Great Achievement is usually born of great sacrifice,
And is never the result of selfishness.
-Napoleon Hill,

One of my favorite words in the English language is ‘creativity’ and one of my least favorite is – ‘sacrifice’. I have a visceral reaction to both. Creativity resonates as full of possibility, adventure and limitless imagination. My gut reaction to sacrifice is losing or giving up something I really want. The word instinctively makes me want to run the other way. Yet, it is impossible to achieve a worthwhile goal in the long-term without sacrificing something in the short-term.
I began to think about this subject last Sunday when my wife and I were invited to spend the afternoon with a group of friends. I really wanted to join them but I was on a mission to complete the latest revision of my book. Conflicted and really wanting the food and drink that would accompany this social gathering, I chose to stay home while my wife joined the party. My resolve took the form of focusing on a larger picture and jumpstarting my decision with will power. The same mental process of projecting on a worthwhile future vision also drives me to the gym several times a week and declining the short-term enjoyment of dessert. The reality is that we all must endure a little discomfort and give up something in the short-term to achieve a worthwhile goal in the long-term.
Is it easy? Absolutely not.
How would you define sacrifice? How does the word resonate within you? What images come to mind? Do you think of sacrifice as a completely selfless act in which someone gives up something to benefit another – like a soldier sacrificing his or her life for fellow comrades or Mother Teresa giving every moment to caring for others?
I now choose to view sacrifice through the lens of the Oxford Dictionaries definition as “an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.” Perhaps this definition will help you to understand the mechanics of your thinking and how your actual DNA does not make sacrifice easy. In fact, the two parts of your mind – the conscious and subconscious – are like a very small rider sitting atop a very large and stubborn Elephant that wants what it wants – now.
The primitive part of your brain -the subconscious – is simply not wired to sacrifice in the short-term in order to achieve something in the long-term. Along with the programmed need to survive, we are genetically wired to avoid pain and move towards pleasure. The reality is that the subconscious part of our brain, which influences 90% of our choices, does not like to delay gratification. And, if we gave in to every primitive urge, we would most likely indulge in every short-term pleasure we could think of – even if those choices destroyed the quality of our lives. It doesn’t help that the media plays on this vulnerability by prompting us to believe that we can get rich without working hard, lose weight without giving up our favorite foods or have the body of a model without exercising. This is where our conscious mind comes in.
Thankfully, the newest and most advanced part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, gives us the power to resist these primitive subconscious urges – if we choose to use it. This part of the brain has the unique capability to project into the future and visualize multiple paths to achieve a goal and then identify the short steps necessary to get there. Only you can choose to make short-term sacrifices to achieve long-term results. Is it easy? Absolutely not. Sacrifice takes a willingness to endure momentary discomfort, will power, a powerful vision of the future and the acceptance that in order to move forward, you have to leave some things behind.
Sacrifice only makes good sense when you make friends with reality and accept that you can’t have it all, that sometimes you must give up something of lesser value to have something of greater value. The something you give up is unique to your big picture. It might be a material object, a person or the very precious commodity of time. The key is having something of higher value to strive towards – a stretch goal – a larger purpose or meaning to life.
As you read these strategies, keep in mind that sacrifice means choosing what is most important to you in the long-term and letting go of what gets in the way of your larger goal.
-Let your highest values be your compass for sacrifice: Know yourself. Look inwards and identity your top values. Make sure what you choose to sacrifice is congruent with your most important values. Different values such as service, money, fun or integrity each have an influence on choice.
-Make a short list of what is really important to you in life – both personally and professionally – mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally and socially. This list will be the signpost to keep you on point.
-Orchestrate your reality: Minimize both distraction and temptation. I make sure that the possibility for temptation and distraction is minimized when I write. (That includes delaying the always tempting distraction of checking emails.)
-Keep your focus and recharge by working in focused short intervals. Using will power is like leaving your car lights on when the engine is off. It drains your brain. In order to stick to your goal, take a minute or two break every 30 minutes of focused work. I stand up, stretch, walk around and have a drink of water.
Have the grit to follow these strategies for sacrifice and minimalize regrets.