The dread of asking your boss for a raise can be paralyzing, but once you convince yourself to finally do it, it’s over before you know it. The excitement of attaining some object or objective can become obsessive, but shortly after you obtain your desire, you’re bored and in search of something else. “We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them,” says Thomas Gilovich, Ph.D., the Irene Blecker Rosenfeld professor of psychology at Cornell University.
Why is the power of perseverance important?
Eventually, if the idea of something becomes more satisfying than the thing itself, you may stop at the idea and never make it real. That’s why in his book, Ego Is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday explains that a primary obstacle to success is the idea of success.
Dreaming is easy.
It’s easy to tell people about your ambitions. It’s easy to create vision boards and write down your goals. And it’s easy to stand in front of a mirror and declare affirmations.
And that’s where most people stop. The very act of dreaming stops you from achieving your dreams.
You’ve played it out in your mind with such intoxicating detail that you become satisfied enough. You become numb. And you deceive yourself into believing you’ve actually done something productive.
Consequently, when you attempt the activity itself, you immediately hit a stone wall of resistance. More often than not, you quickly distract yourself from the discomfort with some form of momentary pleasure. But as Robert Greene explains in his book Mastery, you can learn to love this internal resistance. In his words, “You find a kind of perverse pleasure in moving past the pain this might bring.”
The 40% rule: the power of perseverance
In his book Living with a SEAL, Jesse Itzler tells the story of being inspired by a certain Navy SEAL and consequently inviting him to live at Itzler’s home for a month. Itzler admits to being in a personal rut and wanting to shake himself out of his routine.
On day one, SEAL—as he is referred to in the book—asked Itzler how many pull-ups he could do. Itzler did eight.
“Take 30 seconds and do it again,” SEAL said. Thirty seconds later, Itzler got back on the bar and did six.
“All right, one more time,” SEAL said. Thirty seconds later, Itzler got on the bar and did three or four, at which point his arms were exhausted.
“All right. We’re not leaving here until you do 100 more,” SEAL stated—something which Itzler thought would be impossible. Despite that, however, he persevered and completed the 100 pull-ups, one pull-up at a time. SEAL convinced Itzler that he could do way more than he thought he could.
The principle SEAL taught is what he calls the “40% rule,” which essentially means when people feel maxed out mentally and physically, they stop, even though they are at only 40% of their actual capacity. Pushing past the 40% capacity is when it becomes uncomfortable. So SEAL’s motto is this: “If it doesn’t suck we don’t do it.”
The power of objective-based pursuits
Like Itzler, who shattered a mental barrier by completing 100 pull-ups, you too can get out of your rut by pursuing tangible objectives.
The concept is simple: Do something and don’t stop until it’s complete, no matter how long it takes. That’s the power of perseverance.
Your goal is to learn how to accomplish hard things without continuously distracting yourself. So, you want to develop what Greene calls a “perverse pleasure” in experiencing internal conflict, and sit with it.
Apply this principle to anything and everything. Do an assignment and just do it until it’s complete. Write an article and stick to it until it’s published. Do 100 pull-ups, or run 5 miles, and go until you’re done. Who cares how long it takes as long as you persevere?
The greatest opportunity in history
In his book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport writes: “The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. As a consequence, the few who cultivate this skill, and then make it the core of their working life, will thrive.”
Without question, the amount of distractions we live with has increased, particularly as many people began working from home, making it harder to remain focused on our tasks for extended periods of time.
The law of opposites is in effect. With every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Either you’re among the few who are thriving, or you’re one of the many people who are distracted and struggling.
The choice is yours.
When something sucks, do you quit? Or do you persevere and eventually enjoy the satisfaction of growth and success?
Anything worth doing is going to suck at the beginning. Anything worth doing is meant to require pain and sacrifice. That’s why the power of perseverance is important in life and work. And herein lies the problem facing America, which was originally built on the moral of impulse control. While once a country filled with people sacrificing momentary pleasure for a better future, the overpowering message of today is live for the moment.
And that’s exactly what people do. They live for this moment. And when something doesn’t go as planned or becomes difficult, many people quit. Many people indulge themselves in momentary satisfaction at the expense of a better future.
Doing the work is hard.
Getting into elite physical condition is brutal. Building deep and committed relationships takes time and effort. So many marriages end in divorce. All of these things “suck,” at least initially. But if it doesn’t suck, it’s not worth doing. And you can absolutely learn to endure the discomfort of the moment to persevere and build a life worth living.
If you feel stuck in a rut, like Itzler, challenge yourself to complete specific objectives, no matter how long they take.
Pleasure versus happiness
James Talmage said, “Happiness leaves no bad aftertaste, it is followed by no depressing reaction; it brings no regret, entails no remorse. True happiness is lived over and over again in memory, always with a renewal of the original good; a moment of pleasure may leave a barbed sting, [as] an ever-present source of anguish.”
True happiness is fundamentally different from momentary pleasure. That’s not to say momentary pleasure is inherently bad. But it often gets in the way of something more real and lasting.
Anything worth doing brings a satisfaction that distraction never can. Don’t give in to the resistance. Push through the difficulty. Discover your power of perseverance. That’s where you’ll experience a joy those who stop will never taste.
This post originally appeared on Medium.com and is used with permission from Benjamin P. Hardy.
This article was published in November 2016 and has been updated. Photo by Ground Picture/Shutterstock