Can’t get over the Navy SEAL’s “40% rule”? Embrace the mindset of high achievers

Sometimes starting a successful business is a lot of 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’re out of breath so we can measure your endurance.

If you’re like the average person in the study published in PLoS One, you last about 12 minutes.

Next, I ask you to immediately repeat the five-second power test, effortlessly.

You are crazy, you think. You are whipped. Pedal more? Certainly not. You have stopped because you can no longer pedal.

Although it turns out you can: if you’re like the average person in the real study, you produce three times more power than in the endurance test.

So why did you give up because you couldn’t pedal anymore…but still developed substantial power seconds later? Obviously, your muscles weren’t as exhausted and your energy as drained as you thought.

The 40% rule

This finding provides research-based evidence for the 40% rule, a concept popularized by Dave Goggins in Jesse Itzler’s book. Living with a seal.

The 40% rule is simple. When your mind tells you that you’re exhausted, fried, and totally exhausted, you’re really only 40% done: you still have 60% left in your tank.

So why are you stopping (us)? Part of the problem is motivation: it’s hard to keep going forever when your heart is racing and your legs are screaming.

Another problem lies in the word indefinitely.

Even if you think you’re exhausted, shooting another five seconds is (relatively) nothing. The endurance test is a different beast. Stuck on a bike, the hamster rides off, heart pounding and legs screaming, and not knowing how long all this pain will last? It is physically and mentally draining, a combination that makes it much harder to keep pushing past what you perceive to be your limit.

The same is true for starting a business.

Turn ‘As long as you can’…

Starting a business is difficult. Starting your way through a constant – at some point they inevitably seem endless – a series of challenges, setbacks and tough decisions, and long nights and longer weekends, doesn’t just require physical exertion .

The mental effort required is just as extreme – especially since you have no idea when you’ll finally turn the corner and the struggle will, if not end, at least subside.

This is why many entrepreneurs quit. When today is tough, and you know tomorrow will be tough, and you have no idea how many tomorrows you will have to endure…

Yeah: It’s incredibly hard to keep going – even if you still have 60% left in your heading hold tank.

… in ‘Five Seconds’

Turn “indefinitely” into your own version of “five second” bursts.

Instead of thinking in terms of an infinite number of cold calls, set a goal for each day. Do five. Or ten. Or twenty. Whatever your plan. This way you don’t think about tomorrow and can focus only on today – and you can focus on every call to the best of your ability.

Instead of thinking in terms of an infinite number of presentation meetings, set a goal for each week. Five. Ten. Whatever your plan. This way, you can distract yourself next week and focus on delivering each presentation to the best of your ability.

When “indefinitely” is the window of time, it’s natural to relax, however slightly. To pace you. Give less than anything.

For our bodies and minds, it’s Survival 101. We’re wired that way.

But when “all” you have to do is do your best for a limited amount 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.

Be at your best? This will allow you to reach your finish line much faster.

Because doing your best, every time, is the best way to end it “forever”.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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