I recently read James Clear’s Atomic Habits, and toward the final pages of the book, he said a quote that stuck with me.
“The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.”
I paused for a moment. Whenever I read something that either immediately makes sense or doesn’t, I put my book down and think.
On the surface, the sentence seems pretty bold. When we think of threats to success, topics such as market changes, competition, lack of funds, bad implementation of strategy, or lack of education come to mind. However, if we dig deeper into each of these topics, we realize these are common challenges for any goal.
We’re always going to have to deal with an evolving marketplace, competitors, issues with monetizing our ideas, testing and iterating our plans, and finding ways to increase our performance by reading, taking courses, and listening to podcasts. What we never do is think about how (and why) we threaten our success.
According to Clear, our biggest threat is ourselves.
Humans are masters at building things and tearing them down.
We see this happen often in cases like the successful athlete who ruins their reputation due to an inability to control their vices, the employee who was crushing it in their first 90 days but fizzled out, and the man or woman who started a new, healthy lifestyle but quit after a month and returned to their old, unhealthy habits.
Using the scenarios above as examples, the problem isn’t external events. We know that overcoming vices, a loss of motivation, and bad habits are part of the climb toward success. The real problem is building up momentum and then coming to a screeching halt.
It’s an illogical three-part approach: spend time to get good at a process, generate momentum from your process, become successful because of your process, and ruin everything by stopping (or regressing) once you’ve accomplished all three.
I never understood why anyone would embark on such a silly journey until I came across the quote that started this article. To make Clear’s point regarding boredom being the greatest threat to our success clear (no pun intended), let’s talk about this silent killer of momentum.
When you’ve reached a point in your life where you're consistently taking action toward a goal, you’ve found your momentum. You know exactly what you have to do and you’re getting better at it every week.
Eventually, you start to experience the small fruits of your labor. You become more confident due to your successes and more efficient at getting things done. You also find ways to apply your newfound discipline to different areas of your life.
Though you haven’t achieved your entire goal, you’ve achieved milestones that are benefiting you.
If it’s a health goal, you look better. If it’s a knowledge goal, you think better. If it’s a creative goal, you create better.
But now that you’ve achieved some level of success, things tend to get boring. You’re out of the honeymoon phase with your workout routine, diet, creative project, or relationship.
Referring back to my example of certain successful athletes ruining their reputation, they've achieved the pinnacle of what it means to be a basketball player, golfer, or cyclist. It becomes easier to slack off from another boring free throw, backswing, or 10+ mile ride and turn to the readily available temptations that come with success.
At this point, boredom is the greatest threat. Boredom can cause you to quit a routine, follow a temptation, and regress. It’s here that you need to stay the course.
One important thing I’ve learned in my career is that to create success in anything, you need consistency, and consistency is boring.
However, if you want longevity and growth in your career, reputation, expertise, and relationships, you need to get used to being bored. You need to be okay with saying, “I don’t feel like doing this thing again. I’d rather be doing something more fun. That being said, I’m still going to do this thing because I want to be successful.”
Nobody is saying that you need to feel motivated and excited to take action before taking action.
You don’t need to feel like studying. You just need to study.
You don’t need to feel like following your values. You just need to follow your values.
You don’t need to feel like following your workout routine. You just need to follow your workout routine.
If this sounds boring, it’s because it is. The process is going to be boring. It’ll have its fun moments, but those moments are few and far between.
Going back to Clear’s quote about boredom, toward the final pages of Atomic Habits he retells a story of when he joined a weightlifting team and an elite coach had visited his gym. This coach had worked with thousands of athletes, including Olympians, and Clear, curious about the process of improvement, asked him a simple question.
“What’s the difference between the best athletes and everyone else?” Clear asked. “What do the really successful people do that most don’t?”
The coach replied with something that Clear wasn’t expecting: “At some point it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day, doing the same lifts over and over and over.”
The path toward success, longevity, and growth is boring. But it all comes down to how bad you want it. It all comes down to you being okay with being bored.