By Benjamin Hardy
The four quotes I’m going to share with you are from two pretty intense people. The first is Viktor Frankl, who survived the Holocaust and wrote the book that changed psychology.
The second is Dan Sullivan, who has coached more successful entrepreneurs than anyone in the world, and who has been doing so for the past 45 years!
Let’s start with Sullivan:
“The only way to make your present better is by making your future bigger.”
What the heck does this mean?
Here’s what it means: If you want to actually make something of yourself, then you need a huge future to be striving for. What have you been doing with your day? Have you been pushing your limits? Or have you been going through the motions?
Have you been learning? Failing? Making a fool of yourself? Being disappointed for not knowing enough and learning some intense lessons fast?
Feeling totally supported and connected by mentors and people who love you?
The only way you can make your present way better is by making your future way bigger. You think this is just a play on words? It’s not. Here’s the research to back it up:
In order to engage in true “deliberate practice” (i.e., intensive learning), you need a clear future self to strive for. If you don’t, you won’t have the motivation. You won’t have the hope. You won’t have the reason.
You don’t just “practice” randomly. You don’t just engage in a “process” for the sake of it.
You engage in DELIBERATE, intentional, targeted training and experience that turns you into the person you wanted to be.
There’s a lot more to it, though, than just going through deep learning. What about human potential and fulfillment? Research shows there are three levels of happiness:
- The first level is moment-by-moment. This is the lowest level, and doesn’t leave a lasting impression.
- The second is enjoyment, where you experience a lot of “flow” and positive experience.
- The third is meaning, where you experience lots of “flow” but also have an intense sense of purpose driving you. Your flow isn’t random, but directed, and taking you places not only specific, but beyond anything those around you can fathom.
Alright, that leads us Frankl:
“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.”
The first quote from Sullivan pointed to the idea that the present only gets “better” when you make your future bigger. Well, now Frankl is telling us that what we need is tension, intensity, challenge, and meaning.
That was one of Frankl’s major discoveries surviving the Holocaust. The moment a person lost hope and purpose for their life, the present became meaningless.
As a result, the challenges and suffering became unbearable. In those horrid conditions, what that meant was the person died. You literally need hope to survive. You need something to look forward to. You need a future. Otherwise everything lacks purpose.
With that said, a “better” present isn’t necessarily an easier one. On the contrary, a “better” present is freaking hard! Mind-blowingly hard. Humbling as hell! Putting you on your knees! But extremely transformational.
I’m gonna have to squeeze in a poem here… our good friend, Douglas Malloch, from way back like 100 years ago!
Good timber does not grow with ease:
The stronger wind, the stronger trees;
The further sky, the greater length;
The more the storm, the more the strength.
By sun and cold, by rain and snow,
In trees and men good timbers grow.
You want a good life? You want a good day? Then be striving like crazy toward something beyond your current reach.
Some days — your best ones actually — will be the ones where you put everything you had into it and still fell short. Those are the ones where you feel really alive, and like you’re really going for it.
How often do most people have days like that? Where they lay it all out on the table and still totally come up short?
How often are you striving for something so big and challenging that your all-out best efforts are nowhere near enough?
Of course, you need incredible encouragement and support and stability and love to make this happen. You need high stress and high recovery. Being in flow can wear you out.
You need a release valve so you can let off the pressure and just sit back and relax. You need to celebrate your effort and everything you did. You need to measure the gain, not the gap, and cheer on your effort, yet remain fully committed to the final outcome.
You’ve got to be able to laugh at yourself, knowing that “now” isn’t permanent, and that you’re going to make it. And that there is incredible joy in the journey. Joy in the present is different from momentary pleasure. Joy comes from purpose, awe, gratitude, and appreciation.
Alright — Here’s a follow-up quote from Frankl to build-off the last:
“Happiness cannot be attained by wanting to be happy — it must come as an unintended consequence of working for a goal greater than oneself.”
Frankl knew that you can’t be happy by trying to be happy. Happiness is a byproduct of growth, striving, purpose, and meaning. It’s a byproduct of challenge and change.
Humans are built to be challenged. Humans are built to strive, learn, and be stretched. We are emotional beings, and if our emotions are experienced, due to staying in our comfort zone, then we begin to shrivel inside.
You’ve got to put yourself though emotionally draining experiences. You’ve got to feel the full weight of what it means to live. You can’t just hide in a quiet cage of desperation.
You need to really give your soul to something, really offer something, really strive to connect. To open yourself up fully to scrutiny and defeat. Courage is the willingness to try something that might not work. Courage is the doorway to transformation and permanent healing.
Back to Sullivan to round it all out:
“Personal confidence comes from making progress toward goals that are far bigger than your present capabilities.”
Confidence is the belief you can do amazing things. Confidence is the trust to try and follow through.
Confidence is crucial, but like happiness, confidence is a byproduct. It comes from making progress, even small progress, toward goals above your current self.
The more confidence you have, the bigger your future will be. As a result, with ever up-tick in confidence, your future will expand, thus enhancing your present.
You’ll stop being so confined and limited by your emotions. Your comfort zone will expand. This doesn’t mean everything will be easy. Instead, it means you’ll be more willing to be courageous.
Being confident means you’re not confined to your comfort zone, but instead, will step out, gladly. You’ll face whatever is “out there.” You’ll handle the uncertainty. You’ll figure it out. You’ll try, you’ll adapt, you’ll make it happen, no matter how long it takes.
Conclusion (Bonus quotes #5 and 6)
“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” — Viktor Frankl
Your purpose isn’t something you “discover.” It’s a choice you make. You don’t discover yourself, you create yourself through your thoughts and actions. Through your imagination and courage.
Will you create a future? Or will you be defined by the past? Will you let the days go by in distraction? Or will you squeeze all the juice you can out of today? As Jean-Jacques Rousseau said:
“The person who has lived the most is not the one with the most years but the one with the richest experiences.”
Benjamin P Hardy is the bestselling author of Willpower Doesn’t Work, which explains the profound impact your environment has on your behaviour, mindset, and success. He is an organizational psychologist, speaker, entrepreneur and a father to five kids.
(Article published in partnership with BenjaminHardy.com)