Human Nature and The Ultimate Motivator for Success

If I were to ask you what the ultimate motivator for success is, what would you say?

The desire for a better life? A deep passion for what you do? The need to prove someone wrong? Love?

All of these are very valid answers to an otherwise complex question, but none of them truly reach to the core of the issue.

What would you say if I told you that the ultimate motivator for success is the need to survive? Would you believe me?



When we believe that success is a must, we give ourselves a much greater chance of succeeding.

This isn't to say that you can't succeed if you don't believe you absolutely have to, but you will work much harder for it if you know that you're in a do-or-die situation.

We need resistance in life. If we're never being challenged and put on the edge of failure, success will be hard to come by. This tells us is that achievement is highly related to our state of mind. It's dependent on the perspective we have.

Ryan Holiday delves into this concept in his book The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph. He demonstrates how struggle is what causes us to succeed, and uses the stories of various accomplished historical figures to solidify this point of view.

The concept of "death ground" is one that Sun Tzu, the great military strategist of ancient China, spoke strongly about. It's the idea that when faced with death, we perform at our absolute best in order to survive. Today this idea is backed by the psychological force known as the Will To Live.


Sun Tzu
"Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and they will then live. When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory."



A great example is D-Day.

June 6th, 1944 marked a day unlike any other in the history of warfare. American, British, and Canadian troops stormed the 50 mile Normandy coast in hopes of weakening the Nazi military and gaining a foothold in France.

Allied forces were set on death ground as they were literally fighting at the edge of land. There was no where to run. They couldn't go toward land where Nazi troops were stationed, and they couldn't run back into the open water. Their only option was to win or risk being killed.

After 24 brutal days of fighting, the Allied forces had finally accomplished what they had set out to do and it marked the beginning of the end of World War II.

Another great example was The Battle of Thermopylae which is the basis of the movie 300.

Now as we all know, Hollywood doesn't always do the best job at being historically correct. It is true that there were only 300 Spartan soldiers lead by King Leonidas, but they were supported by several other Greek states due to a formed alliance. All in all, there were roughly 7,000 Greeks. On the other end, current historians suggest that there were anywhere between 70,000 to 300,000 Persians.

The Greeks were nonetheless highly outnumbered.

That relatively small number held off the Persians for two entire days. It wasn't until Ephialtes of Trachis betrayed his countrymen by revealing a path in which the Persians could outflank the Greeks, that the Greeks were finally defeated. Had it not been for this betrayal, the battle may have ended with Persian retreat or utter defeat at the hands of a small army.



I don't suggest putting yourself on death ground in order to achieve your goals, because there are less dangerous ways to get the same result.

Deadlines are a great example. For anything that you're working on, set a definite date when it has to be finished. But you MUST make sure to buy into it. You can't simply set a deadline and be lazy about it.

Another thing to do is change your perspective. Tell yourself every day that these goals are a must and that unless you achieve them, you will have failed. I understand this sounds negative, but it will help you in your journey toward success. The truth is that negativity can help with achievement if used correctly without being overdone.

And if you're really up for it, quit your job and spend all of your time working toward your goals. By quitting your job, you risk losing everything. Your house/apartment, money, significant other, respect, and many other things. This is the most drastic of the three examples and it's not going to be for everyone. However those you do try this, will give themselves a huge advantage in succeeding.


Robert Green
"We are animals of necessity. When we have to discover or build something, we build it if our life is on the line. That's how we're genetically primed from several million years ago. And when there's no necessity, when we don't have to do something, we just lie around and watch television and smoke pot. If there's nothing holding you, resisting you that you have to push against, you just turn into flab."