It takes hard work. Do the hard work.

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is the idea of simply trying harder with everything I choose to spend my time on. It seems like an elusive thing, the idea of optimal focus and maximum effort. However, I think there is something to be gained from stopping for a moment and considering how focused we are when we do our daily activities.

I think two things apply here: single-mindedness and massive effort. To truly excel at something, we need to be very focused. We can have different things we are striving to succeed with, but when we are working on one thing, we should be completely focused on it.

This idea of “single-tasking” is something which Tim Ferriss and Leo Babauta amongst many others believe is a key habit of top performers.

The other key aspect seems to be to put in the hard work when you are single-tasking. To describe this, I want to share three videos by top performers which I’ve been hooked on recently:

Will Smith: I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill

I love Will Smith’s take on this topic, because he brings things very much down to earth. He has said many times that he doesn’t see himself as particularly talented, rather that it has been his “ridiculous, sickening work ethic” which has got him to where he is. I think this is something which everyone can take and use to their advantage:

"The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is: I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, but if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: you’re getting off first, or I’m gonna die. It’s really that simple."

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Go through the pain barrier

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first success was in the world of body building, but he has gone on to reach the highest levels in Hollywood and politics too. There’s clearly a lot we can learn from him, and this clip from “Pumping Iron”, a film about his success in body building is one of my favorite clips to watch to get me motivated:

"The body, it is not used to the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th rep with a certain weight, so that makes the body grow, going through this pain barrier. And that’s what divides one from a champion and one from not being a champion. If you can go through this pain barrier, you make it to be a champion, if you can’t go through, forget it."

Eric Thomas: You don’t want it bad

Eric Thomas is not as well known as Will Smith or Arnold Schwarzenegger, but what I admire about him is how he can go into a school and get students fired up whilst talking on a level they can relate to. This video of one of his speeches is sure to get you motivated to try harder with everything you do:

"I’m here to tell you that most of you say you want to be successful, but you don’t want it bad, you just kind of want it. You don’t want it badder than you wanna party, you don’t want it as much as you want to be cool."

What this means for me

This doesn’t mean we have to jump in all at once and head towards inevitable burn-out and failure. We can start small in terms of time commitment, and that’s likely the best way to create habits, but let’s commit to going that extra step when we are doing a specific activity. It takes no more time to put extra effort in during the time we’re spending on a task. It might not be comfortable, but it’s surely the way to grow.

I also strongly believe that in order to easily put in this extra effort, it is important for us to feel purpose for the activities we are doing, and to love what we do.

Do you think you could try a little harder with some tasks when you’re already in that period of time working on them? I’d love your thoughts on this topic!

Photo credit: Jon Tunnell

What are you doing to feel uncomfortable?

I believe that when you’re building a startup, it is as much about developing yourself as it is about developing your startup. This week I’ve stepped up my gym routine and managed to go to the gym every morning at 6:30am, and I spoke at an event in Bulgaria to 160 people over Skype yesterday. Both these things made me uncomfortable, but I’ve realised that “feeling uncomfortable” was just what I needed.

Why is it a good thing to feel uncomfortable?

Seth Godin describes why we should feel uncomfortable using the following chart:

Godin argues that most people reach some comfortable “Local Max” and then stay there, because to jump to new heights almost always involves some discomfort:

"The problem is that to get to Big Max, you need to go through step C, which is a horrible and scary place to be."

In The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, which I’ve mentioned before, the authors say that stress is a crucial part of growth:

"Any form of stress that prompts discomfort has the potential to expand capacity physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually so long as it is followed by adequate recovery"

I think the need to get out of your comfort zone is even more true when you’re building a startup. Ben Yoskovitz puts this well:

"Dont start a company as a tech person if all you want to do is code. If all you want to do is code, then get a job coding. Starting a company means to do a lot of things youve never done, and a lot of things you wont be comfortable doing. Get used to it. Make the uncomfortable comfortable."

Shifting from uncomfortable to comfortable

I’ve found in the past that if I get excited about something and dive in too fast, I will often work for longer than I realise is productive and then burnout. This makes for a bad experience and makes it easy to avoid trying again.

I think a better approach is what Loehr and Schwartz propose: to go beyond our comfortable levels and then step away and renew. Repeating this process can build our capacity to do anything and make us comfortable with new things.

Of course, when something becomes more comfortable we should strive to get out of our comfort zones once again. The compounding effect can be very powerful.

Growth in one area can mean confidence in other areas

A great side effect I’ve found of stepping out of my comfort zone in one area such as speaking at events or stepping up my exercise routine is that growing my skill or capacity on one of these areas can give me a massive amount of confidence in almost every other area of my life. This is a good reason why we should have many areas where we stretch ourselves. Here is a great part of an interview Tim Ferriss had with Matt from 37signals:

"If your entire ego and identity is vested in your startup, where there are certainly factors outside of your control, you can get into a depressive funk that affects your ability to function. So, you should also, lets say, join a rock climbing gym. Try to improve your time in the mile. Something like that. I recommend at least one physical activity. Then even if everything goes south you have some horrible divorce agreement with your co-founder if you had a good week and set a personal record in the gym or on the track or wherever, that can still be a good week."

Some of the things I’m doing to feel uncomfortable

Working on a startup has given me many opportunities to feel uncomfortable and therefore gain skills in many areas I was never comfortable with. Here are some of my top ones:

Speaking: Believe it or not I’m actually an introvert. I squirm on a stage, but I get a kick out of sharing my story and helping others and that’s why I am always pushing myself in this area. I’ve now spoken at quite a few events of various sizes, and I usually say yes to speaking opportunities precisely because I know I find it uncomfortable. It’s definitely getting easier.

Sleep, health and exercise: I’ve always struggled with getting enough sleep and keeping up a gym routine. Over the last few months I’ve managed to put in place a sleep ritual which I’ve kept to almost religiously. I then created a morning gym routine, and for the last two weeks I’ve been to the gym every weekday morning at 6:30am. With the consistency handled, I’m now pushing myself out of my comfort zone further by making my weight training routine harder and keeping track of my progress.

There are many others too: even this blog is something I still find hard to keep up, and since I’m primarily a developer I’ve had to push myself to become a better designer and deal with server admin tasks for Buffer. I’m also about to get rid of my apartment and go travelling for several months with my co-founder Leo.

What are you doing to feel uncomfortable?

That brings me back to the title of the post. Have you thought about whether things are getting a little too comfortable? What are you doing to push yourself out of your comfort zone? I’d love to hear from you in the comments, I am sure there is much we could all learn about pushing ourselves further.

Photo credit: Capture Queen