What is hustle other than an overused word? Most people use it to self-promote as go-getters, even though that isn't really the case. Does it mean that you do everything super fast? Not really. Does it mean that you are willing to bend your moral compass to come to a desired outcome? Not necessarily.
So what is "hustle"?
All it really means is working hard. Caring. Pushing yourself. It’s occupying every part of your day with great work, meaningful work. And don’t get me wrong; when you sleep, you sleep. But when you’re awake, you’re all in.
So far, this is the best straightforward explanation as to what this overused word really means. But stopping at that would be doing ourselves a disservice. Let's go a bit deeper into understanding the underlying motivators that allow people to #hustle and #succeed.
A Matter of Survival
It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
In the world of startups, and of business in general, the greatest companies are those whose leaders are capable of coping with changing environments. No company ever won by experiencing a new environment and not changing accordingly.
In my startup, where we mostly sell an offline-to-online platform to SMB's (small-to-medium businesses), the landscape is in constant turmoil, caused by new entrants into the space, as well as new standards for payments and ever-changing expectations around e-commerce. We do not succeed and transcend the noise by accepting whatever change there is, and not doing anything. We have to go beyond and set the pace instead of following it. This means you have to hustle. Our sales team hustles their face off on the phones to get the product to market before our competitors can. Our dev team pushes out a product faster than any others that I have seen, and more importantly, we think long-term. Metrics are key here, which tell us what is most valuable right now, but vision is required to define what will be needed in 2-3 years from now. So regardless of whether you are in sales, engineering, marketing or anything else, hustle is what will differentiate you from the others. #Hustle and #Focus (from my last post).
That Sh^t's Dope!
Dopamine to be exact.
If you aren't sure, dopamine is a naturally occurring "happy" drug that your brain produces as a means of positive reinforcement to particular stimuli. That rush that you get when you are happy because you just closed your funding round or are in love is a result of short bursts in increased dopamine excretion. (Sorry to take the romance out of that.)
A few researches at Vanderbilt University completed research to differentiate between the go-getters and the slackers (no...not the ones that use Slack). The result:
"Using a brain mapping technique called positron emission tomography (PET scan), the researchers found that “go-getters” who are willing to work hard for rewards had higher release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in areas of the brain known to play an important role in reward and motivation, the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex. On the other hand, “slackers” who are less willing to work hard for a reward had high dopamine levels in another brain area that plays a role in emotion and risk perception, the anterior insula."
Basically, depending on the composition of your brain's response to stimuli, dopamine has different effects. Does this mean that you are genetically predisposed to be one type of person or another...a go-getter or a slacker? Don't think for a second that you can use "I was born this way" as an excuse towards non-action. Just in the same way that professional athletes become better the more they practice, the same goes for your brain.
So what should you practice? Let's look at the difference between a slacker and a go-getter's responses.
The Slacker - The Anterior Insula
As was mentioned, the anterior insula plays an important role in emotion and risk perception. Thus, when you are engaging this part of your brain, you are eliciting short-term thinking, which is driven by what you feel in the immediate moment, greatly influenced by your perception of the risk that you are taking on.
In her TED Talk, Carrie Green performs a quick experiment with the audience. All she does is ask someone to go up to where she is talking to do a quick experiment, and in return they are rewarded. In a crowd of hundreds if not thousands, it took a solid minute or so for someone to finally go up on stage, when it would only take 5 seconds for a person close enough to get up. Why does it take 10x longer to get up on a stage, knowing that there is a reward?
Fear of the unknown.
Carrie never mentioned what the person would have to do. As soon as she requested someone to go up on stage, questions upon questions fired in certain onlooker's minds. "Will she make me do something I don't know how to do? What happens if I can't do it well? What will people think of me? Will I make a fool of myself? What if it is doing something like push-up's? I can do those well. But that's silly...she wouldn't ask me to do that." While all these doubts are going through their minds, someone has already gone up, and the onlookers feel regret for not doing so due to the simplicity and reward given.
Fear and risk aversion (to be a separate post) drove this person's decision, or lack thereof, to not be the one to receive money. Fear of the unknown is a great de-motivator.
The Go-getter - Striatum & Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the Striatum & Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex. Within these two regions of the brain that affect the go-getter, dopamine leads to heightened feelings of motivation and rewards. Thus, you can imagine the difference in outcome.
Unlike the slacker in Carrie's experiment, the go-getter's immediate response is one of excitement, wherein they don't ask themselves "what if..." or "why...", but rather "why not...". The go-getter is more risk-prone, because instead of seeing the negative consequences of their actions, they see the potential positives, and act on those.
Someone who truly hustles is a person who is intrinsically motivated by an end goal, and is willing to go through the discomforts required to succeed. For the go-getter, the payoff in the longer-term success greatly outweighs whatever has to happen during the journey to achieve the goal.
Success Begets Success
Diligence is the mother of good luck.
We are that which we do continuously. By nature, humans are habit-forming, i.e. it takes less cognitive resources to do something we know rather than having to re-think it every time. As a simple example, imagine having to seriously think about how to boil eggs (temperature, how much water, how many eggs, etc.). Our lives would be put in stand-still due to indecision.
So how do we put ourselves in a position wherein we train our actions and our thoughts to bring us to the desired outcome? Persistence.
Persistence is the key to creating a long-lasting positive outcome.
Running a startup is not easy. Actually, it is pretty f#cking hard. That doesn't mean it is not enjoyable. It just means that you will find yourself in a position wherein, regardless of what success or lack thereof you achieve, you are always in a race against time (and your competitors, whether present or future) to outperform. It is key to celebrate the small successes that you achieve (positive reinforcement of short-term actions that result in the "go-getter" dopamine stimuli response). But once that celebration is complete, you are back to the square one question: How do we grow?
The only goal that matters is to succeed. That is where your internal compass should always be pointing. It is through persistent thought and action that ideas turn into reality.
It may not come naturally to everyone to see the positive outcome in everything, and take action in that direction. That's fine, because frankly, entrepreneurship and doing what it takes to succeed is not for everyone. But for those of you reading this....I am going to make the assumption that you are not one to sit back and do nothing. You will stop at no end to achieve your vision. It certainly won't be easy, but stay persistent and hustle. Through persistence, your actions and thoughts will succeed, and with each success, regardless of how large or small, you are reinforcing your dopamine response to the go-getter areas of your brain. The more that happens, the more it is bound to happen, i.e. success begets success.
Elon Musk captures this goal-oriented thinking quite well.
Optimism, pessimism, f##k that; we're going to make it happen. As God is my bloody witness, I'm hell-bent on making it work.