The Greatest Motivator, and How to Harness It

By Cliff Ennico

January 28, 2020 6 min read

We're almost at the end of January, and I'm willing to bet most of you have already given up on one or more of your New Year's resolutions.

The key to success with any resolution — personal, business or otherwise — is will power. We all start out with the best of intentions, but when you set a goal and fail to reach it, it's nearly always because you quit at some point.

Once you have set a goal for something, it all comes down to execution. Or, to use some other popular words from self-help literature:

— Dedication.

— Commitment.

— Persistence.

— Perseverance.

— Stick-to-itiveness.

— Pigheadedness.

— Ruthlessness.

Whatever name you assign to it (and before you wrinkle your nose in disgust, name one self-made billionaire who was not utterly ruthless getting there), this trait or quality is what separates the winners from the losers in life 99% of the time.

One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from Calvin Coolidge, president of the United States during the Roaring '20s: "Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

Or, if the thought that a Republican might actually be right about something makes you gag, here's one from Richard DeVos, the co-founder of Amway: "If I had to select one quality, one personal characteristic that I regard as being most highly correlated with success, whatever the field, I would pick the trait of persistence. Determination. The will to endure to the end, to get knocked down seventy times and get up off the floor saying, 'Here comes number seventy-one!'"

Whatever you call it, let's be clear about something: It's not fun. It is work, and work, by definition, is not fun. Anyone who tells you you can reach a goal without suffering — that you can actually lose weight while eating cupcakes — is lying to you, pure and simple.

I have written more than 15 books on topics ranging from selling on eBay to making partner at a law firm. I am proud of each and every one of them. But let me tell you something: Sitting before a blank computer screen and realizing you have to fill 300 pages before your publisher will pay you anything (or will demand a return of the advance, which you have probably already spent) is not fun.

Anything that is worth doing in life requires hard work, pain, suffering and sacrifice. Get over it, and get going.

In ages past, it was easier for people to accept this. Up until only a few decades ago, most people accepted the proposition that life was a vale of tears that had to be endured stoically so you could finally die and go someplace where maybe, perhaps, you could eat cupcakes while losing weight. Look at photos of people from the Victorian era. Notice how nobody smiles? People back then probably weren't much fun at parties (most of them would have viewed enjoying oneself too much as a sin), but they were tough; they never complained; and they got an awful lot done. The idea that hard work, obstacles and suffering as mankind's daily lot is a tough sell for us spoiled-rotten Americans of the second millennium who are (let's face it) a little too easy on ourselves. Where are the Puritans now that we really need them?

Nowadays we want everything including our work to be fun and entertaining — look at those Silicon Valley companies that create playrooms for their employees. If you really want to motivate your employees to work harder, fire a couple of low performers, very publicly, and watch what the rest do. It's not pleasant or nice, but boy, does it work (if you have the right people).

If you lack the discipline to persevere in your work, your business or your life, here's a little self-motivation trick: Scare yourself silly. Instead of visualizing success (what all the motivational speakers tell you to do), visualize yourself failing miserably and suffering the worst-case consequences. If you want to lose weight, picture your doctor telling you that you have just developed Type 2 diabetes and may need to have a limb cut off. If you need more revenue from your business, picture yourself selling your house, losing your spouse and moving into a tenement should your business fail.

One of the dirtiest secrets of life — an inconvenient truth — is that fear is a great, perhaps the greatest, motivator. Once you are haunted by the prospect of failure and have lost sleep by staring hard into the abyss, you will find inner resources of strength you never suspected you had, and creative solutions you wouldn't have thought of otherwise. As a friend of mine who climbs mountains says, "When you're hanging from a sheer cliff face 200 feet off the ground, you're not thinking about anything but handholds and toeholds."

Cliff Ennico ([email protected]) is a syndicated columnist, author and former host of the PBS television series "Money Hunt." This column is no substitute for legal, tax or financial advice, which can be furnished only by a qualified professional licensed in your state. To find out more about Cliff Ennico and other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit our webpage at

Photo credit: Pexels at Pixabay

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