It's human to put things off.

We've all done it. You see something on your schedule you just don't want to do, either because it's unpleasant, or because it's complicated and time-consuming and you don't know where to start.

And you know what happens next. You procrastinate and keep putting it off, secretly hoping it might somehow disappear and become somebody else's problem. My sports and business clients often talk about this procrastination loop, and what it causes. You get behind, and you try to solve every problem and pick up every piece at once, and the size of the job overwhelms you.

The task just gets pushed down the road again.

The story I like to share on this subject comes from a friend who has just an incredible amount of self-discipline and drive. Bobby Gassoff grew up the son of an NHL defenseman, and he went on to captain the University of Michigan's hockey team in 1994, when the Wolverines won the National Championship.

After college, Bobby was working his way up through hockey's minor leagues when he felt the calling to serve his country. He quit hockey and trained to join the Navy SEALs, one of the most elite fighting units in the world.

Bobby--and everybody else in BUDS (basic underwater demolition/SEALS) training--was in freak athletic shape when he got there. But during "hell week," the prospective SEALs run the equivalent of three full marathons while carrying hundreds of pounds of gear, and they do it soaking wet, freezing cold and on less than 30 minutes of sleep per night.

The program is designed to separate the toughest from the rest.

On the second day of hell week, the skin around Bobby's armpits and groin had been worn away by the wet sand. One of his teammates--the winner of the Navy pentathlon and the best runner and swimmer in the group--had just rung the bell and quit.

Bobby decided he would just focus on the next single step he had to take. The thought of what he was going to have to go through for the rest of training was just too overwhelming, so he put it out of his head. He put one foot in front of the other, then thought about the next step after that.

In the few minutes the trainees got to eat lunch, the instructors would call out all of the brutal activities scheduled for the rest of the day--a tactic designed to see who would be distracted and disheartened.

Now, is the average task you're staring down the equivalent of SEALs training? Probably not.

But when you lose focus and start to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work ahead of you, you're increasing the chances you're going to quit. Instead of getting too broad with your focus or trying to do too much, pick a single thing.

A first step.

Get that done, and go through the process again. Pick the next step.

So much of success in any line of work--whether it's an Olympic sport or a sales job at a software company--is relentlessness and determination. Does a flashy set of outlier physical and mental ability help? Sure.

But true success is earned one step at a time.

Published on: Dec 5, 2014
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