Your best work needs to be done when you least feel like doing it. This is one of the most important concepts I’ve come across in a long time. I’ll get back to this idea in a moment.

The other day, I was having a conversation with two successful and hardworking business owners. We got into a lengthy conversation regarding what truly motivates each of us to continue to work hard to grow our businesses. And, we talked about why each of us has chosen to stay in the game. We discussed why we think a lot of business owners never achieve the success they say they want and what has prevented each of us in the past from achieving bigger success. It was an enlightening conversation with two people I trust and admire.

In full disclosure, the two people I was with are not run-of-the-mill business owners. One fellow, Avi Smith-Rapaport, the CEO of We Care Computers, is also a frequent Iron Man competitor. The other fellow, a financial advisor (withholding his name because compliance is brutal in their world), is one of the most financially successful people that I’ve ever met. All three of us enjoy competition in business and life. We all run races like Iron Man, Tough Mudder, and Ragnar. And, the three of us are always helping one another work on our businesses. The conversation we had was important enough that I thought I needed to share it.

The conclusion we came to resonated so well that, if you remember nothing else from this article, please remember this: Success equals pain.

Choose the Pain of Success

Our financial advisor friend likes to say, “You need to work like a servant to live like a king.” There’s no possible way around it if you’re serious about being successful in your business. But here’s the most important part: The pain can be pain of your choosing that leads you to a result or it can be pain imposed on you by the outside world by not achieving your goals. Let me explain…

Sometimes, a long race can be so exhausting that you can begin to hallucinate, throw up, or worse. It can feel like your legs are burning and you can’t possibly go any further. During a race, you spend time thinking about how you got yourself into this stupid situation to begin with. You feel like you’re losing your breath and, at times, you become certain that you’re never going to make it.

Then something amazing happens. You suddenly see the finish line up ahead of you. When you’re finishing that last 200 ft. (in racing, we call it “the chute”), it’s one of the most incredible feelings in the world. All the training, pain, and effort is now worthwhile and the psychological feeling of accomplishment is unlike any other. The same holds true when we create significant achievements in our businesses.

There are a few major obstacles, however, when it comes to training for a race or growing a business. The toughest of these obstacles is that our brains don’t like pain and stress very much, whether it’s mental or physical. Our brains want to do all it can to avoid pain, danger, and stressful situations. It doesn’t know the difference between real danger and self-induced pain. Your brain only knows that it wants to keep you alive and safe. This is the major reason we typically don’t follow through on what we say we’re going to do. The pain (or perceived pain) stops us from taking action.

Choose What Makes You Feel Alive

The best way to get past this is to decide what is genuinely going to make you feel alive. Don’t allow your subconscious to dictate what makes you feel alive. Decide what is so compelling to you that you’ll work for it, regardless of what your brain is telling you. Recognize when those feelings of pain or discouragement or stress are starting to take hold. Ask yourself everyday why you’re doing what you’re doing. Examine your vision, your goals, your personal desires, all of it every day.

I could write pages talking about the power of our subconscious. For these purposes, just try to recognize when it’s not serving you or even pulling you away from your goals.

I’ve noticed a few other things over and over that prevent people from working through the pain to their desired outcomes.

There’s a strange phenomenon with several business owners I’ve worked with over the past 15 years, which is the need to be the smartest kid in the class. Here’s what I mean: We’ve worked with people whose need to prove their intelligence far outweighs their need to get results. They’ll spend more time trying to get you to recognize their brilliance than actually working on their businesses. For them, the thought of trying something and failing is far worse than doing nothing. It’s a different form of pain getting in the way but, nonetheless, that’s what it is.

Probably the most obvious reason people allow the pain to stop them from achieving results is that the goals aren’t compelling enough. If we don’t have strong enough reasons to do what we’re doing, the pain and procrastination will win every time. We can try to convince ourselves and think positive thoughts. We don’t necessarily always need to love what we’re doing. Sometimes training or building a business can be downright difficult and unpleasant, which is an even stronger reason to be fully engaged and compelled by what you’re doing. Please don’t underestimate the importance of this.

Choose Not to Fear Fear

A major fear factor also prevents many people from working through the pain to achieve their desired outcomes. You might be thinking to yourself: Why would someone be fearful of success? It sounds counterintuitive. Yet, we can be fearful that we might succeed rather than fail. We might be fearful of being “found out.” We might be fearful that the lives we’re comfortable with will change if we’re successful. We might be fearful that we’re not worthy of success. We could be fearful that success will mean we have to work 100 hours a week. The human psyche is amazing and complex.

Here’s the problem: When we let any of these factors get in the way, we don’t avoid pain at all. In fact, we probably feel more pain and frustration. The most insidious part is that this type of pain tears us down, makes us doubt ourselves, and prevents us from taking action. It’s pain that’s induced by the outside world and our feeling of knowing we’re not putting in our best effort. When the pain and stress is because of something you’re proactively pursuing, it feels entirely different. It motivates you. It compels you to be stronger and more resilient. It makes you a better performer.

We also need to remind ourselves that, if we’re not willing to experience the pain and discomfort of pursuing success, we need to quit complaining about our lack of results.

Choose to Pursue Your Goals

Here are a few methods that have worked for me to continue to pursue my goals, even when the pain is pressing:

  • Keep in mind, every single day, that the pain of failure is considerably worse than the pain of success. For me, there is almost no worse pain in the world than the pain of being an underachiever. Remind yourself each day why you do what you do.
  • Set yourself up for small wins. People like to talk about “stretch goals” and the like. The way you’ll achieve greater success and enjoy the pain more is to set yourself up to win, not fail. Set yourself up for small victories every day. These victories should be things you need to work hard for but that, with the right effort, you can achieve. Psychological wins are amazingly powerful.
  • Be crystal clear about why you do what you do. Always pursue the goals of your choosing, not just because they are expedient, easy, or imposed by someone else. Under these circumstances, you’ll never work through the pain.
  • Put everything into daily rituals. Make things so that you don’t have to consciously consider them each day but instead they are just part of your daily routine. This could be exercise, business development, working on relationships, or a litany of other things. When you put things into a daily ritual, you’re much less likely to let the behaviors drop off.
  • Embrace the suck. Sometimes getting up at 5:15 a.m. to go to the gym downright sucks. It’s in those times, we feel the best when we actually put in the effort. As I mentioned earlier, you need to do your best work when you least feel like doing it.

If you’re truly serious about wanting to be successful, you need to be completely serious about your willingness to work through pain. Choose your pain or your pain will choose you.

About the Author
Michael Keiser is Co-Founder of coaching, marketing, and advisory company The E Circle.

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Read our interview: Entrepreneur Co-Founds Business Advisory Startup.

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