Modeling Begets Success—But Context Is Everything

Fri, Feb 9, 2024

Modeling is one of the surest ways to success.

Find someone who has done what you want and model their behavior. The closer they are to your formula (starting point, context, endpoint), the better.

However, there’s a fatal flaw in this plan you need to be aware of first.

People need to improve at taking inventory of what got them to where they are. Time exacerbates this problem greatly: The longer a successful journey, the more porous a reverse-engineered roadmap. Take that and add in the human propensity for recency bias…


Even the most effective models will yield only a few roadmaps.

If you ask what made them successful, they’ll give you what’s working for them now.

The obvious issue is you need to be where they are now. You want what worked for them when they were where you are.

This is one of the most extensive recipes for failure in pursuing goals in general. We try to “keep up” with the people who have already achieved what we want. This is an impossible task. Remember: Even they couldn’t have kept up with their current pace when they started.


The key is working with that person and investing in narrative decomposition.

The problem is that people need to remember their journey’s nuances and intricacies better. Much of what worked for them in the past has since been discarded and left behind.

What got them from “step 1” (where you are) to “step 2” (the next phase of evolution) couldn’t get them to “step 3” and beyond, so they discarded it as non-functional. Help them remember that it was functional at one point so they’re better equipped to guide you with the what and how.

Fitness is the most straightforward example of this. If you want to be 4% body fat and are currently 40% body fat, you don’t want to model your 4% friend’s workout today. You want to find someone who went from 40% to 4% and figure out what they did to go from 40% to 30%. Then do that.

Sure, it seems obvious when we’re just talking about it…


But I can’t tell you how often I’ve found myself modeling behavior that didn’t apply to my phase in the journey.

It isn’t enough to model success; you must model success in context.

Context is everything.

So, the next time you’re working with a mentor, coach, or even just a friend trying to help you achieve your goals, make sure you’re both considering the context.

What are some lessons you’ve learned from modeling successful people? I’d love to know!