top of page

The Three Traits of Success

The Three Traits of Success

By Lauren Evans


Amy Chua and Jen Rubenfeld, professors at Yale Law School and the authors of the forthcoming book, “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America,” wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times on January 25th, 2014. Their piece was interesting and educational, and it inspired me to write an article on how the three traits also affect athletic performance.

I would highly suggest reading their article: What Drives Success?


According to Chua and Rubenfeld, “It turns out that … the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success. The first is a superiority complex – a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite – insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.”

This was a revelation to me, as the professors were able to break down success into three traits. In making connections to successful athlete, I’d like to address this revelation in its three parts.


Superiority Complex


The athlete has to truly believe that she (or her team) is, at the end of the day, superior to any competition. There are several ways in which the athlete can consider herself superior.


The first way is simple and doesn’t need much explanation. It is that the athlete is better physically than the competition.


Secondly, the athlete could consider herself mentally superior than the competition. Maybe she is naturally more confident in her ability, or maybe she has spent hours practicing and working on her mental game.


Finally, the successful athlete often has a belief system that she believes is superior. This drives her to success over her competition. Often, she is competing in the name of her religious beliefs, or she could be fighting for her family, friends, or a charity that is important to her. She does not want to let her belief system, friend, family, or charity down as she believes what she is fighting for is simply more important than her competitor’s belief system.


Have you ever heard of “God Gear?” My friend, Esther Erb, used this to win the NCAA Division III 10K in 2008. As the final lap bell rang, she turned to prayer to propel her past her competitors and win the race. Prayer gave her the superior feeling and support she needed to hang on and kick through the finish line.




“The future is promised to no one,” Wayne Dyer.


This was one of my favorite quotes to pull out of my tennis bag at critical times during my matches in college. One time, I was playing a critical match when I was up 5-4 in the second set. We were playing UC Santa Barbara my freshman year of college, and the team score was tied 3-3. It all came down to my match. The opponent was equal to or better than me in ability. I remembered pulling this quote out of my tennis bag during the change of sides and reviewing it in my head. I repeated it to myself over and over as I went for big first and second serves, and narrowly managed to close out the set, match, and dual match for my team, giving us the “W.”


The sense of insecurity helped me realize the value of every thought, shot, and point in this particular match. I didn’t take anything for granted. Instead of relaxing since I had gotten the lead and feeling like I could easily close out the match, my insecurity told me that I had to win every single point possible in order to win the match.


In an athlete’s day-to-day life, there are many “little things” that must be done right in order to gain the edge and continue to stomp the competition. Whereas a superiority complex may lead us to feel complacent about certain things (like having an extra helping of ice cream or waking up later and skimping on dynamic stretching, nutrition, and mental preparation for a morning run), insecurity lets us know that we really have to go out and prove ourselves each day. The thought “it is never good enough”–no matter how uncomfortable and stressful–is a great driver to succeed.


The athlete knows that there is always someone out there who could be training harder or who is preparing better than she is, and thus there are no guarantees. The athlete has to work as hard as possible and be as disciplined as possible in order to succeed. The future truly is promised to no one.


Impulse Control


The final trait is impulse control. This is a commitment to and an understanding of delayed gratification. In the context of the athlete, impulse control would be the example of George, an EFAST athlete, turning down the opportunity to go for a group run because he has to recover from a calf injury that has recently flared up, no matter how much he wants to run with his friends.


In another example, perhaps the athlete chooses to forego a night of partying in order to stay home and prepare his wardrobe and his body for a long ride the next day.


Finally, the athlete with impulse control is the athlete that can stick to the race plan that will work for him even though an arch-rival surges ahead in the beginning few hundred meters of an open water swim race.




It would be interesting to study the ethnic and cultural groups that the authors of this opinion piece highlight as currently having the three success traits to make them successful in this country. Do the ethnic groups that are considered successful overall currently also succeed equally well in athletics? I would hypothesize that the answer is a yes. For now, though, it is clear that the three major indicators of success as highlighted by the authors, superiority complex, a sense of insecurity, and impulse control, all translate to the athletic realm just as well as they do in regular life.

bottom of page