportunity to be a good person in the real world.

Interestingly, in business, good behavior is truly rewarded – the more you give, the more you get back.

8) Recognize and Apply Universal Principles

This article is all about universal principles actually, but it's worth looking at nevertheless. Here's the scoop: the same principles that dictate success in one realm of life will also determine success in all areas of your life. Ponder that!

9) Focus On Performance, Not Fatigue

This is an example of universal principles. In fact, this concept is painfully obvious in the workplace, but even more painfully ignored in the gym.

You wouldn't think of organizing your workday around the goal of being totally wiped out when you left work, would you? Of course not! You organize your day such that you can get as much done as possible. Try doing that in the gym and let me know how it works!

10) Accept that the Truth is in the Middle

People tend to have "all or none" thinking about a variety of issues. Some people eat no carbohydrates, others consume exclusively high-carbs. Some people are overly reliant on machines, while others won't go near one. Then you have your HIT followers verses multiple-set believers.

Here's a quick way to get to the bottom of things: the most optimal approach is the middle path. Every "way" has benefits and drawbacks. No method or approach is entirely beneficial or destructive. Get out of the rut; get back toward the middle.

11) Apply the Staley Equation

This is all about focusing on your weak links. Actually, your weakest correctable links. After all, if it's not correctable, it's not a problem, is it? Okay, here's the equation:

Focus on elements that are:

A) Needed

B) Improvable

C) Foundational to other elements...

D) ...Given available resources

Here's what that means. First, make sure you're working on something that'll advance you toward your goals. In other words, to quote Steven Covey, make sure your ladder is up the right wall! You might be a basketball player who runs long distances three times a week to improve endurance, but will those aerobic runs help or hurt your level of play?

Second, make sure the element you're working on can be improved. For example, I always read about guys who do pullovers to "expand their rib cage." Not gonna happen, kids. You're not gonna find an exercise to improve your biceps peaks either. Sorry. So why are you spending all that time and energy on something you can't improve?

Third, if you can kill two birds with one stone, do it! Improving higher-level motor qualities (maximum strength being the highest) will simultaneously improve lower level qualities (speed strength, strength endurance, hypertrophy, etc.) That's why T-mag contributor Chad Waterbury recommends many low rep sets for maximum hypertrophy! This is the direct opposite of what most people do. Remember #1 above?

Finally, you don't have unlimited amounts of time, money, energy, health, genetics, equipment, or knowledge – these are all resources. Your resources are a constraining factor that determines your potential outcomes.

12) Take Full Responsibility for Everything

This ties into my earlier discourse on beliefs. Saying that you're responsible for everything is obviously a lie, but it's a good lie because it improves your life.

Now, as I sit here, I'm wondering why I'm not a billionaire, and I gotta admit, it's my fault! It's not because I didn't have enough opportunities in life, it's not because I went to public school... well, okay, those things may have something to do with it, but guess what? I can't control external influences. But I can control my actions in life.

According to The Staley Equation, if I focus on things I can control, I'll be ahead of the game. It's all about control, folks. Choose your beliefs carefully!

13) Realize There's No Best Way!

There really isn't, so stop looking for it. There are various ways that can and do work. It's more the behaviors behind the way you choose that determine success.

Great bodies have been built using everything from GVT to EDT to HST to HIT. People have lost weight using everything from low-carb to high-carb to high protein. Ever wonder why that is? It's because 1) There's no best way, and 2) it's the behaviors behind the methods that primarily determine success.

14) Frame Goals Around Behaviors Rather Than Results

Another tip of the hat to Jeff Smith for this one. All this means is that you should focus less on the end result (which is hard to control) and more on your behaviors that lead to the goal (which is easier to control).

So in other words, if your goal is to gain ten pounds of muscle in 16 weeks, it's truly difficult to know whether or not that'll be possible. However, if you can list some behaviors or habits that'll improve your likelihood of success (such as eating eight meals a day, finding a training partner, etc.) you can control the behaviors with 100% certainly... and if you've made the correct assumptions, you'll achieve your goal just as certainly.

15) Front Load

This is a fatigue management device I've used with much success. It works like this: try to get the week's work done by the end of the day Monday, when you've got the most energy. Don't worry, you probably won't accomplish it, but the attempt at doing so will greatly enhance your efficiency.

Now let's apply this to your workouts. Plan for an "A" exercise, "B" exercise and a "C" exercise. Next, set up a 60-minute time limit for your workout. Start with your sets and reps for "A," which should be your most critical exercise for the workout, then move on to "B" and so on.

The 80-20 rule will be evident here: "A" will deliver 80% of the results for the entire workout, so if you miss "B" and "C," no biggie. Manage your resources efficiently by doing the most important stuff early when your energy is high and your resources abundant.


These fifteen tips have taken me a lifetime to accumulate. They're simple and they work. Now, are you going to slowly learn these things for yourself over the next twenty years, or are you going to take my advice now and apply these things today? That, like achieving success, is up to you.

Charles Staley is an accomplished strength coach who specializes in helping older athletes reclaim their physicality and vitality. At age 56, Charles is leaner than ever, injury free, and in his lifetime best shape. His PRs include a 400-pound squat, 510-pound deadlift, and a 17 chin-up max. Follow Charles Staley on Facebook