Self-Help Can’t Get You MOJO


April 13, 2010

by Marshall Goldsmith

In my work, the most frequent question I hear is: “What is the one quality that differentiates truly successful people from everyone else?” My answer is always the same: Successful people spend a large part of their lives engaging in activities that simultaneously provide meaning and happiness.

In other words, truly successful people have what I call mojo. The twin goals of meaning and happiness are what govern my operational definition: MOJO is that positive spirit toward what we are doing now that starts from the inside and radiates to the outside. Our mojo is evident when the good feelings we have toward what we are doing come from inside us and are apparent for everyone else to see. There is no gap between the positive way we perceive ourselves—and how we are perceived by others. Of course, the only person who can define meaning and happiness for you is you, and my goal in writing my most recent book, MOJO, is to help people define and achieve it.

An exercise you can do easily is to ask yourself after a typical activity that you do every day: How happy was I? How meaningful was it? Rate your answers on a 1-to-10 scale. There are no right or wrong answers, and this is not a one-time test. This is something you can do for a few days, and you will find that patterns emerge. You’ll soon see areas where you have strong mojo and where you have weak mojo. Once you see the patterns, you may ask yourself: “Is this really what I should be doing?”

Enlisting a Friend

Measuring your mojo is not a simple task, and even though it’s very personal, it is not something you should feel obligated to do alone. This is probably the most important piece of advice I can give you. If you want to improve your performance at almost anything, your odds of success improve considerably the moment you enlist someone else to help you.

I know this from personal experience, because for several years I have enlisted the help of a friend, Jim Moore, in achieving my own personal goals. Every day, no matter where either of us is in the world, we try to connect by phone so Jim can ask me a series of questions. They’re important day-to-day lifestyle questions, such as: “Did you say or do anything nice for Lyda [your wife]?” “How much do you weigh?” or “How many minutes did you write?” Jim happens to be an esteemed expert in leadership development, but his qualifications for this ritual rest more on the fact that he’s a friend who’s genuinely interested in helping me and will always make himself available for our daily phone call.

Each question has to be answered with a yes, no, or a number. I record the results on an Excel spreadsheet and at the end of the week get an assessment of how well I’m sticking to my objectives. (I return the favor by asking Jim a series of questions about what matters to him.) Here are a few of my daily questions. I recommend you start with similar questions and expand to your own list of 20-25 questions.

1. How happy were you today? (1-10)

2. How meaningful was your day? (1-10)

3. How many angry or destructive comments did you make?

4. How many hours did you sleep?

5. How many minutes did you spend walking?

The results have been astonishing. After the first 18 months of adhering to this ritual, Jim and I both weighed exactly what we wanted to weigh, exercised more, and got more done (and I am nicer to my wife). As an experiment, we quit for about a year to see what would happen. Each of us put the weight back on and failed to achieve nearly as much—a result that was both predictable and depressing—and sent us rushing back to the program, where we resumed hitting our targets immediately. I was never unhappy, but my life seems happier and more meaningful to me when I use this process.

(To see my daily questions and Jim’s daily questions, and to get an article describing this process, go to

The lesson is clear: We don’t have to rely on self-help.