10 Small Immediate Actions to Avoid Giving Up: Inspiration from Muhammad Ali

Written by Scott April 9, 2015

 “Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

– Muhammad Ali

World Tour Update: After a week of California wedding festivities, we just touched down in Amsterdam to kick off the next nine months out of the country. If you’re in town, come join our LYL Local event this Sunday. We’re expecting well over 30 inspiring Living Legends. RSVP for Amsterdam here.

Next week’s stop is, well, I’m not really sure. Perhaps Budapest or Transylvania. Still sorting that one out. 🙂

As for the above photo, I stumbled upon this quote from Muhammad Ali yesterday during our first wander about the city – etched into a widow near a sleepy Amsterdam canal. I have no idea how this is the first time I’ve read it, but it makes for the perfect opening to today’s discussion…

Who would you bet on?

And more importantly, what kind of person would you need to be for others to put their money on?

I recently spent a week in Santa Barbara, California. The place holds a special spot in my heart for all kinds of reasons, but probably most of all, it was the last place I had a real job.

That job was also my first experience doing work I deeply believed in with a team I had tremendous respect for. It was a huge paradigm shift. These guys showed me work actually could be something you couldn’t wait to dive into each morning. That was about eight years ago.

Over these past few days, I got to catch up with my old boss turned good friend, Justin Bellante, the founder of BioIQ, the then 6-person preventive healthcare startup, which has since grown into a profitable 50-employee operation.

Chelsea and I rented an Airbnb a few blocks from their office, and it reminded me of the day I finally worked up the courage to tell him I had to leave to pursue my own thing. We went outside to talk. I was very nervous – both to put in my notice and to head out solo after two years with a company I had loved being a part of.

When we got outside, with a huge smile he said something like, “Man, I’m so excited for you. This has always been my goal for our early team – if they leave, it’s to take a VP or higher role at a bigger company or to build something of their own. You’ll always be welcome back, but I hope you never come back. Now, tell me what’s next!”

It was the most reassuring conversation I could have had.

So here’s the point…

When I considered joining his team a couple years earlier, I wanted to be as intentional as possible with my decision. I had just spent seven months banging the keyboard at a Fortune 500 job I couldn’t stand (that everyone said I was supposed to be proud of), and I promised myself I would not make the same mistake twice.

So, after doing my own research and being pretty sure this step aligned with what actually mattered to me, I had a chat with a former professor who knew the founder quite well.

I asked him what he thought of the start-up.

His response sealed the deal…

“Well, the company is new, and while I don’t know a ton about their model, I do know the founder. And I know he’s the kind of guy you do not want to compete with. He just won’t give up. He’d die trying before he’d quit.”

He went on and on about the business and the founder’s character and integrity, but I had already heard most of it in my research. His first statement was all I needed.

As I wrote about last week, deciding to give up is your biggest risk of failure.

And how often do you get the chance to work with someone with a reputation like that?

“The kind of person who won’t give up.”

That’s whose corner I want to be in. And it’s definitely who I want in mine.

That’s why he was able to stomach the crazy lean years that every new business seems to be forced to endure, and why eight years later, he and his business are thriving.

That experience also probably has a lot more to do with Live Your Legend’s development than I’ve given fair credit for in the past.

And since stopping is your biggest risk of not succeeding (however you decide to define it), I thought I’d provide a few things you can do right now to make you a lot less likely to give up.

10 Ways to Keep Yourself from Giving Up – Actions for Right Now

1. Pick something you actually care about. This is the most fundamental of all. If you don’t give a sh*t, then you’ll give up – and you should. The most powerful motivation for enduring the inevitable rough patches along the pursuit of a dream is to actively work towards something you believe is worth it.

Start with our Passionate Work Framework and then check out Live Off Your Passion Guided-Discovery for the deep dive.

2. Write down why it matters. It’s fine to start with high level things like “to be happier,” but then get deeper. What might be at risk if you give up? Frustration, a broken marriage, early heart attack, a life of regret? No one can answer this for you, but the long-term risks of staying in a situation you’re not proud of are very real. The point is to make it very clear that progressing forward is the only real option. Then put this up in a place like your bathroom or office where you’ll see and read it every day.

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

3. Commit to someone else. We tend to be more likely to hold a promise to others than to ourselves. Find someone close to you, sit them down and share your goals and why they matter so much. Then ask them to routinely check in with you (ideally each week – via phone or text, and periodically in-person, is fine) to be sure you’re keeping to it.

4. Find a model. Difficult things are a lot more manageable if we know other people who’ve done something similar. Because as you’ve heard before, the fastest way to do the things you don’t think can be done is to hang around people already doing them. Find someone you respect who has done things you want to do and who is living the life you want to live.

They don’t have to be in your industry and you don’t have to know them personally (although ideally they eventually become your mentor as well). If you’re working towards something meaningful, you likely already have someone in mind. Another option is to hire a business or personal coach – I meet with both regularly. It’s some of the best money I spend.

Start here: On Modeling the Impossible and How to Do Anything.

5. Find a support group. No one changes the world on their own. Life is a lot less scary and much more fun with others in our corner. That’s why Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous have been so damn effective. People create accountability and that accountability keeps us moving forward.

And most groups will have some people a lot further along than you, which will naturally raise your standards. It’s called Social Facilitation. And this is why we put so much energy into our Live Your Legend Local meetup groups that are now in over 60 countries and 250 cities around the world – which I’m visiting throughout our world tour all this year. Join one!

6. Create a mastermind. A mastermind can be similar to a bigger support group but more intimate with fewer members and more frequent interaction. Find 3-5 people, either in-person or online, with similar goals and at a similar stage as you. Ideally meet each week to discuss progress, challenges and next steps, with a deep focus on support and progress. One of my mastermind groups of three people has meet consistently for over three years. I think we’ve only missed one meeting. This is why in our How to Connect With Anyone course, we hand place you into mastermind groups according to your goals. Learn more about masterminds here.

7. Put something on the line. If nothing’s at stake, what’s the point in sticking to it? It’s weird how motivating a simple bet with a friend can be. Try putting $25 or $50 on the line for every time you don’t deliver on what you agreed. Or make donations to a charity of your buddy’s choosing. Have fun with it.

8. Make the steps impossible not to take. Don’t try to do too much at once. Trying to check a box like “start my business” or “quit my job” is enough to make anyone want to give up. The key is to chunk it down – take it in tiny pieces. Always ask: What’s the smallest next step I could take to keep making progress? Take it. Then take the next. Progress is what matters, no matter how small.

9. Do it first thing. This is Productivity 101. Our willpower fades as the day goes on (Hint: Avoid making big decisions at the end of a long day. Why do you think late night infomercials are so effective?). If you want to be sure it gets done, then do it first (that’s when I do almost all my writing). Or at least do it before you lose a few hours in email and Facebook. Making progress on what matters is sacred time. Treat it that way.

10. Take some pressure off. Anything meaningful generally takes a lot longer than planned. And when it comes to living your legend, it never really ends. That’s the fun part. So stop pressuring yourself to build Rome in a day. Don’t get me wrong – this is not permission to push off progress to tomorrow (which means never). It’s just me telling you it’s okay if at times you can only dedicate 10 or 20% of your time to it. If you have a full-time job, that’s probably all you can spare anyway.

You can still make tremendous progress over a few months or a year just by checking off a couple tiny next steps each day. If you try to do too much too fast you’ll likely get frustrated or burn out. Each of which makes giving up a lot more tempting. But if you get in the habit of small, consistent progress, that builds confidence, which makes you capable of taking on more. That’s how you move mountains.

Side note for the really crazy ones: For the very rare few, turning the pressure way up can sometimes help motivate, but for most it often leads to panic and poor decision making, so I rarely suggest it. That’s why Live Your Legend is not the “drop everything and quit your job” show. While some might be able to pull it off, I believe advice like that is careless. There is so much you can do right now, before making any crazy changes, which may keep you from ever having to just drop everything and move on. If you do decide to burn the boats (and have the stomach and/or resources to endure it), then burn at your own risk. 

So… what will keep you going, right now?

At any point along the journey, that’s the magic question.

Giving up is a choice – and rarely the right one. Whether you’re considering throwing in the towel right now or not, start to incorporate these steps. Start stacking the deck in your favor, because no one else will do that for you.

Perseverance is a skill to be learned. A habit to be built.

So is doing what you thought you couldn’t do.

Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.

After seeing Muhammad Ali’s quote on that curious Amsterdam window yesterday, I Googled it to verify. As it turns out, there was a second part that didn’t make it onto the glass…

“Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing.”

Are you being the kind of person people would bet on?

Choice is yours,

– Scott

P.S. You may have noticed that many of these suggestions involve other people. That’s not a coincidence. At LYL we’ve found that the biggest factor in finding and doing work you love (and pursuing any dream) comes down to the people around you. That’s why we put so much energy into our flagship How to Connect With Anyone course and community. We only open it a couple times a year, and accept a small group of people for each round.

We’re opening it again soon. You can click here to get on the waitlist.

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“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” - Jim Rohn