If you want to reach those big goals, you’re gonna have to get comfortable with a degree of discomfort.
Pushing yourself to your limits and then exceeding those limits is not painless. It requires trial and error, failure and success.
And know that that’s the only way to get there. There are no shortcuts.
Most of all, it requires showing up every single day. No matter what you’ve got going on in your life that might make you feel like now’s not a good time.
If you’ve ever started doing something and then stopped because you felt like you just couldn’t get started or didn’t know what to focus on, this is for you.
Yesterday you said tomorrow.
The best view comes after the hardest climb
Mozart didn’t produce anything that became popular until he’d been composing for 10 years.
Michelangelo spent 4 years painting the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel before it was finished.
John Hanke spent 20 years creating Pokémon Go before it got over 10 million downloads in the first week after being published.
If you look at the most successful people in any given field – artists, athletes, academics – you’ll see that they have one thing in common: putting an extraordinary amount of hours into honing their skills before reaching the kind of mastery that gave them undying fame.
Top-level performers always find a way to get the work done.
How they happen to feel on any given day, has nothing to do with needing to get the job done.
They do their job anyway.
When they experience resistance or difficulty, they don’t let it phase them because they have learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
It’s this which allows them to be consistent in their efforts and how great achievements become a byproduct of their efforts.
When you always show up, no matter what you’ve got going on in your life, day after day, week after week, year after year, amazing results become inevitable.
How to work through the resistance
When you set yourself a task, any task, you’ll experience some level of resistance.
Some days and for some tasks, it’s just a minor feeling of ugh – a small resistance or stray thought.
Other days, you motivate yourself with big rewards for finishing the task first.
Like promising yourself you’ll order in if you first clean the kitchen.
And sometimes it’s just complete chaos and you can’t even get the smallest, simplest things done.
Because your thoughts float away from you like letters in alphabet soup and you fail to articulate even the simplest of ideas.
When your mind keeps thinking of anything and everything, that isn’t the task at hand, your progress is slow or non-existent.
You reach new, before unimagined levels of procrastination.
And feel like time has slowed down to a crawl and materialised as an all-encompassing jelly that envelops you as you inch towards the end of the day.
It’s easy to give up at this point. To just go, “F*ck it!”, and walk away. Tell yourself that you’ll just wait for inspiration to strike before doing it.
And that’s exactly when your progress grinds to a screeching halt.
Any kind of results you’d hoped to achieve become pipe dreams. And you tell yourself that someday, you’ll get around to doing it.
Because inspiration doesn’t come to those who wait. It comes to those who act.
What you should be doing is showing up. Every. Single. Day.
And doing the work even when you don’t feel like it. Even when the work you do manage that day isn’t anywhere near as good as you’d like it to be. Even when you make tons of mistakes.
It doesn’t matter how you feel about it. What’s important is that you put in the work.
That discomfort that you can easily take as a sign to quit – “this is too difficult”, “I’m in over my head” or “I’m not cut out to do this” – needs to become a trigger for mental resistance training.
Like ‘wax on, wax off’, but for your mind
Because resistance is an opportunity for you to send your mind to the gym. We tend to see adversity as an obstacle preventing us from achieving our goals.
But really, it’s getting over that hump that makes all the difference.
And I get it; practicing mental toughness is a challenge without any triggers. If you can just chill, why bother?
But if you don’t train when you get the chance to do it with the small stuff, how’re ya gonna get through the big stuff?
Because every small opportunity you grab to push yourself just a little more, in big and small ways, the more adept you’ll become at withstanding discomfort, big or small.
And making small incremental change is easier than doing a big massive overhaul every time.
Sat down to write but can’t get a single word down and now you feel like walking away entirely?
Choosing to push through that discomfort, that looming fear of being a failure, at this moment matters.
Rack up the small mind-workouts and soon you’ll find that you’ve shown up and done the work enough times to have an entire book written. Or you now know how to execute a flawless backflip. Or you can run 12 miles and not die. Or give up social media for a week without FOMO.
Whenever you feel that resistance rearing its head as you need to do something, it’s your choice whether to send your mind to the gym or not.
Of course, I’m not saying that you should push through when you genuinely need to rest.
If your body is telling you to take a break then the dishes, the laundry, the vacuuming, the gym, all of that, can wait.
And even then, when you’re tired and need rest, mental resistance training can be to abstain from all those things that are just waiting for you to come and get them done.
Learning to be comfortable with a messy house when I need a break was one of the best things I trained myself to do. Typically, I’d jump in and start rage cleaning the minute I got home, even if I was exhausted.
Now I know that the mess will still be there tomorrow and that I’ll only do myself a disservice by pushing too hard.
1) Recognise and embrace the resistance
Whenever you’re about to start a task, stop and observe how you’re feeling. When you feel resistance, consider why. Let your thoughts and feelings come, label them and let go of them.
And then go do the task anyway.
If it’s just a small feeling of resistance, it should be easy to get over. If it’s an all-encompassing feeling of resistance, it’s a good idea to evaluate where it’s coming from and what it’s telling you.
Do you need a break? Do you need to change something to make the doing of the task easier? Is this the right thing to be doing in the first place?
The last one is something I’m often faced with in running a small business and an overwhelming feeling of resistance when running online ads led me to a decision that it isn’t right for me.
I’m still putting in the work, just not pouring effort into ads anymore.
Lesson to learn? Work smarter, not harder.
2) Measure progress, not perfection
Don’t let your expectation of perfection hold you back.
Because there is no such thing as perfect.
And trying to measure perfect is a waste of your time, effort and motivation. Instead, you need to be measuring progress – big and small.
You can start with the smaller things that feel easy to do to get the ball rolling before tackling the bigger stuff.
It’s like warming up before strenuous exercise – otherwise you’ll just pull a muscle.
When I feel like my to-do list is overwhelming, I add small items to the list. Such as, ‘drink water’, ’empty the dishwasher’, ‘eat lunch’ and ‘dance around to Toto’s Africa‘.
Doing the small things helps build momentum I need to keep going through the big stuff.
Achieving your long-term goals takes a long time.
And if you can’t see the progress you’re making, you’ll think you’re not making any and get demotivated.
Document your progress – keep a learning journal, take photos, make videos – do anything to provide future-you with a comparison point to look back on.
It’s the only way to see how far you’ve come.
3) Keep raising the bar
When you want to get better at something, it’s important that you constantly keep raising the bar.
Like in limbo, you make incremental changes and demand just that bit more. Don’t drop the bar all the way to the floor and expect to make it through.
Every time you show up to do the work, add a little bit to your goal or challenge and keep pushing your limits further and further.
4) Define what success looks like to you
This is one of those things that’s so easy to forget.
But if you don’t define what success looks like to you, how will you know when to stop?
Sit down and actually define what factors define success for you.
- What do you actually want to have achieved at the end of the process?
- What does success in achieving those goals look like for you? How does your everyday life look different as a result?
- Would achieving those things make you happier or more fulfilled than you are now?
And did you know that you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down?
Doesn’t that make you wanna write down every single damned thing you wanna accomplish?!
Journaling is a great way to get regular at setting and reviewing your goals and progress. If you haven’t already, now’s a great time to pick up a journaling habit.
5) Review your progress
Make time to regularly review your progress.
What’s regular for you depends on what you’re doing and how often you feel it’s helpful to review.
It can be daily, weekly, bi-monthly, monthly, quarterly, bi-annually, yearly – whatever suits the goal you’re working on.
If you notice that you haven’t made as much progress as you’d hoped in your review, think about why that is.
Try to work out what’s keeping you from achieving that goal and what you can do in the future to make it happen.
This free Closing My Day journaling printable is an amazing tool for this process.
I based it on key principles from optimistic thinking – and how that affects your brain chemistry – as well as pedagogic practices that encourage critical thinking.
And you don’t just have to use it at the end of the day, you can use it at the end of the week or end of a project too.
6) Celebrate the small wins
Every time you celebrate a victory, whether it’s big or small, you’re reinforcing the good behaviour you did.
Even when you don’t reach a bigger goal, but make progress, it’s important that you celebrate it and reward yourself for the effort you put in.
The good news is that you can celebrate in any way that feels meaningful to you.
But make sure that you genuinely throw a little mini-party, not just withhold things you normally enjoy until you finish a task because that registers in your brain as a punishment and makes you resent doing the task more.
Instead, think of the celebrations as a little jar of sunshine. Every little victory dance and power pose you add to the jar fill it up further.
And an ever-increasing sense of accomplishment that spurs your motivation will get you to even bigger goals than you can imagine right now.
Besides, since there’s no shortcut to achieving your goals, and working hard and going beyond your comfort zone is part and parcel of it, you might as well enjoy the journey.