Why are Things that Matter the Hardest to do?

What makes Rocky Balboa so great? He famously quoted “life is not about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward” – powerful stuff, I shed instantaneous tears every time I see this in action. That man cannot take no for an answer and he shows that through hard work you can achieve your goals. But is this a definitive set, or a lonely data point in an infinity pool that we simply idolize to the point of it needing to be a reality?

Picture this, you are tasked with kicking a soccer ball into the back of the goal by beating a goalkeeper during practice, you repeat this a thousand times and finish the play with little commotion – practice makes perfect. Now, take the exact same situation, and add the expectation of playing in the playoffs, there are 2 seconds left on the clock and if you score, your team lifts the cup – probably worth something this time, the air of expectation weighs in and you miss. Simply devastated you lay there dejected and inconsolable, you watch the other team lifting what should be yours and it hurts, the underlying nausea in your stomach is because you know it was in your hands and you scoffed what you had done time and time again. This is, unfortunately, the psychological side of external pressure. It gets the best of us and is quite merciless, and sometimes quite brutally, practicing isn’t enough.

Another place pressure rears its ugly head is internal. I take this situation quite personally as I’m somebody who is constantly in competition with himself. A little over a year ago I sat down and intricately planned every moment for 3 months to study for the GMAT. I underlined all the issues I faced and worked towards a goal. Practice exams showed me crushing it and was full of confidence. Come test day, anxiety kicks in, his palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy - sorry, the sentence basically wrote itself- and I finished the test and nervously looked at my score. I was a measly 60 points away from what my average practice score was. That rejection is hard to take because you know yourself- what happened, why did I screw up so much? I found myself in a chasm and wrote it again, again and again till I got what I wanted. At the end of the day, as an impartial person looking in, it was foolish because my score was great to start with, why was I rapacious in my pursuit of a few measly percentile points?

While this is most certainly not the case with everything or everybody for that matter. We need to understand that we live in an age where we read hundreds of success stories in the limelight and don’t realize the millions of failures around it and the millions of others who have tried unsuccessfully. We’re all ambitious at heart and aspire to be greater than we were the day before. We are programmed to do better, setting targets to touch the stars but sometimes struggle to look past the roof. Are we really our own worst enemy? Do you wish you could be somebody else?  I think the most important question you should ask yourself, irrespective of whether you succeeded or failed, is what you learned and how you can apply it if tasked with the same thing again. This immediately makes you more enriched and likely to be successful in the near future or successful again. It also gives you the necessary impetus to go above and beyond thus elevating what your new norm for success is. As simple as it may sound in theory, how do you actually go about applying this in pressurized situations?

Let’s look at the build up to an important deadline. Just as a resume where you want to list out your many responsibilities, you need achievements and metrics to substantiate it. That is the only way to truly gauge how well you have applied certain theoretical knowledge. That means that you need to throw yourself off the deep end sometimes, don’t be afraid to make mistakes – sorry, I meant don’t be afraid to be in a position to learn. There is this mystical time we all look at and say that this is when I should execute my plans – no, you will never have a perfect time. You need to create that opportunity and just go because you can damn well be sure that if you don’t, somebody else will. Who plays for silver anyway?

Of course, it doesn’t mean go in blind. You need to do your homework, dive deep and always understand what you are doing. You’ll get to a point where you start thinking hypotheticals - I’ll be the first to admit that I am guilty of doing this – and this is when you need to realize that there will always be forks in the road, and you need to just find out what happens. I know you guys remember those Goosebumps books where you choose the outcome, you want to know the outcome of each story and read all of them- same principal here folks.

Another famous saying is that there is no “I” in team. Don’t be afraid to seek advice and get feedback. And in most cases, a team is a finite number of individuals, try to not brainwash your thoughts through the ideology of too many cooks so to speak, you will spoil the broth otherwise. Selectively, figure out who is going to get you what you need, it’s a dog eat dog world out there and you have to choose your advice panel carefully. Also, your success is only as good as that of those around you, imparting knowledge is a great way to reassure yourself of where you stand and just as you give, try to be as open as possible to the ideas that your circle gives you. Think of a photograph, at any given point, you only see what is in front of you, what is behind, to the sides is not something you can make an informed decision about unless others have differing views to give you that 360° image. At the same time, don’t be afraid to disagree, your grasp of a situation is a function of your understanding. If you don’t know or don’t agree, question it. Once you are happy, then move on to the next task.

Having a solid routine is also critical. Just as you practice day in and day out perfecting your basics when you’re playing a sport. Don’t try to change too much at the end. Call it superstition, but commonality is key to the body sort of driving by muscle as opposed to mind. It helps you focus on what you’ve got right and when you’re faced with a challenge, your mind is fresh and ready to take on the world!

Before I summarize what we’ve gone through, anxiety at the point of execution is sometimes detrimental to your probability of success. Don’t let your hard work collapse as a result of your nerves. The final time I wrote the GMAT, I was still as nervous as the first time I wrote it, it meant that much to me. But what I did change was my approach to it on the day. Breathing exercises and yoga are great ways to relax your body, deep breaths and slow releases for a few minutes leading up to it – you’re ready!

In conclusion, try applying these simple, tangible steps to your work and hopefully, you’ll be ready for whatever curveball life throws at you:

  • Task obsession, if you want it hard enough, the work you do towards it will pay dividends
  • Be metric driven and gauge yourself on the results of what you are doing, and what you have done.
  • Don’t spend time hypothesizing hypothetical situations, get in there son!
  • Dive deep into your task, and make sure your fundamentals are strong.
  • Get feedback from peers and co-workers who you adjudicate as bar raisers.
  • Disagree and question EVERYTHING until you are satisfied with the outcome.
  • Have a good working routine and stick to it.

And if you’ve done the above and are still nervous…. Breathe! phooooo

In future posts, I will dig deep into when you should actually curb your obsession, you can’t spend time dilly-dallying on what you can do to get better to the point where it’s a negative use of your time. Be aware. Be smart.

Your success is only as good as what you make of it. The one mantra that drives successful people is that “form is temporary, but class is permanent”, what that tells you is that success is short-lived, just like the endorphin release associated with it. Your constant application and feedback, whether it be going to a higher level or optimizing a process is imperative – nobody wants to be a one-trick pony, no matter how great the feat is. So if you take anything away with you after this, let it be that you are always looking to better yourself, take small manageable steps, but make sure you are ALWAYS improving.

If you think you’ve reached the zenith of your prowess, which just means you’re not looking hard enough or expanding your horizons. We are all created equal, and it’s up to you to make sure you elevate yourself. If you have to dust yourself off, and if you want something enough, forget the time for negativity and reflection and get back on that horse and ride.

Till next time y’all!


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