Here’s the sneaky secret nobody tells you about the motto, “No pain, no gain.”
It works for some people, but not because pain is necessary.
But because those people like pain.
It makes them feel like they’re making progress. That they’re controlling their own destiny. That they have a role to play in their own results.
The pain tells them it’s working, because they’re working.
And that’s wonderful for those people. The problems start when pain becomes the point.
When working hard and hustling becomes the goal, instead of acquiring the rewards and outcomes of that work.
What started as a leading indicator of eventual success (“This is hard, so I know I’m working”), becomes a target of effort (“I’m not really working unless it’s hard”).
And, as one anthropologist put it in David Dylan Thomas’ Design for Cognitive Bias, “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”
Business culture brims with the idea that everything has to be hard, painful, and frustrating all the time. That somehow running a business is the world’s most arduous (and therefore important) task.
That marketing must be an endless, miserable slog (oh, and you should subscribe to this software platform to make it easier).
And that the highest calling in life is to publicly suffer as the founder of yet another overhyped startup.
While I agree that almost all real change in life initially springs from pain—to make positive progress, the status quo needs to become more painful than our fear of uncertainty—we don’t have to ceaselessly cause ourselves pain to keep moving forward.
If doing your marketing is painful, you’re more likely to stop than keep at it.
If your clients have become increasingly painful to work with, you’re more likely to cut corners and avoid confrontations than do your best and attract better ones.
If the very thought of sitting down to map out the future of your business is painful, you’ll always find reasons to avoid putting yourself through it.
We can’t avoid all the pain in our lives and businesses. Some of it is necessary, and some of it is merely inevitable.
But the fact is, most of us, most of the time, avoid pain. We subconsciously steer our minds, our conversations, our bodies, and our businesses away from the things that hurt.
Like taking the time to figure out that next Instagram post.
Or making the effort to rewrite our website copy.
Or reaching out to that client for a testimonial.
Or taking a day to think hard about where we want our business to go.
But instead of just avoiding pain, we can move toward gain. By making it all easier.
So don’t try to bully yourself into doing things you hate, find a way to make those things easier and more fun.
Here’s a little exercise to get you started:
Write down the three most important, painful tasks that you think you should be doing to move your business or marketing forward. Maybe it’s getting your new website built, or spending time to figure out your positioning.
Write down, precisely, what 'Done' looks like for each item. That might be having launched the new site, or being able to articulate your marketing position clearly and specifically.
Write down, precisely, what the very first step would be to move each one along. Like starting by creating a list of websites in your industry you admire, or putting together a list of customers who might be able to share what they found so valuable about your work.
And then write down the most enjoyable, fun, or easy way to take just that very first step. Like making your website list on your phone from a nearby park, or treating yourself to a fancy coffee while you make your customer list.
All you have to do today is take one of those very first steps, in the easiest and most fun way you can imagine.
Tomorrow, you figure out and perform the next easiest step. The next day, the next step.
This way, it might take you days or even weeks to get these things done. But after months or years of procrastination, what’s a couple more weeks if it means you’ll finally finish?
Progress can be painful. But that doesn’t mean it has to be, or that you should try to make it painful just so you can feel like you’re accomplishing something.
Actually accomplishing something feels a lot better anyway.
You’re not looking to move mountains or perform miracles. You’re looking to make progress, a little bit at a time, every day.
Because better is always better.
And slower is faster than still.