Why Going After What You Want Can Actually Keep You From Getting It

UPDATED: June 27, 2023
PUBLISHED: July 27, 2017

To make yourself stronger, make yourself weaker.

This might sound contradictory and illogical. But it’s how the human body works. In order to build greater lasting strength, one must first become weaker through resistance training.

The same principle applies to attaining your objectives. Sometimes the best way to reach your goals is to, counterintuitively, go in the opposite direction of them.

Related: 3 Unconventional Traits You Need to Achieve Your Goals

The Slingshot Principle

The concept of moving away from what you want in order to get it—or moving toward what you don’t want in order to be free from it—is what I call “The Slingshot Principle.” If you wish to propel something forward with powerful force, you create tension and resistance by moving the object in the exact opposite direction of where you want it to fly. That’s how a slingshot operates.

This is why chasing what you want won’t always bring it closer, and might actually repel it. Consider how many people are striving to be wealthy and how few actually become rich.

If you examine what wealthy individuals and companies do, you’ll see they give value first, and later they receive it. If you want to slingshot yourself into a position of receiving more value (such as money), you must first give something of value. In other words, you should ask, What can I give? rather than What can I get?

In business, this could mean giving free samples, experimenting with ideas that fail or investing capital without immediate payoffs. The initial losses are simply investments for some greater gain down the road.

The Slingshot Principle is at play in many areas of life. To experience fearlessness, you have to first face your fears. To experience greater comfort, you must step outside of your comfort zone. To gain greater clarity and direction, you might need to experience confusion and uncertainty for a while.

Anne might think, I’ve been investing years into my personal development and education, and yet I have less money and I’m farther from my goals than I was when I first started. Without appreciating The Slingshot Principle, she might abandon her path, thinking nothing is working, when she’s actually on the edge of a breakthrough.

To gain greater clarity and direction, you might need to experience confusion and uncertainty for a while.

The Slingshot Principle also explains how avoiding pain can bring you more pain. If you go after what you want in the short term, it might keep you from having it in the long term.

Joe decides he doesn’t want to look at his bills and manage his money because it makes him uncomfortable. He can get away with it for a while. He’s pulling the slingshot away from pain and toward comfort. His approach can only work temporarily. Eventually, something will snap and the tension will release. Joe will ultimately land smack in the middle of overwhelming debt and financial ruin, all because of his attempt to move toward comfort.

Related: Why Your Comfort Zone Is the Most Dangerous Place to Live

Cause and Effect

Although The Slingshot Principle is simple to understand, the application can be tricky. Sometimes the factors that create the slingshot effect you want aren’t always logical or seem completely unrelated. Perhaps the best way to get a creative business idea is to go on a vacation and spend time with your friends. Sometimes the way to better your relationship with others is to spend more time alone, practicing self-care.

The important thing to understand is that if you want the effect, find the cause or causes, and direct your energy there. Many failures come from chasing the tangible results we associate with success—money and popularity, for example—rather than the processes and habits that create those results. Coaching and education are critical to help you find the specific steps to achieve the effect you want.

Optimal Tension

In order to launch, you must have the optimal amount of tension. Too little and you go nowhere. Five minutes of exercise once a week is a good example. The flip side, however, is that too much tension will simply cause the slingshot to break, like getting injured from overtraining.

Many success seekers overexert themselves by investing their time, energy and money into what they think will bring them success, only to find themselves burnt out and wondering why their effort isn’t paying off. As with most things, there’s an optimal point of tension where you’re challenged but not overburdened.


In addition to obtaining optimal tension, the key to make a slingshot operate properly is the release of tension. You need to set the heavy weights down to give your muscles a chance to recover. You must also know when to let go. People should take a break from challenging themselves to experience the comfortable fruits of their labor. A business is smart to eventually stop giving away free samples and ask for compensation. Without release, life would be filled with only tension and nonstop effort, leading to a deflating feeling of “it’s never enough.”

Failure Slingshots to Success

The Slingshot Principle explains the ultimate paradox of success: To achieve greater success, one must embrace failure. The Slingshot Principle not only grants the permission to fail, it explains why failure can actually be critical to achieving success. Failure provides feedback, builds resilience and demonstrates that every setback can potentially be the framework for even greater success.

From this point forward, ask yourself, How can my failure bring me the success I want? You might find that going after the very thing you’ve been avoiding brings you exactly what you desire.

Related: How to Reframe Your Failures

Derek Doepker is a former rock guitar player turned seven-time best-selling author, speaker and coach on mind, body and business success. His books have sold more than 50,000 copies, and his book The Healthy Habit Revolution won the 2016 Readers’ Favorite gold medal for motivational books. His goal is to help busy professionals break through their BS and amplify their productivity, profit and performance by sharing clever mind games, life hacks, wellness breakthroughs and the secrets of success found in music.