What It Takes

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Have you ever thought of what it takes to make something really happen?

It could be an advertising campaign, it could be a successful Blog, it could be meeting more interesting people on Twitter or Facebook and it could even mean getting a promotion at the office or making a personal relationship work more effectively. I reflect on this often. Not just for myself. In fact, when I think of “what it takes” I’m often doing it by analyzing those that I consider to be successful (rough translation: individuals I appreciate, and if my life should somehow become similar to theirs, it would not disappoint me in the least).

It seems like there are two primary factors that need to be working for something to gain acceptance:

  1. Self-discipline. It’s hard. Very, very hard to get motivated without external forces at play (a looming deadline, a demanding boss, a nagging spouse, etc…). It turns out that when we’re left to our own devices, human beings are amazingly good at avoiding the act of “getting things done.” If you don’t believe me, check out the work of David Allen (he wrote the best-selling business book, Getting Things Done). Millions of dollars (maybe billions) have been made in the business of selling books, seminars, programs, etc… on how to stop procrastinating and how to start acting on the things that are important to you. The experts will tell you that, “all it takes is a little self-discipline,” but the truth is that it takes a lot of self-discipline (and it needs to be consistent and ongoing). Getting something to a point where many people will embrace it and share it requires that the creator has the self-discipline to work at it, to chisel away at it and to tweak it. It may seem obvious, but when people ask me why they’re not accomplishing the many things that they would like to do in the Digital Marketing spheres, the main issue holding back the majority of people that I meet is their lack of self-discipline (and it’s something that I grapple with on an ongoing basis as well). They don’t commit (time, effort, energy, output, etc…) in a consistent and self-disciplined way. If you’re doing anything with creativity, try Steven Pressfield‘s latest book, Do The Work! for a kick in the pants.
  2. Secret Sauce. If you thought that self-discipline is difficult (and it is… it’s very difficult), the notion of secret sauce is going to be a true mind-bender for you, because there nothing I (or anyone) can say or do to help you find your “secret sauce.” In fact, to push that thought just a little bit further: There are no individuals that can define their own secret sauce or the recipe for it, either. John Lennon may be able to tell us what he was thinking when he wrote, ‘Imagine’, but he could never define how or why that song came to him. Over the length of his life there were many mitigating factors that acted as partial ingredients for what is his secret sauce for writing a song that transcends time and culture. The good news is that we all have a secret sauce for something – a skill or trait that is uniquely ours – that when we’re outputting our best efforts, it’s truly reflected in the result of the work. Where do great ideas come from? That is the secret sauce.

Don’t stress (too much) about figuring out what it takes.

It’s fascinating to see how few people spend any significant amount of time nurturing their secret sauce by actually having the self-discipline to keep at it. If you have a thing for writing, but haven’t written in a long while, you know what I am talking about. Have the self-discipline to write – every day – even if it’s just for a handful of minutes. Keeping those muscles (the physical and mental ones) warm is better and will lead to tone faster than creating a myriad of excuses as to why the writing is not taking place. The interesting part of this exercise is that the secret sauce really starts flowing when you apply the self-discipline in a rigid and consistent manner.

For me, it’s the self-discipline and secret sauce that makes stuff happens. What’s it all about for you?


  1. Well said. Self-discipline and secret sauce are the stuff that we can control to make stuff happen. There is a third factor: timing. Self-discipline and secret sauce can influence timing, but it can be the final ingredient that makes or breaks an idea. We can’t exactly control timing but we can develop the skills to identify it, then use the other two factors to take advantage of it.

  2. Another fabulous post Mitch. Self-discipline is the single biggest factor in success in any career/project/whatever. It is also easy to see in others; but harder to see the lack of in ourselves.
    Really looking forward to seeing you in Calgary on Friday!
    (If this comment or a similar version appears more than once – I am having trouble getting my comment to post tonight).

  3. The mention of self-discipline reminds me of one important book I read, M. Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled” whose first chapter is “Discipline” and whose last is “Grace”.
    Two more things which come to mind reading your post, Mitch, relative to what is important are:
    1. Removal of obstacles (this is often ‘fear’, or the little voice which says internally that you can’t do this or that for so many ‘reasons’)
    2. Proficiency, success and everything that come with them, including the ‘luck’, or ‘coincidences’ or ‘synchronicities’ is very much based on the process of doing, and being, and sharing. The outcomes cannot be had without the process (MJ DeMarco – get his book and read it).
    My whole day was full to the brim of ‘coincidences’, as if the Universe is working just for me.
    I have achieved a lot since the beginning of this year, and I have worked very hard but very smart for that & I continue to do so 🙂

  4. Thanks Mitch. This is the first post I’ve read since finding your book and it’s great to start catching up. Since then I have started a blogg, jumped onto Google Feeds, subscribed to some great bloggs and have started to invest some time each day in my personal online brand, mainly by helping others. I’m having a ball!
    I think that for me the battle for “what it takes” is about starting. And then having some good habits. Which was great to read Chris Borgan’s post today about what he does each day to get stuff done. Cheers.

  5. Great post, Mitch! Excuses are very dangerous… Your advice on refining your secret sauce hit the spot! People have trouble realizing that not every time they write, record a video, or shoot a basket will be a profound moment. But if you keep at it everyday, you’ll have more profound moments than you would if you didn’t “practice” at all.

  6. Posted last night, but I guess the comments section was having an issue. Great post and love the idea of special sauce and how it is different for each and every party. So true. Well done.

  7. Just finished reading SPOS book and appreciate more your sense of giving and learning. If it doesn’t come from inside with structure it can tend to fade without constant practice, Getting the habit working is the important thing.
    You are a great mentor if just by listening to your content it makes me want to give back everyday as 1 habit I don’t want to let slip Presssfield’s directness and the method of Seth’s Domino distribution have taught me a few more tricks too

  8. Wow, are you speaking to me or what? You nailed it on the head, self-discipline is what keeps most from good to great and great to exceptional.
    I also believe that when you are motivated and consistently focused on your goals, the energy you emit will attract a similar positive response therefore creating a field for success.
    Like always, great post!

  9. For me, it’s about writing my goals on the wall and looking at them every day.
    And for me, when I sit down in the morning to begin work, it’s “How do I make this day a success? What 3 things can I accomplish?” and that leads me to the last thing, which is MOMENTUM. If I can find the strength to start one of my important things, the next two don’t seem so hard, and I start a virtuous cycle that turns into a good mood that I feel compelled to repeat! YEAH!

  10. I always had your feed on Google reader, and never read it. and today I realize, you deliver the most obvious thing in a mind-blowing way. Keep writing!

  11. Hi Mitch
    thanks for this great post. For me I would add persistence. Even with self-discipline and a secret sauce, you might still stop a few inches away from what you want to reach. Persistence is for me the most difficult, in particular when social pressure comes into play!

  12. Truly inspiring!
    I find that self-discipline is especially really hard to establish in your life when you are not the kind of person that likes to command other persons, put pressure or ask for results to others persons… I’m this kind of guy : I’m very patient and indulgent with others and myself, but in the end, does it pay to behave that way? Does it pay to wait? Does it pay to procrastinate and find excuses for “why you haven’t done this or that you know you should have get done”. There should be no acceptable excuse for not taking profit of each moment because of fear, discouragement or a lack of self-esteem. But, in fact, we are not all built the same way, and we are sometimes clinging to old patterns, to old schemes. It is hard for everybody to get things done only for THEMSELVES, as they are often the last person they think about. We are often the last person we think about. I am often the last person I think about satisfying, by hard work and obedience.
    How can I manage to give myself no mercy and sympathy for the work I want to be done and that I don’t do because I don’t clearly see any guarantee that my work will make me succeed? Maybe it’s time to focus on the “way” itself and not on the “possible results”. The “way” is more predictable, reliable and satisfying than the possible results, maybe.
    Thank you for this, I wish I will find my own inner dictator that will lead me to kick my ass and get my things more done day after day 😉

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