How do you get rich? Here's what 177 self-made millionaires told me

Each day a tree will grow a little more. It's impossible to see the changes caused by that growth on a day to day basis. But if you fast-forward ten years and compare pictures of the old tree to the new tree, the change would be obvious and significant.

Self-made millionaires are really no different than trees. Each day, they do small things that inch them closer and closer to success. It's impossible to see the benefits of doing those small things on a day to day basis. But, if you fast-forward 10 years and compare pictures of the non-millionaire to the millionaire, the change would be obvious and significant.

Most people, however, only see the picture of the millionaire standing on top of his or her mountain of success. They marvel at the wealth and achievement, and they desperately want to know the secret. "How did you become rich?" is the question everyone wants answered.

That's the question I asked back in 2004 when I began a five year study on the daily activities of 233 rich people, including 177 who were self-made, and 128 poor people. I later published my findings as my Rich Habits Study.

In my Rich Habits Study, I asked each millionaire 144 questions in order to find out their "secrets to success" and I then shared my findings in various books I wrote, the most famous one being "Rich Habits."

If you were to ask my group of self-made millionaires how they got so rich, here is what they would say:

I did the following things, every day, that enabled me to grow into the person I needed to be in order to acquire wealth:

  • I read to learn every day for 30 minutes or more
  • I kept in constant touch with influencers and I built strong relationships with them over the past 10 years. Eventually, those influencers helped open doors for me
  • I honed, improved and deliberately practiced my skills every day, and I also sought feedback from others who watched and evaluated me as I performed those skills
  • I listened to and followed the advice of mentors who helped me during the pursuit of my dream and my goals
  • I exercised aerobically every day for 30 minutes or more, so I could keep my body and brain strong. My strong body enabled me to work long hours, and my strong mind enabled me to find creative solutions to problems and overcome numerous obstacles
  • I ate healthy every day, which helped my body and brain function at a higher level
  • When I encountered problems or obstacles, I focused on solving those problems and overcoming those obstacles. Oftentimes, this need to focus required that I sacrifice time with my family and friends
  • I worked hard every day to maintain a positive mental outlook, especially when things were not going my way. I was able to do this because I knew exactly where I was going. I had a clear vision of my destination and that kept me focused on doing the work I needed to do in order get there. My positive outlook helped keep me focused on seeking and finding solutions to my problems. Positivity made me a problem-solver. Negativity, I learned, made me nothing but a problem-finder.
  • I spent less than I earned and then invested my savings prudently. Because I had savings, I was able to take advantage of opportunities that came along
  • I did my homework before taking risks. I knew every conceivable outcome and had a plan in place to deal with every scenario, including worst-case scenarios
  • I focused on a specific goal every day until I achieved that goal. Then I set another goal and pursued that goal. Eventually, I achieved all of the goals that helped me realize my dreams
  • I always sought to exceed the expectations of everyone I did business with. This helped build confidence and trust and this generated more business and more revenue
  • I controlled my emotions and tried to remain on an even keel when dealing with others. No one, I learned, wants to do business with someone who is not in control of their emotions. As a result, more people wanted to do business with me
  • I was careful how I spoke to others. I refused to curse or use language that offended anyone because I didn't want to damage any valuable relationships I had devoted many years to building
  • I treated everyone with the respect they deserved. Those that treated me poorly, I refused to do business with. Those that treated me with the respect I deserved, I did more business with
  • I limited my exposure to toxic, negative people. They just drag you down and infect you with their negativity, which undermines your ability to creatively find solutions to problems and overcome obstacles

There are many more things the millionaires in my study would be happy to share. Unfortunately, most people would stop listening. These millionaires would lose their audience half-way into their list of "secrets."

The sad truth is that most people are looking for a speeding train they can ride up the mountain of success. When people say they want to know the secrets to success, most really only want to know the short cuts. They want something that will guarantee them success in a very short period of time. They definitely don't want to listen to a boring list of what are, essentially, daily habits.

But the reality is, the secrets to success are the boring things you do every day that nudge you inch by inch up the long, steep mountain of success.

Consistency in doing those little things keeps you growing and moving forward in the realization of your dreams and achievement of your goals.

The mundane, routine things you must do to become successful are, quite frankly, not exciting "secrets." They are boring habits. But they are boring habits that all but guarantee long-term success and its byproduct, wealth.

Tom Corley is an accountant, financial planner and author of "Rich Kids: How to Raise Our Children to Be Happy and Successful in Life."

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