There is no shortage of business books on the market (including mine), most of which claim to hold the secrets to success.
As a business book writer myself, I’m not inclined to disparage any of these. Most offer useful tactics that entrepreneurs can use to streamline their processes and boost their performance.
Few, however, speak to the immutable truth about what separates top performers from the rest. I’m talking about the people who can do more, push harder, and endure more than what we commonly believe to be possible.
This rare trait goes by many names; grit, perseverance, dedication, ambition, but the name that I think best describes it is “the 40% rule.”
The key to mental toughness
I grew up with the 40% rule, but I didn’t realize it until I read Jesse Itzler’s book “Living With A SEAL.”
In it, Itzler describes how he hired a Navy SEAL to come live with him and his family for a month to teach them the lessons of mental toughness.
The 40% rule is simple: When your mind is telling you that you’re done, that you’re exhausted, that you cannot possibly go any further, you’re only actually 40% done.
The human mind is an amazing thing. It both propels us forward and holds us back.
The 40% rule reminds us that no matter how exhausted we might feel, it is always possible to draw on an untapped reserve of energy, motivation, and drive that we all possess.
If it’s too hard for everyone else...
Now, I’ve never lived with a SEAL, but my father is just about the closest civilian equivalent you’ll ever find. I’ve written about his business lessons before, but I’ve never shared his trademark mantra before.
Growing up, I was always told “If it’s too hard for someone else, it’s just right for us.” It was a phrase that I both loved and hated.
I loved it when he was referring to academic challenges, entrepreneurial endeavors, or ethical choices.
I hated it, however, when it was said about a grueling hike or another athletic undertaking.
Nevertheless, his mantra has in many ways shaped the course of my life.
In essence, it means that our ability to deal with challenges, difficulties, and setbacks is defined not by our ability, but rather by our mindset.
The mere act of saying it reinforces the core principle of the 40% rule.
Growing up my entire worldview revolved around the fact that I should, and could, push myself harder than anyone.
The 40% rule in entrepreneurship
Winston Churchill once remarked that “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
I’ve never come across a more appropriate description of entrepreneurship.
Success isn’t a matter of being smarter or tougher than anyone else. It’s a matter of never giving up.
As an entrepreneur, I’ve faced utter devastation more times than I care to remember.
Products have failed, deals have been lost, and I’ve flat-out run out of money more than once.
Every manner of roadblock and challenge has been thrown in front of me, but I’ve never given up.
Whenever I feel like I simply can’t go on, and there have been several times, I remind myself that I’m not even halfway done.
If I’ve learned anything along my entrepreneurial journey, it’s that the human spirit is capable of far more than we can imagine.
The trouble is that our society, especially those of us so-called “millennials” who were born after 1980, have been taught to run from hardship.
Pain and suffering are things to be avoided at all cost, and if something is too difficult, we simply run away.
What we fail to realize, however, is that the path to greatness is paved with pain and suffering.
Whether we’re talking about entrepreneurship, sports, relationships, or parenting, nothing of value is ever easy.
When we fail to push ourselves and accept pain in our lives, we inadvertently reject things of true value and substance.
The 40% rule is something we should all live by, whether in business or life in general.
All of us can learn to dig deeper and push ourselves farther than we ever thought possible.
Only by doing so will we be able to stumble from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm, as Churchill said.
It turns out that the real secret to success is as simple as it is both brutal and difficult to master.