How Attitude, Aptitude and Environment Contribute to Success

Putting It All Together – How to Be Successful

How Attitude, Aptitude, and Environment Contribute to Success

The chart above is my best attempt to capture the point of the entire series in one image. 

The chart above is my best attempt to capture the point of the entire series in one image. 

We conclude this series about factors that differentiate individual performance and levels of success by looking at how attitude, aptitude, and environment interact with one another and discussing how we can use this knowledge to operate at our best.

How to be successful – General versus specific I remarked earlier that “attitude is the most general and accurate predictor of success.” This is what makes attitude the most important component in the trifecta of attributes that determine outcomes. A great attitude is a winning asset regardless of the field of endeavor. Attitude, therefore, is not field-specific. Thankfully, we are in full control of our attitude and can develop it at will.

Aptitude is relative to the subject. Having an aptitude for music is different from having one for soccer. We said two weeks ago that aptitude, i.e., talent is somewhat fixed by DNA and can be sharpened and improved, but only with considerable effort (especially when compared with the ease at which attitude can be brightened.) The advice then is to pick, whenever possible, a work that one is already gifted in.

Environment, like aptitude, is field-specific. As such, whether an environment promotes or inhibits growth is dependent on the subject and the situation. Thus, a good environment for planting watermelon might be a bad environment for growing potatoes.


Tallying up the factors

The graphic above qualitatively captures how the three factors contribute to one’s chance of success in a field of endeavor.

The graphic above qualitatively captures how the three factors contribute to one’s chance of success in a field of endeavor.

The sum at the extreme left is zero. The leftmost numbers represent a hypothetical case where a fellow has a wrong attitude, no talent whatsoever, and is in an unfriendly environment. The score in this case would be zero for attitude, zero for aptitude, and zero for environment, for a total score of zero. This means that the fellow in question has no chance of success in this field. (However, I believe that this would be an unwise conclusion because you cannot write anyone off completely—humans  defy the odds every day. This is obviously an exaggerated case made for illustrative purposes only. I cannot think of a real-life example where any—let alone all three factors—would be zero. One can score quite low on any of the factors but not an outright zero…I hope!)  

The total score at the extreme right is 100. These numbers, again, represent a supposed case where someone has a great attitude, with talent to match, and is in a supportive environment. The scores then would be 50, 30, and 20, respectively, for a sum of 100. A 100% chance is no longer a probability, it is a guarantee. However, we know that nothing in human affairs is guaranteed. Is this chart flawed, then? No. In fact, this assumed case of everything going well proves the chart. The reason is because there’s always room for improvement, so, in practice, no one will ever have a 50 (out of 50) for attitude because that means there’s nothing else that person can improve on as far as attitude is concerned. The same goes for having the right skills: even the best violinists, writers, and so on keep perfecting their skills, so they can never truly be at a 30 (out of 30). Lastly, however “good” an environment is, it can always be turbocharged for more growth.

Everyday examples will fall between these two extremes. The proper way to interpret this chart, then, is to say that “for a given combination of scores, the closer the total is to 100, the higher the chances of success, and the closer it is to zero, the higher the chances of failure.” A person with a score of 80 has a greater likelihood of attaining a desired goal than a person with a score of 40. Life is a game of chances. The person with a low score, based on this chart, might very well end up winning. I acknowledge that. We can always cite examples of triumphant underdogs. But one-off situations offer no guide as to how we can pattern our lives so that the odds are in our favor. Like a wisecrack observed, “The race may not go to the swiftest, but that is not the way to bet.” You always bet on the swiftest horse even though you know he may or may not win a particular race. The rest of this article will conclude this series on what determines unequal outcomes by looking at how we can push our score to the right on each member of the trifecta, and ultimately, be successful.


Attitude is the biggest contributor to success. That’s why we addressed it first. To learn about how to develop a successful attitude, please read How to Have a Winning Attitude.


The following tips will help you score high here. I have them in order from easiest to hardest.

1.       Do the thing you love. You are probably tired of hearing the advice, “follow your passion.” But’s it true. If you do the thing you are passionate about, you will do it well and appear very talented. Also, one reason you love it may be because you are naturally adapted to it. In practice, though, this is not always possible. You need to make a living and your day’s work might have little to do with passion or natural fit, which brings us to the next tip.

2.       Love the thing you do. The premise here is that lovers outwork workers. You need love to excel at your work. Why? For you to be good at something, you need lots of practice (10,000 hours if you want to gain mastery and be at world-class level, less if you just want to get by). For you to endure the drudgery of practice and overcome the disappointments that come with failure during practice, you need love (or a similarly positive strong emotion).

3.       Make peace with why you work. We all work for different reasons: for money, for the chance to get out of the home, or, as a friend told me, just to prove his third-grade teacher wrong. Whatever the reason, make peace with it, and be ready to learn the minutiae of your work so you can deliver quality, every day. 


We define the suitability of an environment relative to the work at hand. A supportive environment for developing musical skills may be a discouraging one for cultivating soccer skills. We know this from nature: a given soil may be harsh to sugar cane but gentle to apples; a tilapia fish thrives in freshwater and dies in saltwater.

To do well on the environmental score, then, you need to move to an environment that is conducive to what you are doing or what you want to become. This move depends on the situation. Some examples are: changing what time of the day you do an activity, changing your relationships, moving to a different neighborhood, moving to a different department, company, or industry. In the extreme, it may mean relocating to a different country.


I find it encouraging that attitude, which is totally within our control, accounts for half the battle to succeeding.  I find it also pleasing that, although aptitude and environment are not fully in our sphere of influence, their field-specific natures mean we can shift what we do or where we do it to achieve the best outcome. In sum, learning how to succeed and winning in life in general requires developing a great outlook while being flexible about how your work is done.  

If you missed the earlier posts in this series, please take a look:

What Determines Unequal Outcomes?

Part 1: How to Have a Winning Attitude

Part 2: Aptitude – The Missing Piece in How to Win

Part 3: Environment – The Deciding Factor in Success


I’d love to hear your take on what a person needs to be successful, or any comments or thoughts you have on the topic.