The ‘do what you dislike’ theory of success

As I’ve spent so much time working with all kinds of people, I always get asked: “what makes a successful person stick to their goals?” The answer is that they will always do what they hate or do what they don’t want to do to reach their goals, whereas people who don’t succeed often seem to give up their goals rather than do what they hate. We live in a culture that’s obsessed with life hacks and quick fixes, but when it comes to the path to success, there isn’t one outward trick. However, in place of that, there is a kind of guarantee: come to terms with ‘doing what you don’t want to do and doing it first’ to reach your goals.

If you think about every author, artist, athlete, or successful entrepreneur you admire, I can almost guarantee that they have a high tolerance for the unpleasant parts of whatever it is they do. That’s because they’ve embraced the “do what I dislike to get to where I want to be’ then I get to do what I love to do. Everything involves sacrifice, even having a baby, being with someone we love or having our dream job. Everything includes some sort of cost or restriction. Nothing is pleasurable or uplifting all of the time. So the question becomes: what are you willing to do that you dislike getting to do what you like? Ultimately, what determines our ability to stick with something we care about is our ability to handle the tougher part. It’s rather like disliking a hard workout but loving the way it makes your body look and feel.

I’ve worked with a lot of Olympic athletes and they always serve as such a good role model of this mindset. Viewers at home see the moments of glory as they compete and win medals; meanwhile, they don’t see the years of pain and sacrifice it took to get there. They don’t see the early starts, the injuries, the strict diets, and the torturous training regimes. These are things that even people who are passionate about sport aren’t always going to enjoy. They do much that they dislike in order to reach athletic glory, and in my experience, winning athletes don’t avoid this—they welcome it. As Olympic swimmer Matt Biondi is quoted as saying: “Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement.” The same is true for you and your goals.

I’ve worked with clients from virtually every discipline and industry- people who have their so-called “dream jobs”—and every single one of them has to do things they hate from time to time. This will vary depending on what you choose: If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll have to deal with uncertainty, risk, and early morning phone calls; if you’re an athlete, you’ll have to train each and every morning even if you don’t feel like it; if you’re a writer, you’ll have to send pitches and put yourself out there for rejection and work all alone for months.

You have to accept that you simply can’t have the glory and the accolades of these professions without the disliked bits. But what you can do is prioritize so that it doesn’t take over your life. In other words, when you get up in the morning, do what you dislike first. You’ll be glad the rest of the day that you did—and free to enjoy the parts of your life and career that you do like.