Cultivate the Will to Win: The Why and the How

Remember taking science in high school? Yeah, I know it was a (very) long time ago, but think back with me for a moment.

Remember a certain gentleman by the name of Isaac Newton? Considered by many as the greatest scientist of all time, those of us who can actually remember anything from that time in our life will remember Newton’s second law of motion: every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

What does this law have to do with business? Everything, for it’s not only a law of motion, it’s also a law of leadership.

As a leader, when you initiate action, there will be a reaction. Not just a reaction, but an “equal and opposite” reaction. In other words, the greater the action you initiate, the greater the opposition to it.

When you’re leading a business, there will be opposition. It’s inevitable. Having the courage to face—and ultimately overcome—that opposition is critical to success.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Revisit the Vision

There are three stages to goal fulfillment. The first stage, like the beginning of a race, is characterized by the adrenaline of excitement and the thrill of anticipation. The gun sounds, and we take off.

The third stage of goal fulfillment, the end, also has its own excitement. We can see the finish line and others are there to cheer us on. We sprint to break the tape and raise our arms in jubilation.

Both of these phases of goal fulfillment tend to take care of themselves. It’s the middle phase where we lose our way, get discouraged, and give up. Seth Godin refers to this as the “The Dip” and explains its dynamics in the following diagram:

the dip

The Dip is that gap between the excitement of starting something new and the reality of completing it, where the effort you’re exerting over time has not produced the results you were expecting (or desperately needing).

The Dip is where goals go to die. Vision is what keeps them alive. The fire of passion. The drive of a dream. Commitment to a cause. As Victor Frankl, survivor of the Nazi death camps puts it, “He who has a why can endure any how.”

Revisit your vision. Remind yourself of your why. Clinging to it tenaciously will get you through the how of the equal and opposite reaction that arises in the pursuit of your goals.

2. Take the Next Step … and the Next

Practically, however, what do you actually do in The Dip? The answer to that question is simple, yet profound. You take the next step, then the next step. And then the next.

I learned this lesson in the first 10K race I ever competed in. It was on New Year’s Day 2013, and when I woke up it was 22 degrees outside. By the time I got to the starting line, it had warmed up all of five degrees to a very frosty 27 degrees.

But emotions were high, if not the temperature. The gun sounded and I took off with the pack, running faster than I ever had for the first three miles of the race. The problem is, a 10K is not three miles long, it’s over six miles long. By the time the fourth mile came along, my legs felt like lead and my lungs were wheezing.

As I entered the fifth mile, all I could think about was quitting the race and walking back to the finish line. Embarrassed, yes, but pain free.

But I didn’t. Why? Because I had committed myself a year earlier to getting into the best shape of my adult life, and, for me, that meant being able to run a 10K in less that one hour. I had trained for it, and, dammit, I was going to do it.

I had found the will to win and kept going. In spite of the pain in my legs and my lungs, I put one foot in front of another and took the next step, then the next. And then the next.

Soon I was within view of the finish line and could hear people cheering. Someone read the race number on the bib pinned to my shirt, and my name blared through the speakers like an announcement at a football game. I sprinted even harder and finished with a respectable 56:36.

Please note, however, that my goal was not fulfilled at the fast start or the finishing sprint. It was fulfilled when, against everything I was feeling at the time, I clung tenaciously to the vision I cast for myself. The goal was fulfilled, quite simply, with a will to win.

3.  Recharge and Reengage

Finally, a will to win is cultivated by taking on other challenges, setting bigger and badder goals and pursing them with the same tenacity.

But first celebrate.

In other words, don’t go from one race to another without any breaks in between. It’s how runners get injured and leaders get burned out. Rest, relax, and take time to recharge your body and soul. And, yes, celebrate. Enjoy the win and revel in your victory.

The Will to Win and True Grit

Here’s the truth about goal fulfillment: it doesn’t really happen on the mountaintop, but in the valley. It doesn’t take place in the light, but in the darkness. It’s forged in adversity. To fulfill any worthwhile, meaningful goal one must possess a drive and determination to overcome opposition.

In short, you must have grit.

Not the grit of a gunslinger that the young Mattie Ross found in an aging Rooster Cogburn in the movie, True Grit. But the grit that researcher Dr. Angela Duckworth defines as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

According to her research, this kind of grit outperforms both talent and intelligence in activities as diverse as graduating from military school and competing in the National Spelling Bee.

Perseverance and passion for long-term goals outperforms talent and intelligence in business as as well. It’s the will to win that gets you to the finish line time after time, celebrating sweet victory against any and all equal and opposite reactions.

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