The Hard Shit That’s Mandatory for Success

If you want to achieve success, in any endeavor, there’s some hard shit you’ll have to do, and it’s usually excluded from the how-to-reach-your-goals discussion.

How do some people appear to effortlessly build a fit, healthy body? How do some people transform their lives while others stand in awe of the seemingly radical transformation?

From transforming your body to revamping your life, here are some observations I’ve plucked from my experiences and from analyzing successful people. These tips can apply to anything: building a healthy, fit body; improving a relationship; learning a new skill; getting out of debt. Success leaves clues, and these are a few you’ll be rewarded for diligently practicing.

1. Put in the work, even when you don’t feel like it.

If there was one crucial factor that separates those who achieve results from those who don’t, it’s this one, so pay attention.

The effectiveness of consistency cannot be denied, nor can it be faked. Doing the same things over, and over, and over, and over again isn’t sexy or exciting, but damnit it works. It’s not always fun and you’re not always going to be fueled with motivation to do what needs to be done, but the successful show up and do it anyway, especially when they don’t feel like it.

They rely on discipline because motivation is fickle. This applies to anything: transforming your body (doing a workout when you don’t feel like it), getting out of debt (not buying that new smartphone because you’ve got to pay off the last one, or cooking at home instead of going out to eat), earning that degree (getting your ass out of bed even though you’d prefer to sleep in), and any other goal you want to achieve. You’re not always going to be motivated to execute the needed actions. That’s when action is at its most critical need.

Don’t feel like taking action today? Congratulations! This is one of thousands of instances you’ll experience just like this. Now go do it anyway.

2. Results come from consistent effort, and not wasting time searching for the “best” solution or next exciting fad.

Many people spend an abundance of time, in the world of fitness, looking for the next book, diet strategy, or program that will solve their problems or give them the motivation-boost they need. They ceaselessly ask questions, research, scroll through feeds, and talk about their goals.

Because of all this “work” they feel like they’re making progressing, but they’re not. They’re stalling.

This is a prime example of confusing acts of procrastination with progress.

Those who achieve results know they’re better off applying something immediately, and not searching for the next possible solution. Instead of asking they’re acting. Instead of digging they’re doing.

Show me your daily progress, not your elaborate plan. Only the former leads you closer to your goals.

Case in point: Want to transform your body? Consistently follow a three day per week strength training program, improve your performance, and apply some simple nutrition guidelines. Do this for several months, and ideally years (yes, I said years). You’ll achieve greater results doing that instead of searching for something “better.”

3. Small, gradual improvements are better than drastic changes.

Results are achieved in small increments. The successful person knows they’re going to be better off striving for a 1% improvement every day rather than trying to change everything, or do everything, all at once.

Patience is an elusive force. Find it, and hold on tight; it will see you through the stretches where those gradual 1% improvements don’t seem like enough. Then one day, the culmination of your efforts will be revealed. This is the beauty of the compound effect, but it only occurs if you’re consistent. And patient.

It’s not about doing everything right, but about doing the right things consistently.

4. Don’t make excuses.

Look, I despise the whole “I have 12 kids, a three-legged hamster that needs daily medication injections, two full-time jobs and I still have a six-pack … so what’s your excuse?” rampant health and fitness bullshit. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to people who find a way to do something to take care of themselves, no matter what.

In the realm of health and fitness, for example: if they’re injured, they find other exercises they can do. If they’re short on time, they work hard on a few key exercises and then go home. If they can’t make it to the gym they run hill sprints or train at home with bodyweight exercises. If they’re at a fast food restaurant they make the best decision they can with what’s available. (Or they’ll eat whatever they want knowing it’s just one meal and then get right back on track with smart choices.) Even if their parents didn’t bless them with envy-inducing genetics, they work hard, even harder, if necessary, to achieve their goals.

Those who achieve success know damn well that nothing replaces consistent hard, smart work and that obstacles are inevitable. They adapt; they don’t make excuses.

5. Make choices — especially tough choices.

Taking control of your life means making choices, particularly those that are difficult. I’ve had clients remove themselves from their closest friends because they were no longer conducive to the life they wanted to live. Their main group of friends went out drinking multiple times each week, and they knew they could no longer be involved in those activities and reach their goals. So they changed their lifestyle, found new friends, and bore the initial, and even uncomfortable, transition. Once they made those changes, they experienced the positive benefits from making that initial difficult choice.

Tough choices can be uncomfortable, but they must be made. The successful know this. They examine the situation and possible outcomes, remove ego from the equation, make a choice, and execute it.

You can actively live your life or let others dictate your future.

Only one leads you to your goals.

6. Know growth is possible.

Carol Dweck explains the growth-mindset best in her phenomenal book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Those who are successful know they don’t have to settle for their genetics, current level of intelligence, or even their shortcomings. Those who harness the growth-mindset know improvement is possible with consistent effort. Those who want to learn a new skill put in the necessary grunt work. Individuals who have the unfortunate genetics that make them prone to fat gain acknowledge that reality, but they muster up the necessary gusto and take action.

7. Say no when necessary.

It’s easy to say yes to every request or opportunity. You want to be helpful and don’t want to risk missing out, but those who achieve success in any realm know saying “no” at times is not only important, but can be the deciding factor from achieving your goals or pushing them further away.

The reality is: Whenever you say “yes” to something you’re also saying “no,” indirectly, to something else. If you say “yes” to going out for a drink after work, you’re saying “no” to going to the gym to do your scheduled workout. When you say “yes” to attending a voluntary meeting you’re saying “no” to the work you do that produces results.

You can’t say yes to everything. Sometimes you have to say “no” so you can say “yes” to the things that lead you to your goals.

8. Purpose trumps passion.

Passion is akin to infatuation. It’s exciting as hell, makes your heart flutter with anticipation, and you’re so drunk with its power that you feel invincible. It may be useful for kick starting a new journey or taking that first critical step, but purpose sustains you when passion fades.

Passion is a feeling. Purpose is a mission.

Have a definitive purpose to sustain you when passion wanes.

9. Do what has to be done, even when it’s dreadful.

My wife is a great example. While earning her bachelor’s degree she worked full time so she wouldn’t drown in student loans; she paid her way through undergrad. Toward the end of her undergrad work she decided to attend PT school, and with her new degree in hand she took a new, better paying job that demanded grueling, odd hours. She raked in 90-hour weeks and worked nights, holidays, and weekends. And she did it while commuting to a university to fulfill the necessary requirements for PT school.

She got her doctorate in physical therapy, and did it entirely on her own. My wife earned her doctorate with grueling, and oftentimes shitty, tedious, hard work and without anyone cosigning her student loans. The most incredible part of this: she never complained once. Upon hearing stories of that miserable job I asked her why she did it for so long. Her answer was basically: because at the time it was the only option (she lived in a very small town). She knew what she wanted to achieve and that gave her the best opportunity to make it happen.

This ability and determination to do what has to be done — even when it sucks, even when it’s exhausting, even when it hurts — is why some people achieve success, and others never will. This applies to anything you want to achieve.

Sometimes you have to choke down a double-decker shit-sandwich before you can indulge in a delectable entree. It may be time for you to wrap your fingers around the first course, and start chowing down.

10. Work hard, but also smart.

Those who achieve success do what has to be done and don’t get distracted or waste time on what can be done.

Strive for mastery with a few proven basics, and milk them for every possible thirst quenching drop. Then examine the results, absorb the feedback from your efforts, and make slight, smart modifications to continue your progress.

Your actions must have a purpose, so choose wisely. Be disciplined to maintain your focus on the things that must be done and don’t get tossed wildly about by distracting possibilities.

11. Compete with your current-self, not other people.

I say current-self because a 40-year-old woman knows her body is different than when she was 20. She knows while at 20 she may have been able to squat and deadlift twice a week that at 40 she needs to do it once. Or take the individual who developed an illness or disability that forces them to get creative with their strength training; they know not to compare themselves to their performance before their current state. They also know comparing themselves to another woman’s body, performance, or anyone else is not productive. (Note: another woman’s body is not your measuring stick.)

There’s nothing wrong with looking to others for guidance, but this is your journey. It will look different than anyone else’s. Tomorrow’s goal is to be a little better than you were today.

12. Know failure is part of the journey, and not a defining trait.

No one (including you, and me) is entitled to success, and failure is not optional.

This relates to the growth-mindset discussed in number six. Successful people know failure is an inevitable part of the journey, and that its lessons can be the greatest teachers. Failure is not to be feared, but respected. You can choose to let it break you down and cause you to cower from impending obstacles, or you can learn from it and become stronger, smarter, and more resilient.

This isn’t an attempt to romanticize failure, because that would be stupid. It will happen, to some degree, and you must be prepared to learn every lesson it presents and accept it as an event and not a destiny.

13. Take action instead of complaining.

Complaining is another form of procrastination. “The time isn’t right,” or “Things need to calm down at work,” or “The economy is crap” are all complaints that restrain you from taking action. There will always be something you can complain about. The next time you complain, catch it, call it out for what it is: a form of procrastination. Then immediately do something that leads you toward your goal. (For not-sugar-coated information, refer to Shut Up And Do Something.)

Those 13 things compromise some of the hard shit you must be willing to do if you want to be successful, and they can apply to any situation or goal.

What You Want to Hear Versus What You Need to Hear

Listening to what you want to be told can be comforting and make you feel good (“Dream big and think happy thoughts!”), but absorbing what you need to hear (“Achieving anything worth having is hard as shit and will require tons of relentless, gut-busting effort. And some of it will absolutely suck.”), even when it stings like hell, is what makes you grow and allows you to become the best version of yourself.

The above information will piss some people off. If you’re one of them, ask yourself why. Maybe it’s because you’ve been fed too much misinformation that makes the path to success look effortless, and so you’ve avoided the hard shit that must be done.

I’ve been guilty of wasting time, complaining, and seeking out more information in lieu of taking action. Thankfully I’ve choked down a sizable dose of reality and adjusted accordingly by observing others and extracting traits that have helped them achieve success and applied those lessons to my life.

We must realize that wanting something — be it less body fat or more money in the bank or a more fulfilling relationship — is easy. Acquired these things demands persistent effort, making tough choices, and adapting to challenges. This is hard shit that’s mandatory on the route to success (and maintaining it once you finally arrive).

Apply the above observations to your life and savor the rewards, or ignore them and be left in a constant state of “wanting” rather than achieving. The choice is yours, and yours alone.

This article originally appeared on

Nia is a writer and coach at where she shares bullshit-free health and fitness information. She helps women achieve their fitness goals with strength training programs that help them build a fit, strong, confident body (and life). You can join the newsletter here.