6 Core Beliefs of High Achievers

“Men succeed when they realize that their failures are the preparation for their victories.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Core beliefs are fundamental views that we have internalized about ourselves, other people, and the world. These beliefs are generally so central to our identity and worldview that they often go unquestioned. We often develop core beliefs through repeated experiences with primary caregivers in childhood and adolescence, with the responses that we get from those important people shaping the way that we see ourselves, people, and the world.

It is through these early interactions that we tend to develop internalized senses of ourselves as fundamentally good and lovable or fundamentally flawed and unlovable. These core beliefs can shape the way that we learn to see other people and what we learn to expect from others in life – even as adults. We develop ideas about whether or not other people are to be trusted and whether they are basically good or not. Our repeated early experiences can shape the way that we learn to view the world as well. Is it basically a good and safe place, or is it basically bad and unsafe?

It is important to keep in mind that core beliefs are just that – beliefs. It is only because they are so longstanding and deeply internalized that they are so often quite resistant to change. Many people have little to no conscious awareness of what their core beliefs truly are… they simply take for granted their basic assumptions about themselves and human nature.

If core beliefs play such an important role in our lives as adults, do you wonder what differentiates the core beliefs of people driven for success – high achievers – versus those relatively uninterested in achievement or success? Perhaps you can readily identify with what it means to be a high achiever. Maybe you have spent a great deal of energy throughout your life chasing after success and feeling spurred on toward the accomplishment of meaningful goals. Then again, perhaps you identify more with the pattern of avoiding failure, as opposed to seeking out achievement and success. Or maybe you find yourself falling into a more middle ground.

If you believe that you could derive greater meaning or satisfaction in your life through developing a more achievement-oriented attitude, it may be worth considering some of the basic core beliefs of people who are naturally driven toward achievement. While core beliefs are deeply embedded in your typical ways of thinking, it is possible to have a gradual effect on changing your core beliefs through consciously and mindfully adopting new patterns of thought. When you learn to think differently in an authentic manner for a consistent period of time, it can begin to become who you are. The thoughts you choose are up to you.

Core Beliefs of High Achievers

Dr. Carl Beuke, a psychologist who works in the field of management and leadership selection, offers the following common core beliefs of high achievers:

(1) Success is a personal responsibility.

People who are strongly oriented toward achievement tend to have a core belief that success is their personal responsibility. They tend to take responsibility for their own behaviors that either move them closer to or further from their chosen objective(s). In a similar manner, achievement-oriented people tend to view effort, initiative, and persistence as key determinants of success at challenging tasks.

Consider this in contrast to failure-avoiding individuals, who often view success as contingent on external resources or situational constraints. Notice the difference between the locus of control of these two types of individuals. The achievement-oriented person is more likely to view himself or herself as responsible for both success and failure, whereas the failure-avoiding person is more likely to view other people or external circumstances as responsible.

(2) Demanding tasks are opportunities.

People who are driven for achievement and success have a tendency to view tasks where the outcome is uncertain as challenges or opportunities. Notice the tendency to move toward the potentially uncomfortable and challenging task, rather than move away from the task as something to be feared. The likelihood of achievement and success increases as the person changes the way that he or she looks at the task at hand. Is this an opportunity for growth and success? That attitude will likely result in a shift in thinking and behaving that will move that person closer to his or her goals.

In contrast, a failure-avoiding person is more likely to view a challenging task as a threat that may lead to some form of failure or embarrassment. When a challenging task is looked upon through this lens, the manner in which one approaches the task is likely going to shift. A person who is more concerned with avoiding failure may be less likely to attempt challenging tasks, and thus less likely to receive the multitude of benefits that come along with accomplishment and moving in the direction of one’s goals.

(3) Achievement striving is enjoyable.

High-achievers tend to view the effort associated with progress toward goals as intrinsically rewarding, motivating, and fulfilling. There is an associated work-related attitude filled with concentration, dedication, commitment, and involvement. When one views his or her task as a stepping stone in pursuit of meaningful value-based goals, the effort required to accomplish those tasks is naturally rewarding.

Failure-avoiding people may be more likely to view the very same effort as overly stressful, overwhelming, or otherwise unpleasant. They may even view the high-achiever’s persistence in the face of setbacks as compulsive in some way. In this sense, the failure-avoiding individual is often more attracted to the path of least resistance. This is often due to the fact that the person has come to associate the experience of resistance with failure or embarrassment.

(4) Achievement striving is valuable.

People driven for success tend to believe that the time and effort required in the pursuit of meaningful goals are worthwhile and valuable in and of themselves. These people often get into a state of flow during their work, which only serves to positively reinforce the enjoyable and rewarding experience of striving for success. When one’s work is meaningful on its own, then there is often a great sense of satisfaction to be derived from dedicating oneself to a worthy goal.

On the other hand, people focused on the avoidance of failure may have a tendency to mock or belittle those individuals who tirelessly dedicate themselves toward the pursuit of their goals. They may even convince themselves or others that this person doesn’t “have a life” as a means of explaining the work-oriented behaviors they struggle to understand.

(5) Skills can be improved.

Someone who is driven for achievement and success often has a core belief that his or her skills can be improved with time, dedication, and effort. This belief often results in that person taking the necessary time to enhance knowledge and skills in a desired area of expertise. Recent research suggests that “deliberate practice” is the key to success in developing expertise.

A person more oriented toward avoiding failure may be more likely to view knowledge and skills as fixed. This belief may result in that person avoiding opportunities to gain knowledge and develop skills. This core belief may translate into a (somewhat) false belief that successful individuals must have innate abilities that allow them to be successful. A consequence of this belief may be that the person stops trying to become better themselves, with the attitude of “why bother?”

(6) Persistence works.

Achievement-oriented people often have a core belief that persistence works. This belief then translates into persistence in their own behaviors in pursuit of their goals. You might be guessing that a consequence of this persistence is often coming up with new solutions, overcoming obstacles, and ultimately reaching success.

People who are driven by the desire to avoid failure may believe that an initial failure or setback is nothing but a sign of what is to come. They may shrink in the face of failure and believe that failures are a sign to give up. An unfortunate lesson that may be going unlearned in these scenarios is the wonderful opportunity that failures provide to learn from mistakes.

The point of understanding the core beliefs of high achievers is not to claim that these beliefs are necessarily any more logical than the beliefs of the failure-avoiding individuals. Sometimes persistence doesn’t work when it makes one stubborn and blind to the big picture. One might argue that the choice to travel down a new path in the pursuit of success is still acting with persistence. The point is that they are all beliefs about the self, others, and the world. These core beliefs are so deeply ingrained in people’s personalities that they have a powerful effect on ways of thinking and behaving.

How do your own core beliefs affect the way that you view yourself, other people, and the world? When you begin to adopt a more mindful attitude toward your experience, you will begin to notice that the way you think about things has an incredible impact on the way you choose to behave. If you find yourself dissatisfied with some of your own typical ways of behaving in the pursuit of success (or any other life realm), try questioning your core beliefs more mindfully. Reflect on what it might be like to adopt new ways of thinking. Try to notice the consequences of looking upon your experience from a different set of assumptions. Do you like what you see?

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Beuke, C. (2011, October 19). [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/youre-hired/201110/how-do-high-achievers-really-think

Featured image: Morning exercise by Steve-h / CC BY-SA 2.0

About Laura K. Schenck, Ph.D., LPC

I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Some of my academic interests include: Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mindfulness, stress reduction, work/life balance, mood disorders, identity development, supervision & training, and self-care.


  1. James on January 14, 2012 at 11:45 am

    I have long felt that psychology’s focus on neurosis can be counterproductive with regard to the psychological aim of “healing.” It’s great to see a greater cultural awareness of positive psychology developing as time goes by.

    While these are “6 Core Beliefs of High Achievers,” it strikes me that, if adopted and acted upon, these core beliefs could be a potent cure for many psychological problems, from low self-esteem to depression.

    • Laura on January 26, 2012 at 10:35 am

      James – Indeed, a focus on neurosis can often serve to keep people overly focused on their problems and negative ways of thinking or behaving rather than focusing on realistic strengths. It is certainly difficult to truly change one’s core beliefs, since these beliefs are generally ingrained ways of thinking since childhood or adolescence, although it is possible. When people make the choice to mindfully adopt new ways of thinking and behaving, those core beliefs can gradually change over time. It is important for people to experience successes, however small, as they build confidence in adopting new ways of being in the world. There are certainly many empirically supported treatments for depression, one of which is Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT), which focuses on changing the relationship that people have with aspects of their internal experience. Thank you for your comment!

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