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Of all of your daily activities, 40% of them are habits, according to the Society for Personality and Social Psychology. This means 40% of the time you’re on auto-pilot, every day. Habits save the brain work and conserve brain fuel. There is very little processing power involved with respect to habits.

So what does that have to do with being rich? I studied 177 self-made millionaires and uncovered certain unique good habits that made it possible for them to automatically process success on a daily basis. Here are five of the top habits of self-made millionaires that helped them accumulate an average of $7.4 million in 12 years.

1. They Set Good Goals vs. Bad Goals

You hardly ever hear anyone talk about goals in a negative context. Goals are almost always perceived to be good. But there are goals that add no real value to your life when achieved yet consume valuable resources. So how do you know when a goal is good or bad?

Good goals create long-term benefits and long-term happiness when achieved. They allow you to grow as an individual and alter your behavior in a positive way. Good goals get you from point A to point B. Point B being a better place, such as more wealth, a better job, higher income, better school system for your kids, etc.

An example of a good goal would be to lose 20 pounds. Setting a weight-loss goal often involves a daily regimen of exercise, healthy eating and encourages a healthy lifestyle. Good health results from exercising and eating right. It may also motivate you to moderate your consumption of alcohol or to quit smoking. When the weight eventually comes off you enjoy the compliments, feel healthier and all of this creates lasting happiness.

Bad goals create short-term happiness and no long-term benefits when achieved. An example of a bad goal might be to own a Ferrari, particularly if it is not within your means. In that case, in order to own a Ferrari, you must make more money. Making more money will likely involve either more work or taking excessive financial risk (for example, taking out a loan you may not be able to afford — or, say, gambling, if that’s your tendency).

There’s a cost-benefit to working more – you invest time that you will never recoup. Don’t misunderstand me here. Working more to make more money can be a good thing. But where the goal goes south is when you then use that money to buy stuff, like a Ferrari, that is financially out of your reach and perhaps not a necessity.

The happiness you derive from owning more or better stuff fades over time, since happiness derived from buying stuff is typically short-term. You will eventually revert back to your genetic happiness baseline and, after a few weeks, the Ferrari will no longer create lasting happiness. The lost time with the family, however, can never be recouped.

If the goal, instead, was to judiciously invest that extra money you earned into a calculated risk, such as a side business, an investment or a vacation home that would enable you to spend more time with your family, then it may shifts the “work more/earn more” goal into a good goal.

Ideally, achieving a goal will create long-term benefits: a stronger business, more time with the family, more personal growth, financial independence, improved health, etc.

2. They Avoid Time-Wasters

Sixty-seven percent of wealthy people watch less than an hour of TV a day and 63% spend less than an hour a day on the Internet, unless it is job-related. They spend their free time instead engaged in self-improvement, networking, volunteering, working side jobs or side businesses, or pursuing some goal or dream that will lead to financial rewards down the road.

3. They Dream-Set Before They Goal-Set

You must Dream-Set before you Goal-Set. Dream-Setting provides you with the destination; Goal-Setting is the transportation to get you to your destination. Dreams represent a vision of some future, ideal state or reality. Dreams are the springboard for goals. You can’t achieve goals that are actually dreams in disguise. Most who set goals, mistake a dream for a goal, and that is why most fail to achieve their goals. For example, making an additional $100,000 a year is a dream, not a goal. Becoming an Olympic athlete is a dream, not a goal. Owning a house on the beach is a dream, not a goal (unless you have the money already).

Dream-Setting is the act of clearly defining a dream. It’s a two-step process:

  1. Ask yourself what you want your ideal life to be 10, 15 or 20 years out. Then write down every detail of your ideal future life. Be very specific in the details: the income you earn, the house you live in, the boat you own, the car you drive, the money you’ve accumulated, etc.
  2. Using this detailed description of your ideal future life, make a bullet-point list of each one of the details that represent your ideal life. These would be the income you earn, the house you live in, the boat your own, etc. These details represent your wishes or dreams.

Goal-Setting requires you to build goals around each one of your wishes or dreams. In order to build goals around each wish or dream you need to ask yourself two questions:

  1. What would I need to do, what activities would I need to engage in, in order for each wish or dream to come true?
  2. Can I perform those activities?

If the answer to Question #2 is yes, then those activities represent your goals. Goals are only goals when they involve physical action and you have the capability to successfully take action.

Let’s summarize this Dream-Setting / Goal-Setting process:

  1. Paint a picture with words of your ideal life.
  2. Define each wish or dream that must be realized in order to have your ideal future life.
  3. Establish specific goals around each one of your wishes or dreams.
  4. Take action. Pursue and achieve each of the specific goals that will make each wish or dream come true.

You then repeat this process for every other wish or dream. When you realize each one of your wishes or dreams, your ideal future life will then become your actual real life.

4. They Never Quit on a Dream

Self-made millionaires are persistent. They never quit on their dream. They would rather go down with the ship than quit. Twenty-seven percent of the self-made millionaires in my study failed at least once in business. And then they picked themselves up and went on to try again. They persisted. Persistence requires doing certain things every day that move you forward in achieving your goals or life dream. Persistence makes you unstoppable. No obstacle, mistake or momentary failure can stop you from moving forward if you keep at it.

These millionaires learned to pivot and change course, growing in the process. Persistence allowed them to learn what didn’t work and continuously experiment, until they found what did work. Persistence is the single greatest contributor to manifesting good luck. Those who persist, eventually get lucky. Some unintended consequence emerges, something unexpected and unanticipated happens to those who persist.

Sometimes, those closest to you will urge you on and encourage you. But more often, those closest to you, those directly impacted by the obstacles, mistakes and failures that are part of the success journey, will try to stop you from persisting. It takes superhuman effort to continue to pursue success when there are so many forces fighting you. That’s what makes successful people so special and also, so rare. If you want to be successful in life, you must persist in the face of unrelenting adversity. 

5. They Create Multiple Streams of Income

Self-made millionaires do not rely on one singular source of income. They develop multiple streams. Three seemed to be the magic number in my study. Sixty-five percent had three or more streams of income that they created over time. Diversifying your sources of income allows you to weather the economic downturns that always occur in life.

If you put “one pole in one pond,” when that single income stream is negatively impacted in some way, you can suffer financially. Conversely, having “several poles in several ponds” allows you to draw income from other sources when one source is temporarily impaired.

Some of the additional streams might include: real estate rentals (each rental unit = a stream of income), REITs (each one = a stream of income), tenants-in-common real estate investments (each one = a stream of income), triple net leases, stock market investments, annuities (each one = a stream of income), seasonal real estate rentals (beach rentals, ski rentals, lakefront rentals), private equity investments, part ownership in a side businesses (each one = a stream of income), financing investments, ancillary products or services and royalties (patents, books, oil, timber, etc.).

Remember, this study followed ordinary people who built their wealth over a period of time. So it takes work, determination and establishing the habits that will help get you there. These are only a few examples of the many good habits that support wealth-building, but they’re a good place to start.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

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  • Tre Alexander

    I LOVE THIS ARTICLE! It describes my character/personality and let’s me know I am on the right track to supreme wealth. Thank you for this confirmation!

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