“Everybody wants to be a beast, until it’s time to do what real beasts do.“
“There’s always some beast in everybody.”
-Michael Jennings (my father), last night at dinner
Many (most?) people, suffer from a sense of frustration of not having achieved what they want to achieve in various areas of life (I often feel this way). We fail to be all that we can be. The days, weeks and years roll by without attaining our most important goals whether they are health related, like losing weight, career-related, relationship-related, financial etc.
What can we do?
The Most Important Question of Your Life
I love the quote at the top of this blog post: “we all want to be beasts until it’s time to do what real beasts do.” So true. Wishes, desire and motivation aren’t usually the problem with achieving our goals. We all want to be beasts. As Mark Manson explains in his excellent article The Most Important Question of Your Life, it is deciding what you want to give up and what pain you want to endure that is the hurdle. We focus on the result when we should be focusing on the process. From Mark’s article:
A more interesting question [than what we want], a question that perhaps you’ve never considered before, is what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?
Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out . What determines your success isn’t “What do you want to enjoy?” The question is, “What pain do you want to sustain?” The quality of your life is not determined by the quality of your positive experiences but the quality of your negative experiences. And to get good at dealing with negative experiences is to get good at dealing with life.
Based on this life perspective, when we have a goal like losing weight, saving more money or getting ahead in our careers, we should not ask whether we want that result, but rather what pain are we willing to suffer to achieve our goals? We should ask this every time we have a goal. If we are not willing to change, to give up something, to endure the pain or effort, maybe we should conclude that we just don’t want it enough and throw out the goal.
What do real beasts do? They train. They practice. They work. They take chances. They fail. They get back up and do it over again. If we don’t want to be a beast in furtherance of our goal, we should switch to a goal where we are ready to go into full beast mode.
Success is About Process
Thus, the key to achieving success is not goal setting – it’s process setting. Success results from creating habits and processes.
As Scott Adams, the creator of the comic strip “Dilbert” and author of a number of books says,“Losers have Goals. Winners have Systems.”
Similarly, Jeff Haden in his book The Motivation Myth relates that “Incredibly successful people set a goal and then focus all their attention on the process necessary to achieve that goal. They set a goal and then, surprisingly, they forget the goal. Sure, the goal is still out there. But what they care about most is what they need to do today—and when they accomplish that, they are happy about today. They feel good about today.”
“Losers Have Goals. Winners Have Systems.”
A related point is that counting on willpower to get you to your goals almost never works. We only have so much willpower and draining it in one area usually depletes it availability for another area. It also tends to decline as the day goes on. Read more about why using willpower isn’t a good way to achieve goals: Willpower! Instead, we must establish habits and focus on process.
The Truth About Motivation
In the The Motivation Myth, the author argues that true motivation actually is the result of success, not the cause of success. Once we start something and have some success, even small, we become motivated to continue because we crave success. At some point, our continued success will shape our identity and foster habits that will reinforce the new behavior. From the book:
The process looks like this:
Success → Motivation → More Success → More Motivation → More Success = Becoming
Thus, choose a goal, create a process and then set your goal aside. Then just start. Focus on the process. Love the process. Embrace the process. Revel in little successes the process creates daily. Break it down hour-by-hour and day-by-day.
You get to choose your goal—but after that, what you want to do is irrelevant. What matters is what you need to do to achieve your goal. You can’t have dessert with every meal and lose weight. (Well, theoretically you can . . . but jeez, that will be hard.) You can’t complete a triathlon without doing an awful lot of running, biking, and swimming. (Well, theoretically you can . . . as long as they give you a week to complete the race.) You can’t get promoted without outworking everyone around you. (Well, theoretically you can . . . but don’t you want to earn the job instead of politicking your way in?) So don’t start unless you’re truly willing to pay the price.-The Motivation Myth
Enjoy the Journey
A key mindset for success is that of enjoying the journey – even the bad parts of our journey. Enjoy what real beasts do! Love the process!
I wrote about this mindset previously in Mile 21 Thinking – tell yourself that you want to be doing what you are doing and experiencing what you are experiencing – even if it is painful or hard. Tell yourself that there is no place you’d rather be. If you decide to get in shape, tell yourself that you love the exertion and pain. If you want to get a professional certification, immerse yourself in the studying and tell yourself how lucky you are to be learning when studying late at nights and on weekends.
If that doesn’t work and what you are doing still sucks, then embrace the suck. As the Navy Seal from the fantastic book Living with a Seal says: “If it doesn’t suck, we don’t do it.” Beasts love suck! Be a beast (we all have some beast inside us)!
Again from Mark Manson:
Who you are is defined by the values you are willing to struggle for. People who enjoy the struggles of a gym are the ones who get in good shape. People who enjoy long workweeks and the politics of the corporate ladder are the ones who move up it. People who enjoy the stresses and uncertainty of the starving artist lifestyle are ultimately the ones who live it and make it. This is the most simple and basic component of life: our struggles determine our successes. So choose your struggles wisely, my friend.
Really thoughtful synthesis. Where it takes me, is way back to Mr. Miyagi, in the Karate Kid.
“Sand the deck.”
Do the work, but don’t just do the work. Be the work. Habituate to the component pieces, and success will be the pleasant outcome. At which point, the initial goal and success may no longer be the lead story.
It’s not rocket science, but these simple truths can get lost in modern living.
If you haven’t read it already, you may enjoy a book by James Clear “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones”. It supports the theory similar to Scott Adams’ goals vs. systems. It helps the reader recognize how small changes can add up to major (positive) changes in various areas of their lives.
Great article, thanks!
Thank you for republishing this IFOD. This was what I needed to read today.
Great article. I am going to read it every month.
Best article John!! Love the insight and perspective!! 👊🏻👊🏻👏🏻
Thanks John for sharing. This is so true.
I needed a kick in the pants today. Thanks for your efforts to create great content John.
Lots of great nuggets in this piece. Well done!
Hold on … so you are saying you Cannot eat desert after every meal and lose weight?
Great article John!
When I was in grad school I was given a very simple piece of advice that I went on to use throughout my career and it helped me many times. I am not sure, but you may find it interesting… to paraphrase: “If you want to achieve something, put yourself in a position where you have to achieve it.”
Irfan – you are a beast!