We all have goals and dreams, but it can be difficult to stick with them.
Each week, I hear from people who say things like, “I start with good intentions, but I can’t seem to maintain my consistency for a long period of time.”
Or, they will say, “I struggle with mental endurance. I get started but I can’t seem to follow through and stay focused for very long.”
Don’t worry. I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else.
For example, I’ll start one project, work on it for a little bit, then lose focus and try something else. And then I’ll lose focus on my new goal and try something else. And on and on. When everything is said and done, I’ve stopped and started so many times that I never really made much progress.
Maybe you have felt this way too.
This problem reminds me of a lesson I learned while working out one day…
The Myth of Passion and Motivation
On this particular day in the gym, there was a coach visiting who had worked with thousands of athletes over his long career, including some nationally-ranked athletes and Olympians.
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I had just finished my workout when I asked him, “What’s the difference between the best athletes and everyone else. What do the really successful people do that most people don’t?”
He briefly mentioned the things that you might expect. Genetics. Luck. Talent.
But then he said something I wasn’t expecting.
“At some point,” he said, “it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day and doing the same lifts over and over and over again.”
That piece of advice surprised me because it’s a different way of thinking about work ethic.
Most of the time people talk about getting motivated and “amped up” to work on their goals. Whether it’s business or sports or art, you will commonly hear people say things like, “it all comes down to having enough passion.”
As a result, I think many people get depressed when they lose focus or motivation because they think that successful people have some unstoppable passion and willpower that they seem to be missing. But that’s exactly the opposite of what this coach was saying.
Instead, he was saying that really successful people feel the same boredom and the same lack of motivation that everyone else feels. They don’t have some magic pill that makes them feel ready and inspired every day. But the difference is that the people who stick with their goals don’t let their emotions determine their actions. Top performers still find a way to show up, to work through the boredom, and to embrace the daily practice that is required to achieve their goals.
According to him, it’s this ability to do the work when it’s not easy that separates the top performers from everyone else. That’s the difference between professionals and amateurs.
Working When Work Isn’t Easy
Anyone can work hard when they feel motivated.
When I was an athlete, I loved going to practice the week after a big win. Who wouldn’t? Your coach is happy, your teammates are pumped up, and you feel like you can beat anyone. As an entrepreneur, I love working when customers are rolling in and things are going well. Getting results has a way of propelling you forward.
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But what about when you’re bored? What about when the work isn’t easy? What about when it feels like nobody is paying attention or you’re not getting the results you want?
Are you willing to work through 10 years of silence?
It’s the ability to work when work isn’t easy that makes the difference.
It’s Not the Event, It’s the Process
All too often, we think our goals are all about the result. We see success as an event that can be achieved and completed.
Here are some common examples…
- Many people see health as an event: “If I just lose 20 pounds, then I’ll be in shape.”
- Many people see entrepreneurship as an event: “If we could get our business featured in the New York Times, then we’d be set.”
- Many people see art as an event: “If I could just get my work featured in a bigger gallery, then I’d have the credibility I need.”
Those are just a few of the many ways that we categorize success as a single event.
But if you look at the people who are consistently achieving their goals, you start to realize that it’s not the events or the results that make them different. It’s their commitment to the process. They fall in love with the daily practice, not the individual event.
What’s funny, of course, is that this focus on the process is what will allow you to enjoy the results anyway…
If you want to be a great writer, then having a best-selling book is wonderful. But the only way to reach that result is to fall in love with the process of writing.
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If you want the world to know about your business, then it would be great to be featured in Forbes magazine. But the only way to reach that result is to fall in love with the process of marketing.
If you want to be in the best shape of your life, then losing 20 pounds might be necessary. But the only way to reach that result is to fall in love with the process of eating healthy and exercising consistently.
If you want to become significantly better at anything, you have to fall in love with the process of doing it. You have to fall in love with building the identity of someone who does the work, rather than merely dreaming about the results that you want.
In other words…
Fall in love with boredom. Fall in love with repetition and practice. Fall in love with the process of what you do and let the results take care of themselves.
A version of this post appeared on James Clear’s blog, where he writes about habits, behavioral psychology, and performance improvement.