Most people understand that they need to work hard and put in the effort required to achieve a high degree of success. People who have achieved extraordinary results have done so by outworking everyone around them. We understand the relationship between effort and outcomes and know that we need to put in the effort to achieve anything meaningful.
But working hard is hard. Very few people have the discipline to put in the intense effort day after day and year after year. Most people have the desire to work hard but lack the spark to get them going or the tools to stay motivated. Even when they try to work hard, they get distracted, let their minds wander, and have ineffective work or practice sessions. And when that happens, skill development suffers, and they never fulfill their potential.
But the good news is that anyone can develop the ability to work hard, and once you learn how, the feeling of working hard can be rewarding and deeply satisfying. If you want to make hard work a habit, or something that becomes part of who you are, here are three techniques that can help:
1. Focus on the process:
Ian Fleming, author, and creator of the iconic James Bond character, had a vivid imagination and the ability to draw from his years of experience serving as an officer in the British Naval Intelligence. But he knew writing a 300-page book would require hard work. Imagination and experience alone wouldn’t be enough. Fleming needed a process that would allow him to make his stories come to life. He created a simple one, dedicate three hours to writing in the morning and one hour in the evening. That was it.
During those hours, he wrote whatever came to his mind, whether it flowed well or not. While he was writing, he never went back to check his words or fix an error or validate a fact. There was time for all that later. He just focused on his process, which was writing for four hours and putting his work away at the end of it. This simple process yielded him 2,000 words a day, and in six weeks, a new James Bond novel was born.
Every exceptional has created and followed a routine, and you need to do the same. Your process could be time-based (as Fleming’s was). Or it could be activity-based—completing a set of specific activities every day. You could even have a milestone-based approach: work on a task until you can attain something specific. It could be anything that works for you. But without an ongoing and repeatable technique that keeps moving you ahead, you will not achieve your goals.
Give yourself a daily target for what you want to accomplish every day and stay true to it—no zero days or days when you do nothing toward your goal. When I write my books, I usually have a milestone-based process, where I write 1,000 words a day. That is my daily goal, and I know if I keep doing that, my manuscript will be complete before I know it.
2. Use a Commitment Device
Now that we understand the need for establishing a process, we also need to realize that for most people, committing to a routine is challenging and takes a lot of discipline. Consequently, they give up. It is hard to stay motivated and remain persistent, particularly when you don’t see visible progress. One way to help you stay true to your process is using a tool called a “commitment device.” A commitment device is a tool that removes the temptation and sometimes punishes you in some way for not doing what you know you should be doing.
When I need to concentrate on my research and writing, I put my phone in a different room. That way, I can focus on my work. When my mind begins to wander, and I absently reach out for it and realize it is not there, I remember I put it away for a reason. Putting my phone away in another room is a commitment device.
Cutting up your credit card is a commitment device that prevents you from spending needlessly. Or perhaps you decide that if you don’t practice your activity for two hours a day, you will donate 20 dollars to a charity or household fund. Handing over the cash is one way to keep you motivated.
A common and helpful commitment device is working with a partner or colleague or a coach. You can’t take the day off if you know someone else is waiting for you. There are countless commitment devices that you can establish for yourself. You have to pick one to help you make your daily process a habit, and it is this adherence to your simple routine that will help you put in the effort required to achieving incredible heights.
3. Get comfortable being uncomfortable
As humans, we function at our optimal level when we have a moderate degree of anxiety or are slightly outside our comfort zone. If we remain within our comfort zone, we don’t push ourselves and, consequently, don’t achieve much. Conversely, in situations where we are too far out of our comfort zone, we become unproductive because unusually high anxiety causes stress that can hurt our performance.
To strive for growth, we have to learn to push ourselves to operate comfortably outside our comfort zone.
You can get better at operating out of your comfort zone the same way you get better at anything else: with practice. Practice pushing yourself by putting in longer and more concentrated hours, learning new skills, and making your improvement efforts deliberate.
One way to practice being out of your comfort zone is to learn a new skill or do something you have never done before and do it until you feel comfortable with it. The journey from novice to proficient, even in small activities, gives you the feeling of pushing yourself and moving from distress to comfort. As you learn new skills, you become more comfortable with discomfort, and this sensation is transferrable and will help you get better in any area you wish to improve.
The three techniques described above allow you to increase your volume of effort, something that is essential for skill-building and personal growth. You still have to work hard, but these tools will take away some of the pain associated with hard work and allow you to put in more productive hours that get you closer to the results you want. Try them; they work.
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