Sometimes starting a successful business is a lot like exercise.
For example, imagine I put you on an exercise bike and ask you to pedal as hard as you can for five seconds so we can measure the power you generate. Then, after a short break, I ask you to ride until you run out of steam so we can measure your endurance.
If you’re like the average person in the actual study published in PLoS One, you last about 12 minutes.
Then I ask you to immediately repeat the five second, all-out-effort power test.
You’re crazy, you think. You’re whipped. Pedal more? No way. You stopped because you can’t pedal any more.
Although it turns out you can: If you’re like the average person in the actual study, you produce three times more power than you did during the endurance test.
So why did you give up because you couldn’t pedal any more… yet somehow crank out substantial power seconds later? Clearly your muscles weren’t as exhausted, and your energy as depleted, as you thought.
The 40 Percent Rule
The 40 Percent Rule is simple. When your mind tells you that you’re exhausted, fried, and totally tapped out, you’re really only 40 percent done: You still have 60 percent left in your tank.
So why do you (we) stop? In part, the problem lies with motivation: It’s hard to keep going indefinitely when your heart is pounding and legs are screaming.
Another problem lies in the word indefinitely.
Even if you think you’re exhausted, cranking out another five seconds is (relatively) nothing. The endurance test is a different beast. Stuck on a bike, hamster-wheeling away, heart pounding and legs screaming, and not knowing how long all that pain will last? That’s physically and mentally draining, a combination that makes it much harder to keep pushing past what you perceive as your limit.
The same is true for starting a business.
Turn ‘As Long As You Can’…
Launching a business is hard. Bootstrapping your way through a constant — at some point, they inevitably feel endless — series of challenges, and setbacks, and difficult decisions, and long nights and longer weekends, doesn’t just require physical effort.
The mental effort required is just as extreme — especially since you have no idea when you will finally turn the corner and the struggle will, if not end, at least ease.
That’s why many entrepreneurs quit. When today is hard, and you know tomorrow will be hard, and you have no idea how many more tomorrows you will ultimately have to endure…
Yeah: It’s incredibly hard to keep going — even though you still have 60 percent remaining in your stay-the-course tank.
So what can you do?
… Into ‘Five Seconds’
Turn “indefinitely” into your own version of “five second” bursts.
Instead of thinking in terms of an endless number of cold calls, set a target for each day. Make five. Or ten. Or twenty. Whatever your plan calls for. That way you take your mind off tomorrow, and can just focus on today — and can focus on making each call to the best of your ability.
Instead of thinking in terms of an endless number of pitch meetings, set a target for each week. Five. Ten. Whatever your plan calls for. That way you can take your mind off next week — and can focus on delivering each pitch to the best of your ability.
When “indefinitely” is the time window, it’s natural to ease up, even if slightly. To pace yourself. To give less than your all.
To our bodies, and minds, that’s Survival 101. We’re wired that way.
But when “all” you have to do is do the best you can for a finite period of time, or one task at a time… then it’s much easier to find the energy and focus you need to be at your best.
Being at your best? That will get you to whatever your finish line might be a lot faster.
Because doing your best, each and every time, is the best way to bring “indefinitely” to an end.