Aug 032011

Avoid Boredom. Challenge Yourself!

Why do people quit?  There’s a wide variety of reasons, of course, but in my experience, boredom is one of the biggest culprits!  Imagine that.  Many people, particularly top achievers, don’t end up quitting because it’s too hard; rather, they quit because it is too easy or too monotonous!

Most of the highest achieving people in my inner circle have illustrated this point to me time and time again, unknowingly.  I’d see them move from activity to activity, from challenge to challenge, relatively quickly.  When I’d ask them why, they’d tell me it was too hard, or simply, “I’ve found something more interesting to do”.

In my research for the book 10 Steps to Greatness:  The Super-achievers’ Little Handbook, which will be published shortly, I have interviewed dozens of top achievers, many internationally known, in a wide variety of fields, from sports, to music, nuclear physics, Special Forces, “big business,” and entrepreneurship.  One of the questions I always ask is regarding the biggest challenges the interviewee has faced in reaching the pinnacle of their field.  You guessed it:  “boredom” has come up more frequently than any other answer.

Remarkable isn’t it?  People who’ve arrived at the pinnacle of their profession often state that boredom is one of the biggest challenges they’ve faced.  How can that be?  With all the work they’ve had to put in to reach that level of accomplishment, it seems like boredom would be last on their list of major challenges, if it made the list at all!  However, as it turns out, the mind of even top achievers can quite easily become distracted and suffer from what I call “Shiny Object Syndrome“.  They are, after all, almost always extremely motivated people, so I guess it’s not surprising that they’re constantly seeking “new challenges”.

Here’s what differentiates the “greats” from the also-rans and the “mere mortals” in any particular field of endeavor:  rather than quitting or moving on to something else when they become bored in their chosen field, the “greats” are able to find “new challenges” in their own field.  Like most all super-achievers, they need relatively constant stimulation and new challenges undoubtedly provide such stimulation.  The difference is where the greats go to seek something new.

What I’ve found with the most accomplished people in my client and research base and in my circle of friends, is that they become very good at finding the “new,” in what for many would be “old”.  How do they do this?  They do it by becoming true students of their endeavor.  They study and are fascinated by every nuance of what they do.  If they’re a chessmaster, they’re constantly studying new board positions and combinations.  If they’re a CEO, they’re constantly observing, learning and setting new goals that push them to achieve more and stay focused.  If they are athletes, they’re always working to figure out how they can become faster, stronger, more focused and skilled in their sport.  They do all this passionately and often times, they develop such a love for their field of endeavor, that while they savior the victories, the trophies and/or the financial rewards, they realize that they’d do it all just for the fun of it.  The accolades and rewards are great, but they learn to truly love what they’re doing.

Once you truly develop a love for what you are doing, the sky is the limit.  You will find yourself accomplishing things you may never have thought possible.  You’ll find yourself reveling in the nuances, in the little details that to the untrained and unimpassioned eye, seem trivial or uninteresting.  You also will have greatly enhanced the likelihood that you will become a true “expert” in your field.  It is now relatively widely accepted that you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to reach “expert” level in most any reasonably complex task or field.  That usually equates to between five and ten years, sometimes more, depending on the amount of time you are investing on average on a daily basis.  How could you ever expect to put in that kind of focused, deliberate effort on a sustained basis if you have not learned to love what you do?  You could force yourself, or be forced by someone else, I guess, but it sure would be a lot easier if you developed a passion for your field of endeavor and learned to find “new challenges” and nuances in that same field, rather than jumping from one domain to another.

Another key point is that it is OK to cross-train, whether it’s your mind or your body that you’re training and challenging, as long as you keep your primary focus on your chosen field.  I have found that it’s very important to complement a steady diet of business, entrepreneurial and intellectual challenges, for example, with tough physical challenges.  It helps greatly to keep one’s body healthy and to feel like you are regularly challenged physically.  In my case and those of many of my clients and the “greats” I have studied and worked with, overcoming physical challenges often greatly enhances the ability to perform even better on the business and intellectual tasks.

My latest big challenge is the “Tough Mudder” race.  You can check it out at  It’s a ten to twelve mile run through a course with about 25 military-style obstacles.  It’s designed by British Special Forces and includes such fun obstacles as The Braveheart Challenge, Devil’s Beard, and Cliffhanger.  It is these types of challenges that get me fired up and get my blood flowing, which I find carries over to enhanced performance in all other aspects of my life.  What fires you up?  What will help you remain focused and impassioned, so you can avoid quitting and succumbing to boredom?  If you’re not sure, start looking, start trying to find “new challenges” and I’m confident that you’ll be amazed at the positive collateral effect it has on everything else you do.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin

  • Very interesting and stimulating post. I agree there is a strong correlation with mental and physical strength and business focus and drive. As to what “fires me up” it would be finding an innovative solution to a current challenge. I also think it is important to be alligned with your “Why”. Having a meaningful purpose keeps you passionate.
    I am also pursuing a new challenge within my field and therefore confirm your point. However, I look for creative stimulus outside my field of endeavor. It is interesting to learn about innovations and methodologies from other fields and then look for new ways to implement them in my field.
    Looking forward to the book – Is there a projected release date?

  • Paul, I’m happy you found the post interesting and stimulating! I agree that alignment with your “why” is extremely important. I think it’s also sometimes one of the harder pieces to figure out. I also agree with you on the point about looking for creative stimulus outside your field. I’m a huge believer that cross-fertilization of ideas across different disciplines leads to some of the greatest insights and breakthroughs. It also tends to be quite stimulating as you really need to have all the synapses firing to connect the dots between disciplines. Thanks for your insightful comments.

    The book should be published in September. I’ll certainly be putting more information about it up on this page, as the date gets closer. It’s written to be a “handbook” of 10 specific “steps toward greatness,” rather than a wordy volume that no one will read. Still putting the final touches on it… Thanks for your interest. I’ll keep you posted!

  • I look forward to your upcoming book. I am very intrigued to hear the ‘expert’ perspective. What an incredible feeling it must be to know the ins and outs of a given subject and then in turn to offer that knowledge to the world. In my mind, that is the pinnacle of human achievement. To be able to stay focused and passionate and engaged for such an extended period of time that you not only have a very deep understanding, but you are then able to transfer that knowledge to those around you.

    This topic reminds me of one of my favorite children’s books: ‘The Giver,’ where years and years of memories and wisdom are transferred to the new giver. I hope to find that area where I can become the expert and share the knowledge and most intriguing subject matter with the world.

  • Thanks, Barrett. I’ll be posting updates about the book on this site of course, as the publishing date draws near — it should be in mid-September.

    Agreed — it is extremely rewarding to share knowledge with others. It’s a gift that keeps on giving!

    I have read several of your blog posts now and have no doubt that you will be giving and sharing your knowledge for many years to come. As I mentioned in the comment I wrote to you about your last post, you have a real talent for communicating the “joys of service”. It’s clear how passionate you are about it and I encourage you to pursue it and take it as far as you want to go. The sky is indeed the limit.


  • Good post Paul! I have to start a list of what I am afraid to do and start doing them. My creativity is stimulated by the unknown so have to step out of my comfort zone although I am quite challenged at the moment to adapt to my new environment in the US, Finding a good doctor for example is good way to get out and speak to people I don’t know in my neighborhood.

  • Given all your knowledge and experience with “everything expatriate,” Anne, I’m sure that you will find a way to make it all happen. It doesn’t sound like there’s much risk of you facing boredom anytime soon. 🙂 You make an interesting point above regarding having your creativity stimulated by stepping outside your comfort zone. I’m about to do some writing about innovation and will have to explore that idea further. Thanks for stopping by and for your comments. Paul