According to psychological research, the anticipation of an event is almost always more emotionally powerful than the event itself.
The dread of asking your boss for a raise is paralyzing and can last months. 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 Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a Cornell University psychologist.
Interestingly, your mind can seduce you so much so that the idea of something becomes more satisfying than the thing itself, so you stop at the idea and never make it real. That’s why in his new book, Ego Is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday explains that a primary obstacle to success is the idea of success.
It’s so easy to dream.
It’s easy to tell people about your ambitions.
It’s easy to create vision boards and write down your goals.
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.”
How to Get Out of Your Rut
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.
Day 1: “SEAL” asks Itzler, “How many pullups can you do?” and Itzler squeaks out eight shaky pullups.
“Take 30 seconds and do it again,” SEAL says. Thirty seconds later, Itzler got on the bar and did six, struggling.
“Take 30 seconds and do it one more time,” SEAL says. Thirty seconds later, Itzler got on the bar and did three, at which point his arms were exhausted.
“All right, we’re not leaving here until you do 100 more,” SEAL states. To which a puzzled Itzler responds, “All right, we’re gonna be here a long time. Cause there’s no way I could do 100.” But he does, one pullup 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 percent of their actual capacity. Pushing past the 40 percent capacity is when it becomes uncomfortable. So SEAL’s mantra is this: “If it doesn’t suck, we don’t do it.”
The Power of Objective-Based Pursuits
“Pain is a kind of challenge your mind presents—will you learn how to focus and move past boredom, or like a child will you succumb to the need for immediate pleasure and distraction?” — Robert Greene
Like Itzler who shattered a mental barrier by completing 100 pullups, you too can get out of your rut by pursuing tangible objectives.
The concept is: Do something and don’t stop until it’s complete, no matter how long it takes.
Your goal is to learn how to accomplish hard things without continuously distracting yourself. You want to develop what Greene calls “a perverse pleasure” in experiencing internal conflict, and sitting with it.
If it doesn’t suck, we don’t do it.
You can apply this principle to anything and everything. You can do an assignment and just do it until it’s complete. You can write an article and stick to it until it’s published. You can do 100 pullups, or run 5 miles, and go until you’re done. Who cares how long it takes?
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, we live in the most distracted time in human history. It is almost impossible to remain focused on a single task for more than a few minutes at a time.
Related: How to Eliminate Distractions
The law of opposites is in effect. With every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. While most of the world is becoming increasingly distracted, a select few are capitalizing on this fact.
As economist Tyler Cowan says, “Average is over.” The middle class is gone. Either you’re among the select few who are thriving, or you’re like most people who are distracted, overweight and struggling.
The choice is yours.
When something sucks, do you quit? Or do you push through 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. Herein lies the problem facing America, which originally was built on the moral of impulse control. What once used to be 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, most people quit. Most people indulge themselves in momentary satisfaction at the expense of a better future.
Getting into elite physical condition is brutal. Building deep and committed relationships is nearly impossible. So many marriages end in divorce. Developing deep spiritual maturity requires giving up who you want to be for who you really are.
All of these things “suck,” at least initially. But if it doesn’t suck, it’s not worth doing. And you absolutely can learn to endure the discomfort of the moment to build a life worth living.
If you’re stuck in a rut, like Itzler, challenge yourself to complete specific objectives, no matter how long they take.
Pleasure Versus Happiness
“A life that doesn’t include hard-won accomplishment and triumph over obstacles may not be a satisfying one. There is something deeply fulfilling—even thrilling—in doing almost anything difficult extremely well. There is a joy and pride that come from pushing yourself to another level or across a new frontier. A life devoted only to the present—to feeling good in the now—is unlikely to deliver real fulfillment. The present moment by itself it too small, too hollow. We all need a future. Something beyond and greater than our own present gratification, at which to aim or feel we’ve contributed.” —Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, The Triple Package
True happiness is fundamentally different than 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. That’s where you’ll experience a joy those who stop will never taste.
Geologist 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.”
This post originally appeared on Medium.com and is used with permission from Benjamin P. Hardy.