This morning I was at the gym—sweating, hurting, thinking I was an idiot, and wondering what in the world I was doing. I’ve got a goal to bench-press 400 lbs, which is about 25 lbs over my prior max. Now I know 25 lbs doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’ve already reached your limit, no matter what it is, expanding that limit even by as little as 5% (as in this case) is extraordinarily difficult.

As I was sitting there reflecting on the ridiculous amount of pain, effort, and perseverance you have to endure to increase by such a meager margin (only 5%), I realized that this is a nearly universal principle.

Any time you want to push yourself well beyond what you have done before (particularly when you were pushing yourself then), the amount of effort required will be dramatically disproportionate to the increments by which you increase.

I learned a couple of things as I pondered this principle while pounding out as many reps as my tired muscles could bear.

Character development

First, what matters most is not the end result from pushing yourself so far. At least in this case, the ends do not justify the means. Such proportionately unimpressive increases do not justify the disproportionately gargantuan effort they require. But what does matter is the character development inherent in the process of pushing yourself further and harder than before. It’s about the value of setting goals, the ethic of hard work, the principle of perseverance, and the inner strength you get by simply sticking to it.

In my limited observation, those individuals that are the strongest and achieve the most are those who have learned to push themselves, have learned to be passionate, and do not quit when everyone else does.

The cost/value principle

Second, those things in life that are of the greatest value are not free. Usually the level of value associated with the achievement is directly proportional to the amount of work required to achieve it.

Dealing with failure

Third and finally, to be good at something, really good, you’re going to have to get used to failure. The better you want to be at something, the more failure you’ll have to endure to get there.

A good sales person, for instance, will be rejected 9 times out of 10 (or more). In baseball, a batting average (your ratio of “hits” to “at bats”) is considered excellent if it’s higher than a .300, and .400 is nearly impossible.  A .300 batting average means that you’re going to miss seven out of ten times at bat. The last time I ran a marathon, I had to run about 325 miles over the three months prior just so that I could run 26.2 miles the day of the race.

In short, failure needs to become a part of your life. You need to be able to look at failure for what it is: the temporary inability to achieve what you meant to, and a guide on what to change so that in the end, you succeed.

If you’re not currently pushing yourself at something and feeling the pain that happens when you do, then I’d encourage you to find a part of your life in which you’d like to improve, make sure it’s of value, and work to achieve it.

If you ARE feeling pushed and pulled, if you are struggling towards some worthy goal and are feeling the whole-bodied drain that it is having on you, I encourage you to persevere, keep it up, and make it happen. You’ll be happy that you did.


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