The Key to Success is a Good Night’s Sleep

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Quick Takes:

  • Motivation always burns brightest during the first 90 days
  • Protect your passion by taking advantage of the compound effect
  • The best thing you can do for tomorrow is to get a good night's sleep tonight

It’s as simple as that. Article done. Just kidding.

However, in a sense, life is as easy as a good night’s sleep. But, as you read this through bleary eyes, trying to duck down in your cubicle so your boss doesn’t call you away to some pointless meeting, you might not believe me. You’re overtired, damn you!

Don’t stop reading here. Tired or not tired, it’s not the actual act of sleeping that makes you successful. It’s that a good night’s sleep, compounded over time, yields amazing results. Let’s dive into what happens when you don’t have a good night’s sleep, and why that might occur.

New Ideas Always Burn Brightest

We’ve all had a pet project, a “life-defining” idea that’s bursting out of us to be heard. Like Stephen King once said, and I paraphrase,“Sometimes you have a story in you so loud, you have to write it just to shut it up.” Novel or not, we all have a burning desire to do something, and some of us are brave enough to take the leap and do it.

And what a thrill it can be, to follow that passion welling up inside you. When you do pursue it, as you may well know, the first few weeks or few months becomes a white hot period of momentum and optimism. The excitement you feel is almost overwhelming.

New and shiny things are always easiest to maintain focus. In fact, it’s almost impossible to focus on anything else. You know the feeling, the all-consuming thoughts of your passion, the way in which you jump out of bed in the morning, the long hours you put in, and the last thought as you drift off to sleep being the vision of your future life.

But then something happens, and it’s natural to all of us. The fuel that allowed the fire to burn bright depletes as the daily grind begins to take over. What we realize, after a few months pursuing our passions, is that it really is a long-game. It isn’t something we do for three months and then rest on our laurels, running off to vacations abroad. it’s something we do, day in and day out, for the rest of our foreseeable lives.

Which means, even if you’ve correctly identified your purpose in life, it can get tiring. Don’t squirm, I know  people don’t like to admit how tiring their passion is, but everyone who’s pursued it has felt it. Prior to actually taking the leap, we naturally underestimate the amount of time, effort, and dedication we’ll need to see the fruits of our labor on the other side.

In reality, when someone moves in the direction of their goals, their trajectory looks something like this, with motivation / discipline on the Y-axis and time on the X-axis:


After that initial exponential growth in motivation, it’s natural that your discipline might wane, as the monotony of the day-to-day kicks in.

If your goal is to become a successful actress, for example, the vision of your ideal life and the thrill of quitting your job is almost overwhelming. The fear and excitement, mixed in with the knowledge that you’re following your dreams, causes that initial spike in motivation. Then, as you realize that it’s going to take months, if not years, of casting calls, networking, and improv classes to reach your goal, the motivation and discipline disperses, and you’re left spinning your wheels.

Don’t want to be an actress? Take my life as an example. When I left my job to pursue my business venture full-time, I was elated. It was scary, sure, but it was absolutely thrilling. As Andy Drish pointed out, “you trade the feeling of comfortability for the feeling of being alive.” And boy did I feel alive!

I’ve heard it takes between 60 - 90 days to get settled into a new routine, and those first 90 days were a whirlwind. It was a lot of me trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t, and also how to stay motivated without an office, a boss, or colleagues. So, during those first three months, my motivation and passion burned bright, as I pioneered into an unknown part of my life.

And then, after about 90 days, the realization of “the grind” kicked in. Telling people I was a business owner and / or an entrepreneur was great, but in reality, I was a glorified salesman, cold calling potential clients who could benefit from our service. Which is fine, my inkling is that most entrepreneurs start out this way, but the day-to-day grew very repetitive, if not monotonous.

As the monotony grew, it became easier to lose sight of the ultimate purpose, the overarching “why.” And once you begin to loosen your grip on the vision of your future, it becomes easier to put off today what can technically be done tomorrow. Sales calls were pushed, emails were delayed, and innovative thinking was put on hold.

Tomorrow Starts With a Good Night’s Sleep

Once my motivation started to decline, something critical happened: I began to stress and worry. Was the company going to be successful? Is this really what I want to be doing with my life?

This, of course, pulled me out of the present moment, and out of the joy of the journey. So then, not only was I tempted to reduce my discipline in the day-to-day, but the stress I was feeling caused me to focus too intently on tomorrow. I stayed up late as my worries of the future bounced around my head, causing me to lose sleep, which then caused me to wake up with even less motivation than I had the day before.

You see the vicious circle, no?

And then, luckily, something happened. I re-read The Compound Effect, by Darren Hardy. It was a reminder that no one can change the future, and that the only thing a person can do is to maximize the value of the present, so that it influences the future. So, even though the day-to-day was monotonous, it was imperative that I picked up the phone and made those sales calls. Because, while the next call might be a firm no, the calls, compounded over time, would get me to the yeses I needed.

How bout that aspiring actress? It’s easier to see how the compound effect might help her. While starting out with little talent, she begins to go to acting and improv classes, and even tells jokes at open mic nights to get over her stage fright. After a single class or a single moment on stage, the benefits aren’t apparent. Even after that fifth or tenth class, she still might not see any improvement. But, over time, her stage fright will dissipate and her ability to act will increase.

Which means, for the aspiring actress, the compound effect is critical. Every day wasted not getting better adds an extra day to the timeline between her life now, and the life she envisions for herself.

So where does sleep come in?

Well, remember the stress and monotony I had been feeling that caused me to lose sleep and thus started a negatively-trending compound effect? It was affecting my life in so that it consistently trended my motivation downward. And, as I’m sure you know, waning motivation is a recipe for failure.

I needed to protect my motivation, so that even if it would never burn as hot as it did in those first 90 days, it would be strong enough to pull me through the day-to-day and help me achieve everything I wanted. Same with the proverbial actress, really. She needs to protect her motivation so that she books her next open mic night, and improves that 0.001%, so the next time she steps on the stage, she improves 0.002%, and so on.

Protecting your motivation is paramount to your success. But how? I’m glad you asked! With a good night’s sleep.

Let me explain: As my discipline declined over time, it increased my stress, and decreased my desire to succeed. I would lay awake at night, losing sleep, and would wake up tired. My brain wouldn’t function fully, and I’d float through the day, finishing about half the things I needed to, and doing them half as well as I should. Then, angry at myself, I’d stay up late again, starting the vicious circle I mentioned earlier.

And then it hit me. The compound effect also applied to sleep. Here I was, stressing about the next day, and the lack of motivation I’d surely feel, when all I needed was a good night’s rest. Why? Because, at that moment, it was the only thing I could control.

Stop worrying about tomorrow and what may or may not happen. Do the only thing you can do, now, to make tomorrow more successful. And at 10pm, that thing is sleep. Then, when you wake up tomorrow, even if you’re just marginally more refreshed, do the first thing on your task list. Don’t worry about what comes next. That thing could be breakfast, meditation, or emails, but do it anyway.

Then, after that first task is done, do the next thing that will make you successful, which is the next thing on your task list. It could be work or the gym, doesn’t matter, do it. That way, the compound effect doesn’t become a daily principle, but an hourly one. Your motivation then, isn’t a depleting resource, but is a systematic snowball that rolls you down your intended path.

So, the next time you lay awake at night, focused on the next day, do the one thing now, that will make you successful then: sleep.

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