Successful Self-Published Author Shares His Mistakes, Failures and Success Tips

Tom Corley boats - crop

My first self-published book, Rich Habits, has sold nearly 50,000 copies so far. It rose to #7 on Amazon in ALL BOOK CATEGORIES in the U.S. and stayed in the top 100 of ALL BOOK CATEGORIES in the U.S. for 3 weeks. That puts me in the top .1% of first time, self-published authors. Most first time, self-published authors sell no more than 500 copies of their books, ever.  I’ve been on CBS Nightly News, Australian TV, The Dave Ramsey Radio Show, hundreds of other radio shows, Money Magazine, Inc. Magazine, Fast Company Magazine, SUCCESS Magazine, Epoc Magazine (Brazil’s largest weekly), More Magazine and many other print and online magazines. I’ve received media publicity in 23 countries. I’ve even spoken to millionaires on the same stage as Richard Branson.

Every week a new first time, self-published author asks me what they need to do in order to succeed. I never, ever ignore them because I have a very long memory. I remember how hard, how lonely and how depressing it was for me in the early going, primarily because I was on my own. I never wrote a book before, never promoted a book before and knew no one who did any of those things. I had to figure things out on my own, through the School of Hard Knocks. I had to learn what to do and what not to do. And I failed so often and made so many mistakes. Those failures and mistakes are scar tissue inside my brain. Honestly, I think even Forest Gump would be appalled at the mistakes I’ve made. It’s so unbelievably hard to succeed, as a self-published author, if you don’t know what you’re doing. And, so I made a vow to myself that I would never leave a fellow first time, self-published author on the field of battle if they asked for my help. I don’t care how successful I become in this book business. I will always find the time to share what I’ve learned with new authors. So, in an effort to do just that, I thought I’d lay out what I believe are the major things first time, self-published authors need to do in order to have a shot at success. Let’s go. [Read more…]

We Are Hardwired to Focus on One Thing at a Time


Tom Corley boats - crop

Since 2004, I’ve been studying the wealthy. I’ve found two core ways self-made millionaires rose from poverty or the middle-class:

  1. Live Below Your Means and Wisely Invest Your Savings or
  2. Pursue Something You are Passionate About

In all of my years of studying the wealthy, I learned a lot about number two – passion. One of the most important things I’ve learned about the wealthy who pursue some dream or passion, is that they focus single-mindedly on one thing for many, many years. They devote those years to learning, growing and practicing until they become expert in whatever it is they are pursuing. They avoid any distractions that prevent them from their single-minded pursuit. Eventually, they become expert in what they do. Only after they become an expert, do they then begin to realize financial success. And this, I found, takes a long time.

Based on my research, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s impossible to become an expert when you are pursuing more than one thing at a time. Our brains do not operate that way. We are neurologically hardwired for single-minded focus. When we embrace this neurological template, success becomes inevitable.

When you pursue something you are passionate about, your brain enters something called flow. Flow is a mental state that marshals all of the resources of the brain. In a state of flow, the left hemisphere, right hemisphere, limbic system, brain stem and cerebellum all work in unison, like a well-trained orchestra. When your brain is in a state of flow, you are able to see solutions to the problems and obstacles that get in your way. Flow can only be achieved through singular focus.

Most don’t understand this and that is why so many fail. They mistakenly believe they can pursue more than one thing at a time. When you pursue more than one initiative, one passion or one dream at a time, at best you will gain mediocrity. At worst, you will fail. Most voluntarily fail before they lose everything, which is known as quitting. Others involuntarily fail by losing everything. 

Single-minded focus leads to flow. Flow leads to success. Success leads to wealth.

The Longer Success Takes The Longer it Lasts


Tom Corley boats - crop

Success is built upon a mountain of mistakes. The higher that mountain, the greater your success.

As crazy as it may sound, you want success to take a long time. The longer you pursue success, the more you will learn from your mistakes and failures and the more expert you become in whatever you do.

Those who pursue success for a long time, build a very strong foundation for success. Thus, the longer success takes, the greater and more permanent the foundation upon which your success will be built.

We live in a world of instant gratification. This desire to achieve immediate success can make people impatient. Patience is a very important Rich Habit that self-made millionaires possess. Without patience, most will quit on themselves and on their dreams.

In my Rich Habits Study, it took the average self-made millionaire, who was pursuing a dream, twelve years to become rich and successful. That’s along time and a lot of patience. Why did it take so long?

Success takes a long time because there is so much that must be learned. Learning what to do and what not to do takes many years. When you finally begin to figure things out, you make fewer and fewer mistakes. Through repetitive practice, you eventually become more proficient in what you do – you become an expert. Expertise takes a long time.

Those who seek instant success realize little success because the foundation upon which their success is built is weak and shallow and they never develop an expertise in what they do. These individuals suffer from Bright Shiny Object Syndrome, a Poor Habit in which you are easily distracted, lose focus and move on to any new thing which grabs your attention.

What makes any great idea great, is success. And success requires a laser-like focus along with relentless persistence. This takes time. According to my research, this focus and persistence begins to pay dividends after about twelve years.

Never quit on your dreams and your goals. At some point you will figure out what to do and what not to do. But you will never succeed if you quit on yourself and your dreams. You will never devote enough time to figure things out and you will never grow into the person you need to be in order for success to visit you.

The longer success takes, the longer it lasts.

All or Nothing is Unsustainable


Tom Corley boats - crop

All or nothing shows up once a year in the form of New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Stop drinking alcohol.
  • Stop eating junk food.
  • Stop watching TV.
  • Start exercising every day for an hour.
  • Start reading to learn every day for an hour.
  • Get up at 5am every day.

Invariably, this all or nothing approach, leads to failure, which is soon followed by self-hate, as you berate yourself for being weak and undisciplined.

The correct, sustainable approach, with any new habit, is to baby step your way into it. Small, baby steps that incrementally improve your life in some way, is the right approach.

The right approach:

  • Limit my alcohol consumption to one drink during the workweek (or three drinks during weekends).
  • Limit my consumption of junk food to 300 calories a day.
  • Limit TV consumption to one hour a day. 
  • Start exercising every day for fifteen minutes.
  • Start reading to learn every day for fifteen minutes.
  • Get up 30 minutes earlier.

Those small, baby steps build the neural infrastructure that, over time, take root, eventually becoming lasting, permanent habits.

Your brain will not fight you if the change is small. This is because small conscious changes do not deplete your stores of willpower energy (readily available glucose – the fuel most often used by the body when engaged in any willpower-required activity).

Because small changes utilize very little willpower energy, the brain will not go to war with you and your new habits. This allows you to engage in the habit every day. And every day that you engage in the habit, the habit synapse grows stronger and stronger.

After some time (thirty days or more), that new habit synapse will be strong enough to grab the attention of the basal ganglia, which will eventually designate it as a habit. One this happens, you can then amp up your habit. For example, you can increase your aerobic exercise from fifteen minutes to thirty minutes without the brain engaging in civil war. 

Rich Habits Poor Habits Episode 35 | ‘Want’ Spending Will Put You in the Poor House

How much are your spending habits affecting you level of wealth?

In Tom Corley’s five-year Rich Habits study of 233 rich people and 128 poor people he discovered that your habits dictate your circumstances in life.

He discovered that daily habits dictate how successful or unsuccessful you will be in life.

There are two groups of poor people.

The first group are individuals who simply do not make enough money to meet their needs. money

The second group are individuals whose income exceeds their needs but who, nonetheless, spend more than they make.

According to Census Bureau data, there are approximately 46 million poor people who cannot meet their needs.

They are forced to rely on assistance in one form or another from federal and state governments.

According to this same data, there are approximately 30 million other people who make more than they need but who are, nonetheless, one paycheck away from poverty.

These individuals engage in something called Want Spending.

Want Spenders spend more money than they make on their wants.

They surrender to instant gratification, eschewing saving in order to buy things they want now: 60 inch TVs, nice vacations, expensive cars, bigger homes and jewelry.


Want Spenders routinely gamble away part of their income.

They also spend too much money at bars and restaurants.

Worse, they incur debt in order to finance their standard of living.

Want Spenders create their own poverty.

They are undisciplined with their money.

They have been brainwashed by advertisers and a consumerist society into buying things they do not need.

When Want Spenders are no longer able to work due to old age, they live out the remainder of their lives in abject poverty.

They become dependent on family, friends, the government or the charity of others.

Their poverty is the byproduct of a Poor Habit known as Instant Gratification.

Want Spenders rationalize their Want Spending in a number of ways:

  • I’ll make more money in the future
  • I’ll get a better paying job
  • I’ll get a second job
  • I’ll get a raise
  • I’ll get a bonus
  • The economy will improve and I’ll make more money
  • I’ll get more clients or customers
  • My children will take care of me in retirement
  • I’ll move to Florida, or some inexpensive place, and live off Social Security

Most people in society do not make a lot of money.

A fortunate few have the Rich Habit known as Delayed Gratification.

These individuals live within their means and do not engage in Want Spending.

These individuals are disciplined savers. lose saving

They diligently save at least 10% of their income, paycheck by paycheck, month by month, year by year.

Their savings grow either by the power of compounding or by prudent investing.

When they retire, they live out the remainder of their lives financially independent, not reliant on financial support from others.

If you’re like most people, you don’t make a lot of money, but the money you do make exceeds your needs.

You have a choice on what you do with this Excess Money.

You can engage in Want Spending, live for today, and rationalize away why you do what you do with your Excess Money.

Or, you can take control of your financial life, by saying yes to saving your Excess Money and saying no to Want Spending.



The Hardest Part is the Start


Tom Corley boats - crop

The definition of flow: To move, come, or go continuously in one direction.

We all have dreams and big goals. But few ever pursue their dreams and big goals. The main reasons are fear, doubt and discomfort:

  • Fear of the unknown.
  • Fear of failure.
  • Fear of obstacles and mistakes.
  • Fear of losing money.
  • Fear it will disrupt your family life.
  • Doubts of your ability, skill or knowledge.
  • Doubts about achieving the outcome you desire.
  • Survival Doubts: – Will you make enough money to survive financially?
  • New pursuits push you outside your comfort zone.

Self-made millionaires do their diligence in gathering as much information as they can before they make a decision to pursue something they desire. Once they decide to move forward, they take immediate action (see Becoming a Self-Made Millionaire Requires Courage and Faith –

The amazing thing about taking action on your dreams and goals, is that action puts you in a state of flow.

Flow is a mental state in which both your conscious mind (prefrontal cortex) and subconscious mind (limbic system and brain stem) work together is seamless harmony.

When you are in a state of flow, your entire brain is working for you to complete a task. When your entire brain is working for you, when you are in a state of flow, creative solutions erupt from within your brain like a volcano. It’s an amazing, unique ability all humans possess.

Very few, however, ever achieve a state of flow. They are too busy working on someone else’s dreams and goals. Flow is easy to achieve when you are working on your own dreams and goals. But in order to tap into this incredible human capability, you must take action on your dreams and goals. The hardest part is the start.

Becoming a Self-Made Millionaire Requires Courage and Faith


Tom Corley boats - crop

According to my Rich Habits research, self-made millionaires follow a process in pursuing an idea, opportunity, dream or big goal. Typically this is the process:

  1. Idea – This is the first stage in which an idea pops into your head or an opportunity presents itself. This could also be when you gain some clarity on a dream or major goal you’d like to pursue.
  2. Due Diligence – Read books and articles about the idea, opportunity, dream or goal. Then seek feedback from others who have some expertise or knowledge about the idea, opportunity, dream or goal. This stage typically takes the longest because it requires an investment of your time in gathering the necessary information that will help you make a decision on whether or not to take action. This is also the stage in which you evaluate your capability to pursue the idea, opportunity, dream or goal. Do you have the requisite expertise or knowledge? Do you have the skills? Do you have the time? Do you have the financial resources? If not, you obtain what you lack. This could take many months or even years.
  3. Decision – Once you have weighed all of the information you gathered, and acquired the knowledge, skills and financial resources you need in order to pursue the idea, opportunity, dream or goal, you decide to go for it.
  4. Action – Once you decide to pursue the idea, opportunity, dream or goal, action follows immediately.

Almost always, pursuing any idea, opportunity, dream or big goal involves risk. You will never have enough of what you need: time, money, knowledge, skills, etc. So, there is always some risk. You don’t know what you don’t know. So, pursuing success involves significant risk. 

One of the hallmarks of the self-made millionaires in my study was that once they made a decision to pursue something, they immediately took action. Action followed decision. They did not procrastinate. They tossed aside all of their doubts and worries and took action. 

Becoming a self-made millionaire requires courage and faith, since you will never have everything you need when you pursue success.

Efficient Habits


Tom Corley boats - crop

Habits have a purpose. The brain constantly monitors our activities, thinking and emotions. It if notices a repetitive daily activity, thought or emotion, it will marshall the resources of the basal ganglia, instructing it to transform it into a habit.

The brain converts activities, thinking and emotions into habits in order to mechanize certain activities, thinking and emotions. This not only saves the conscious brain (the neocortex, particularly the prefrontal cortex) from doing work, it also serves to conserve brain fuel (oxygen, glucose or ketones). When activities, thinking or emotions become habits, the subconscious mind (limbic system and brain stem) takes over, which allows the conscious mind to rest. Because the subconscious parts of the brain have been in existence for millions of years, through the process of evolution, it has become very efficient in automating activities, thinking and emotions.

So, the intended purpose of habits is energy conservation and efficiency.

Unfortunately, some unproductive activities, negative thinking and negative emotions can mistakenly be converted to habits by the brain. Watching TV, Facebook, Snapchat, talking/texting on the phone with friends, pessimism, anger, checking email constantly and negative gossiping are unproductive habits which do nothing to benefit your life.

Fortunately, there are certain productive activities, thinking and emotions that can be converted into habits, so long as you engage in them repetitively (typically daily), for at least a month. One month creates the foundational neural infrastructure. If you continue to persist in these productive activities, thinking and emotions, eventually the brain will summon the basal ganglia and instruct it to automate them, transforming them into daily habits.

So, what productive activities, thinking or emotions should you be engaging in repetitively so that they will eventually become daily habits?

  • Aerobic Exercise (Brain and Body Health): 15-20 minutes a day for at least 18 days.
  • Flossing: 18 days or more.
  • Vet Your Thoughts Before They Come Out of Your Mouth: 18 days or more.
  • Positive Gossip: 18 days or more.
  • Reading to Learn (Growth Activity): 15-20 minutes a day for at least 18 days.
  • Happy Birthday Calls (Relationship Builder Activity): 5-10 minutes a day for at least 18 days.
  • Hello Call (Relationship Builder Activity) : 5-10 minutes a day for at least 18 days.
  • Life Event Call (Relationship Builder Activity): 30 minutes a week for at least six months. This is a weekly activity.
  • Time Chunking Activities (Email, Voicemail): 30 minutes each, twice a day (check email and voicemail once in the morning and once in the afternoon). This will take at least six months.
  • Intermittent Fasting (10 – 18 Hours a Day Without Eating): 18 days or more.
  • Healthy Eating: 18 days or more.
  • Develop a New Skill: 254 days or more before you become proficient.
  • Develop a Niche: 254 days or more before you become expert.
  • Develop Positivity (Positive, Upbeat, Optimistic Mindset): 254 days for more.
  • Frugality (Conscious Spending): 254 days or more.
  • Become a Saver: 254 days or more.
  • Control Negative Emotions: 254 days or more.

In order for these productive activities to become daily habits you will need to engage in them at the same time every day. Some activities will become daily habits in as little as 18 days. Others, like aerobic exercise, can take 254 days or more before the basal ganglia will reach out and stamp them habits.

Choice, Not Chance, Determines Your Financial Fate


Tom Corley boats - crop

The definition of fate is:

The development of events outside a person’s control, regarded as predetermined by a supernatural power.

One of the bad thinking habits of people stuck in a financial rut, is believing in fate. It is a very convenient way to rationalize your current financial circumstances.

Fate is often a crutch, that those struggling financially, lean on. Like a blanket, they wrap it around themselves. This way they are no longer responsible for the financial circumstances of their lives – their poor circumstances are outside their control due to fate.

Those who believe fate controls their financial destiny use code words, phrases or aphorisms to escape the financial responsibility for their lives:

  • “I’m not a member of the lucky sperm club.”
  • “It’s God’s will.”
  • “They’re just lucky.”
  • “I’m not lucky.”
  • “The fickle finger of fate.”
  • “My fate is sealed.”
  • “A twist of fate.”
  • “Predestination.”
  • “It’s because I’m not a man.”
  • “It’s just divine will.”
  • “Life’s wheel of fortune.”
  • “That’s just my lot in life.”
  • “Divine providence.”
  • “It’s God’s plan.”
  • “God loves poor people – that’s why he created so many of them.”

These commonly used words, phrases and aphorisms bleed into your subconscious, programming you to relinquish control over your life to fate.

The fact is, most people who become wildly rich and successful come from poverty or the middle-class. According to the 2016 Wealth-X report, 75% of the rich were poor (19%) or middle-class (56%). In my Rich Habits study, 76% came from poverty (31%) or the middle-class (45%).

How did they break free from poverty or the middle-class? Well, it wasn’t fate:

  • They pursued dreams.
  • They set, pursued and achieved goals.
  • They worked long hours for many years.
  • They were persistence – they never quit on themselves.
  • They were focused like a laser on their dreams and goals.
  • They forged good daily habits that helped move them forward in life towards realizing their dreams and goals.
  • They eliminated any bad daily habits that were holding them back in life.
  • They were obsessed with growth through daily self-improvement: they read books to gain specific knowledge, they practiced every day to improve their skills, they developed valuable new skills, they sought out mentors, they went to night school, etc.
  • They took big risks, others were unwilling to take.
  • They built valuable relationships with other successful people.

Don’t allow yourself to be programmed by society, politicians or family members into believing fate determines your financial circumstances in life. It doesn’t. Accepting “your fate” is just a rationalization to do nothing. Choice, not chance, determines your financial fate.

Experimentation Reveals Your Life’s Calling


Tom Corley boats - crop

When you experiment with new activities, eventually you will stumble upon an activity that exposes some innate talent or some activity that stirs your passion.

Activity experimentation is like being offered a buffet of diverse foods. At first, you may not know what you want to eat, but if you experiment and eat a little bit of each food, eventually you will taste something you like, something you want to eat.

Some things will bore you. Some things will excite you. Things that bore you lead to unhappiness. Things that excite you lead to happiness. Only through experimentation will you discover what bores you and what excites you.

When you experiment with diverse activities, something amazing happens. Some activities will come easy. When you find an activity that is easy for you to do, that is when you unearth some innate talent. Those activities that come easy, that put you in the flow. They will excite you and you will feel happy when you engage in them. We all have innate talents. Finding them reveals your strengths and finding what you’re naturally good at in life is the key that unlocks the door to success.

Easy to perform activities expose your calling in life – your life’s purpose. When you find your calling, an immediate mental shift will overtake you. It will make you come alive inside. You will want to engage in those activities every day, 24/7.

Those who succeed in life and realize incredible riches, focus on their strengths, their innate talents. They then spend their entire lives engaged in those activities, practicing them, perfecting them, improving them and eventually, becoming expert in them.

People will be happy to pay you a premium for your services or the products you create because they will be the best services or products. They add value to the lives of others, improving their lives in some way.

Experiment. Find your innate strengths. Then devote your life to perfecting them. This will lead to success and wealth.