The Psychology of Success: Lessons from Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg

The Psychology of Success: Lessons from Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

What can Mark Zuckerberg and Barack Obama teach us about success?

A lot, considering how much they have already achieved in their time. Their career trajectories, although wildly different, seem to converge at an interesting point – their choice of wardrobe.

The former President tends to opt for a gray or blue suit for his public appearances.

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits, I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” Barack Obama.

The Facebook CEO wears the same gray t. shirt to work.

“I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.” Mark Zuckerberg.

Now, although we can not claim that the clothes made the man in either of these circumstances, there’s an important lesson that we can learn from them both.

It all boils down to what psychologists call “decision fatigue.”

“Making decisions uses the very same willpower that you use to say no to doughnuts, drugs or illicit sex,” says Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University. “It’s the same willpower that you use to be polite or to wait your turn or to drag yourself out of bed or to hold off going to the bathroom. Your ability to make the right investment or hiring decision may be reduced simply because you expended some of your willpower earlier when you held your tongue in response to someone’s offensive remark or when you exerted yourself to get to the meeting on time.”

Much like physical fatigue, your mental muscle wears out with continued exertion throughout the day. The difference is, you may not feel mentally exhausted at all, until you do something out of character, procrastinate until it’s too late, or decide not to act altogether.

So what can we do then? How do we conserve our brain power and use it for the more crucial decisions?

One good strategy is to complete the most important or difficult tasks of the day first thing in the morning, while your mental energy is still at maximum capacity.

Additionally, you can have rules or systems in place for the things that you do on a daily or repetitive basis. Find what works and stick with it.

Finally, ask for recommendations from your friends or professionals. No matter what you’re dealing with, there’s a good chance someone out there has been through it and emerged victorious or learnt some priceless lessons, so ask around and see what you find, and always remember, “don’t sweat the small stuff!”


  1. The New York Times
  2. Vanity Fair
  3. Business Insider
  4. Wikimedia Commons


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