The Not-So-Secret Secrets to Succeeding at Anything

When a hack works -- and not just for a day or a week, but for good -- it's usually because it comes on top of a foundation of fundamentals that you've practiced for years. It's those fundamentals that the Internet hackarazzi ignores.
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A few months ago, Rich Roll wrote a great post on his blog called "Why You Should Stop Lifehacking and Invest in the Journey."

As I read the post, I found myself nodding along, as expected. When I look at the biggest accomplishments of my life so far, it's clear that shortcuts had little to do with them.

How about you? Look at what you're most proud of in your life, and you'll surely find that hacks weren't the reason you did it.

It's not that "hacks" -- in fitness, diet, business, whatever -- aren't valuable. It's absolutely worth learning the tricks and the insights that will help you make quantum leaps along the way. Soak up every bit of knowledge you can about what you're trying to do... and that includes the hacks.

But when a hack works -- and not just for a day or a week, but for good -- it's usually because it comes on top of a foundation of fundamentals that you've practiced for years.

It's those fundamentals that the Internet hackarazzi ignores.

Because the fundamentals aren't exciting. But they're real, and nonnegotiable.

How then, do you set up the game so that you'll actually do the fundamentals?

In the past five years, I've accomplished three goals that I'm extremely proud of, goals that were unreasonable when I set them and were laughed at when I told others about my plans:
  • Qualifying for Boston with a 3:09:59 marathon, after my first marathon took me 4:53:41.
  • Running a 100-mile ultramarathon.
  • Building my little blog into a job that's exciting, that's meaningful, and that pays the bills and provides the flexibility to live in a way that makes me happy.
If I look at those accomplishments, I can find three common elements that made them all happen, and that made the fundamentals not just bearable but fun.

Here are the three "secrets," if you can call them that (hey, it's more accurate than hacks, because they're certainly not that):

1. Get clear on your goal and become certain you're going to do it.

People will say you're insane until you actually do it. That's actually a good sign.

Make sure you're ridiculously excited about your goal. Write it down. Then do what it takes to convince yourself that you can do it, you will do it, and that you must do it.

2. Be in it for the long haul.

There's a great quote from the book The Slight Edge, by Jeff Olson, about what it takes to be successful in general:

In the course of my businesses I'm often approached by people wanting to know the secret to success, the magic formula. 'What's the one thing I can do,' they'll say, 'to guarantee my success?' My answer is always the same: 'Be here, actively immersed in the process, one year from now.' That's really the only right answer.

Yep. I'd add "be okay with failing." Because during that long haul, you'll do it a lot.

3. Get obsessed.

Balance. Moderation. These words appeal to the mainstream; they sound wholesome and sustainable.

But I didn't practice moderation to get to Boston. I read 10 different running books, paid to be a member of a fitness site (Core Performance, back in the early days of membership sites), went three months without a sip of alcohol before one race, and repeatedly got myself to literally cry tears of joy during training, when I would visualize during runs exactly what it would look and feel like to catch that first glimpse of the finish line, with enough time left on the clock for me to qualify.

I set goals, over and over, and kept journals filled with what no doubt look like a madman's ravings about how I WOULD qualify for Boston, no matter what. I listened to motivational stuff during every commute to grad school, most commonly a 30-day audio program (Personal Power) to become mentally stronger.

Many days, qualifying for Boston was all I could think about. After a run, I couldn't wait for the next day... so that I could go for another run.

Which reminds me: All that stuff above was outside of the training itself, which, especially during the last two years, was the hardest and most time-consuming part of it all.

As for this job that I'm so grateful to have: I probably don't need to tell you that I didn't create it by practicing balance and moderation. I've happened to do more interviews for entrepreneurship podcasts and sites recently, and when they ask, "What's the difference between people who succeed in starting online businesses and those who don't?" there's just one answer.

That difference, in a word, is obsession.

If when you start a new business you don't think about it every waking moment, don't read every good article you can find, don't go to conferences to build relationships, don't sacrifice time, money, and energy to invest in the business... then really, what the heck are you doing?

To do anything else strikes me as bizarre.

I talk a lot about big, "unreasonable" goals. Their power is that they're exciting. They create energy. They're the last thing you think about at night and the first you think about in the morning.

But if you aren't willing to obsess over them, you're wasting your time. That's the whole point of setting your goals so big.

The very nature of all-consuming obsession is that you can't do it about very many things. So pick the three -- or better, the one -- that's really worthy of your time and energy for the next few months or years.

Then go make it happen. Whatever it takes.

As for balance? Moderation? I say leave them for other people ... or at least for later. Live your legend first.


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