As discussed earlier this month, business is a game involving stress, resistance, uncertainty, and discomfort. Success is as much about coping with these unsettling factors as it is about achieving goals.
How Bad Do You Want it? Mastering the Psychology of Mind Over Muscle by Matt Fitzgerald is a book about endurance athletes that taught me more about entrepreneurship in 265 pages than I’d learned after tens of thousands of dollars worth of training and seven years of experience. It’s that relevant to what we do, and I highly recommend you go get a copy right now.
Fitzgerald teaches two very important lessons for our purposes: coping techniques and perception of effort.
Perception of effort is how hard you feel like you’re working. When someone says, “I can’t do this for one more day,” it’s not literal. The individual is sharing their sense of how hard they feel like they’re working under difficult circumstances.
“Perception of effort is the feeling of activity in the brain that stimulates work; it is not the feeling of work itself.”—Matt Fitzgerald
And what I love about perception of effort is that it can be hacked. In fitness, the more you work out, the easier the workout becomes. Why? Because the fitter you get, the easier the workout feels. The effort remains the same (same routine, same exertion, same time) while your perception of effort greatly decreases. The easier it feels, the more you can tolerate, the better you perform.
Now, here’s how all of this applies to business. We cannot change the fact that there will be resistance, uncertainty, and discomfort going forward. We can, however, employ effective coping methods that will favorably change perception of effort toward these matters.
5 Coping Techniques
There are countless coping methods to explore in How Bad Do You Want It?, but I’ve narrowed them down to my favorite five for entrepreneurship.
#1 Find the Flow
Flow is what happens when you dive into the work and completely lose sight of everything else. It’s a wavelength of creation that’s free of all distractions or emotional static. It’s a clear channel of production, in which you’re tuned in and everything outside of the task is turned off.
Flow is a beautiful state of laser-focused attention that results in significant progress or improvement of skill.
The best way to fabricate flow in online business is to time-block your working hours, using a method similar to the Pomodoro Technique (25 minutes of focused work separated by short breaks, developed by Francesco Cirillo). I call mine “powerblocks,” and I set a timer for anywhere from 50-90 minutes, depending on the task.
I lengthened my powerblocks (up from 25 minutes) because I found that it took me 10-15 minutes to tune everything out and achieve the flow state, only to be interrupted 10 minutes later when the traditional Pomodoro timer went off. I start at 25-minute intervals and increase them over time until I figure out what works best for any given project.
By definition, there can be no distractions during the flow state. The point is to forget yourself, and the world around you, and attend to the task at hand.
“Endurance athletes describe the flow state as one in which they seem to become the thing they are doing.”—Matt Fitzgerald
It’s not that you think more clearly in flow; it is as though you’re not thinking at all. Instead, you become a clear channel of pure production. It is undiluted action at its finest. It’s empowerment in the form of progress, and eventually completion.
This state cannot be achieved if your phone’s going off every 10 minutes because you’re simultaneously texting with a friend while you work. This dedicated stream of production does not run in the background while you check Facebook. It can only occur when you are 100% present for it.
This coping method is the difference between getting spun up thinking about the work and actually doing it.
#2 Refine the Pace
Around the time I started in online business (almost 10 years ago), I took up running as an outlet to help with all of the pent up energy, nerves, and excitement that come with the job. Within a year, I increased my speed and endurance so that I could run several miles, at pace. Like Forrest Gump,
From that day on,
if I was going somewhere,
I was running.
I fell in love with the movement, like freedom on the wings, and I was so proud of how fast I’d become on my feet. When I spotted another runner on the road, the competitive nature in me would kick in, and I would surge forward to take the lead and show off my speed. I was so excited to have someone to race that my heart would start pounding, my breath would shallow, I’d lose speed and start sucking air.
That’s called choking, and it’s the exact opposite of flow.
From How Bad Do You Want It?, “If choking is a condition of heightened self-consciousness that intensifies perceived effort and hampers endurance performance, then its opposite would be [flow] a mental state in which self-consciousness disappears, reducing perceived effort and boosting performance.”
In other words, rather than finding the flow and enjoying the run, my heightened awareness of racing caused me to choke.
The same thing happens in business.
How many times have you leapt into action, gung-ho on a new idea, only to completely abandon it days later? Most people attempt to change in brief fits and spurts of motivation. They enter the race at the fastest speeds, in a state of extreme self-consciousness, impede the flow, and ultimately hinder their desired results.
Instead (and like an endurance athlete), you need to find the most aggressive pace that can be sustained over time. I want you to refine your pace by creating a schedule that allows you to methodically chip away at your workload rather than maniacally chase deadlines and demand.
You also need a rhythm of production and completion. By employing this coping method, you will train yourself to complete one project before starting another (because you do it way more often than you realize!).
#3 Compete to Add Fuel
I won’t lie; I have played the comparison game plenty of times throughout my career. We’ve all compared ourselves to others, to see how we stack up. Worse yet, we all keep talking about the comparison game and how it plagues us in online business, but what we should be asking is,
Why do we all feel so compelled to compare in the first place?
The fact of the matter is, we are struggling collectively, but for reasons unknown, we each insist on going about it alone. Instead of becoming a growing industry, we stubbornly maintain our individual proprietorship. Instead of creating systems for coping, each of us shares the “perfect face” of our singular achievements. We lack connection, we crave teamwork.
We embark on the comparison game for reasons innocent enough. At the heart of the search, we’re seeking camaraderie, someone to relate to our plight. However, when we fail to connect (because we all hide our shadow sides), it compounds the very struggle we set out to resolve.
Here’s how the game looks on me. When I’m not getting anything done, I look around at what everyone else is doing, which in turn conjures up a wide variety of emotions: resentment, superiority, jealousy, envy, and contempt. I dwell there for a bit. It’s entirely unproductive. It results in shame. It triggers panic. It’s an unhealthy cycle (and everybody does it sometimes).
On the other hand, when I’m fighting the good fight and working diligently toward my goals, a little healthy competition gives me LIFE. It’s fuel. In How Bad Do You Want It?, the comparison game was considered locker room fodder. For the first time ever, I realized this could be a good and healthy thing! How can you turn the colossal waste of time that is the comparison game into a lesson of empowerment?
The next time you find yourself caught up in the comparison game, ask yourself:
- What bothers me about this?
- Why am I feeling resentful or envious of their situation?
- What do they have that I want?
- What do I see them gaining that I think I deserve?
- What do I find bothersome or offensive about their approach?
- What do I sense they’re doing better than me?
- If the feeling is mutual add: What bothers them about me?
Therein lie your answers: What bothers you about your competitor are your current weak points in business. Maybe they have an extra dose of confidence, and you’re still waiting for recognition and approval from external forces. Maybe they present themselves as important or qualified, and you haven’t perfected the art of self-promotion yet. Maybe they seem to be releasing one best-seller after another, and you feel far from completion on anything.
Whatever it is, it’s a chance to strengthen your game. And if the feeling is mutual, you have all the more locker room fodder fuel! What bothers them about you is an area you can continue to enhance, and maybe even show off a bit more. Maybe it’s your industry knowledge and high-quality goods. Maybe it’s your expertise or promising sales projection. In any case, show it off!
Constant improvement leads to constant expansion, and if some healthy competition motivates you, then channel it accordingly. See? Empowerment!
If you have a competitive nature, enjoy playing the game. It is okay to win. It’s okay to be defeated. Put a competitor in your sights right now and start chasing them down! It’s a great coping method for endurance, and it offers a genuine opportunity to improve.
#4 Brace Yourself
If you aim to change and evolve this year—if you’re in it to win it and ready to make it happen, which I assume you are—then you also have to prepare yourself for discomfort. It’s a given, and if you’re not prepared for it, things will feel impossible and that feeling will be your undoing.
One of my favorite quotes on the topic comes from Jerzy Gregorek,
Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.
Tony Robbins says, “Success leaves clues,” and I’ve spent the year amongst successful giants: buried in between the pages of their books, listening to their Ted Talks, attending their conferences, and taking their training programs. I’ve studied Tony, Grant Cardone, Mel Robbins, Jeb Blount, Dr. Christiane Northrup, Gary Keller, Tim Ferris, Ramit Sethi, Matt Fitzgerald, Darren Hardy, and many more.
The one thing that each of them states in plain English, the common thread among them all, was this: you must forego the confines of your comfort zone in order to make great things happen. You have to think outside of it, push past it, and aim to shatter it time and time again.
If you haven’t yet achieved the success you crave, comfort is the culprit. There is too much comfort somewhere in your life, whether it be in your daily routine, your style of marketing, the content or product you create, or how much of yourself you’re willing to reveal.
Anytime you feel restless and dissatisfied, you can blame comfort. It’s the soft bed that’s much easier than a hard, AM workout. It’s the social media time that’s much easier than project completion. If you’re dissatisfied today, look at all the comfortable choices you made yesterday.
When you find yourself coming up against tough decisions, challenges, obstacles, or demands, you must remember—it’s not impossible, it’s only hard (and that’s okay, you’ll survive). From Marcus Aurelius,
If it is endurable,
then endure it.
Successful people are willing to do what most people won’t. It’s that old adage about going the extra mile, and you better get your start now. The more people that catch on, the easier it will be to get success, and the harder it will be for any one of us to stand out!
#5 Want it More
In response to his own question—How bad do you want it?—Fitzgerald says your answer always has to be, “More.”
How much can you accomplish this year? If you went balls to the wall, agreed to some discomfort, really—how much do you think you could get done? It’s not about money or sales or numbers, even though you’ll definitely see an increase if you play along. Instead, it is about completion, follow-through, and endurance. That’s a beautiful thing because those attributes are well within your control.
What if, this year,
you didn’t hold back?
What if you pushed passed all of your limits to see how far you might go? What if you didn’t let a slow period slow you down? Do you see the unlimited potential in that idea? Make the commitment right now. I’m not going to run you into the ground on this commitment. I don’t mean all work and no joy. I do not intend to let you crash and burn out.
What I do need you to do, is promise that you won’t pump the brakes because of low motivation. Low motivation is an excuse. We all have those days. I need you to be tougher than that. When the goal suddenly feels too hard to reach, I need you to promise you will fight harder for it rather than reduce it. You have it in you, let’s see you do it.