The first virtue in a soldier is endurance of fatigue; courage is only the second virtue. – Napoleon Bonaparte
What do you do after a tiring day at work, or a few exhausting days out on the road, or at the end of a long shift?
Do you come home and flop on the sofa and get a glass of wine – have you given everything you have and now is it time for a rest?
We all probably feel that way sometimes – feel that we’re running out of energy, out of fuel – and the needle is hovering close to empty.
Some people power on, pushing through the tiredness – willing themselves to keep going.
Others stop and rest, perhaps they give up and look for something easier to do.
Others are used to the ride – the roller-coaster of idleness followed by explosive, exhausting action.
Special forces soldiers, for example, eat when they can and take a nap whenever they can – because they know that it might be a long time before they can do those things again when on a mission.
Napoleon’s quote is interesting in that context – if you could choose someone on your team would you pick the most brilliant person – or the one who you knew could go the distance with you?
We all know people who are clever and capable but that are unable to shift their views when needed – they follow a set path and any variation unsettles them.
And then you have those who talk a lot and promise much but usually fail to deliver.
The people who make the cut in elite armed forces are often not the best or sharpest or quickest – but the ones who can plod away, taking step after step until they reach the end.
Being good at plodding matters.
It matters because if you’re the kind of person who needs to be fully rested, fully fed, with all the gear and tools and resources to get things done – then you probably won’t.
That’s often the problem with large organisations – they have the resources but not the people with the will to keep going.
A startup, on the other hand, has few resources and depends on the energy of the team – and not on mercurial, unpredictable energy but the focused, concentrated and undivided attention that comes with working on something you’re really interested in.
If you have tried to cultivate a daily habit – daily exercise, daily writing, daily meditation – you know how there are always forces that are trying to pull you off track.
Not intentionally – but there are fun things to do, people do see, things to watch – and surely you can just put it off for one day and take a break?
And that’s the problem with relying on willpower to get anything done.
Will power needs energy and if you’re tired and have had a long day your willpower is drained and you’re more likely to take the easy choice – order takeout and sprawl on the sofa.
When you’re tired what comes to your aid is not willpower but habit.
If you have created a habit then you’ll be able to get started even when the needle is pointing at zero.
You might have to take a nap but then you can get started.
The ability to endure comes from habit, not from will.
We are weak creatures, we humans – we get excited when things go well and we get down when we don’t.
And we can easily be let astray by the basic forces – just like you see with children all the time.
Tired, hungry, ill or bored – those are the things that get you every time.
If you’re tired, you’ll reach for the chocolate.
If you make a habit of not buying any – then you won’t have it.
Because what you need to get where you want is to know how you’re going to keep moving when you’re completely shattered and on the verge of being wiped out.
Because most of your competition will stop at that point.
You just need to take a few more steps – and you’ll be out there, in front, on your own.