Have you ever taken notice when a person with average talent rises to higher heights than others with more talent? Whether in Hollywood or in a less glitzy career, research shows that talent isn’t always enough to catapult you to the top of your field. There’s an “X factor” that exists among the most successful people and extends beyond natural talent: discipline. I know, it’s not the sexiest of traits, but a heavy dose of it can lead you to a juicy career, sexy abs and a stellar bank account.
When it comes to success, discipline can be a stronger predictor than IQ, SAT scores or raw talent. In a 1985 study of world-class pianists, neurologists, swimmers, chess players, mathematicians and sculptors, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom found that “only a few of [the 120 talented individuals in the sample] were regarded as prodigies by teachers, parents or experts.” Rather, accomplished individuals worked day after day, for at least 10 or 15 years, to reach the top of their fields. On average, the most successful people have the drive to be the best and the discipline to consistently work hard to get there, even when no one else is paying any attention. Now that you’re in on the secret, here are four tips on how you can build your muscle of self-control and maximize your own winning potential:

Identify a handful of key goals you’d like to achieve over the next 12 months. You might choose to position yourself for a new career by pursuing new assignments at work that will expand your skills. Or maybe you’ll commit to arriving at a healthy weight or increasing your income by a specific amount by this time next year.

Ask yourself, ‘What is the most important habit I need to develop (or eliminate) to reach my goal?’ And then do it with regularity. When it comes to actualizing your goal, it’s about what you do every day. If you want to lose 30 pounds but you eat high-calorie takeout most nights at 9:30 p.m., it’s going to be hard. So create a new habit: Make it your goal to eat a light, healthy dinner at 6:30 p.m. every night for a month. Or if you own a part-time business and want to increase your revenue, create a sales habit such as making a daily outreach to at least three customers.

As you achieve each goal, add a new one. Once your new habit becomes an old one, focus on the next habit you want to develop to reach one of your goals. Continue this throughout the next year and you’ll find that this practice becomes your affirming routine over a lifetime.

Take ownership of your success by placing the onus on yourself to see it through to completion. Track your habit-forming plans on your calendar throughout the year to decide which ones will be long-term or short-term goals. Establish a system, such as electronic alerts, that reminds you to stay on course with the successful completion of your goals. And put yourself out there and declare your goals to family, friends and co-workers who can act as cheerleaders and coaches when the going fares well or when it gets tough. You’ll be less likely to drop the ball if you enlist outside positive pressure to help you keep it in the air!

Valorie Burton is the author of Successful Women Think Differently and Your 5-Minute Personal Coach. Subscribe to her weekly e-newsletter at valorieburton.com.