I just saw this video, shared on Google+:

“When you want to succeed as bad as you want to breathe, then you’ll be successful.”

How Bad Do You Want It from Greyskale Multimedia on Vimeo.

The sentiment is common: in order to succeed, you have to want it so bad you burst a blood vessel. The only problem with this sentiment is that I don’t know that there’s any truth to it. Maybe it’s true in weight lifting (I’d like to see the study), but I’m not aware of psychological research or motivation research that supports it. While it’s true if you want something badly, you’ll go after it, it’s also true that too much urgency shuts down creativity, problem-solving ability, and even perception. There are plenty of domains where it’s possible to succeed without that kind of motivation1.

There’s a similar zen fable about enlightenment. The story ends differently. The student goes to the zen master and says, “Master, how long will it take me to become enlightened?” “Ten years,” replied the master. “What if I work at every day of the year, every waking hour, and try harder than I’ve ever tried before?” “Then, it will take a lifetime.”

I think we do ourselves a disservice in looking only at the “work unbelievably hard and you’ll succeed” situations in life.

There are plenty of successful people who are motivated by peace, serenity, and joy. And yet they still seize opportunity, they still do work, and they still get what they want out of life. But they don’t have to force themselves into an asthma attack to get there.

There are plenty of people sitting on their asses doing nothing. I agree that asthma-attack motivation is better than nothing for those folks. But it would be nice to put the last few decades’ research into the psychology of achievement into practice and teach people to achieve without needing this stress-filled style.

There are plenty kinds of achievement that are motivated the other way. Do yourself a favor and find one of them. Train hard, keep your eye on your goal, but don’t give yourself a heart attack in the process.

1 Forbes recently did a study of the Forbes 400 and discovered that half of those folks inherited their money. I would submit that those folks reached positions of success without the kind of unbelievable franticness we see in this video.

You have to want to succeed as much as you want to…

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