How to Succeed at Anything: Flip the Switch

Francis Piche Student Software Engineer, McGill

10 September 2017

When I was in my last semester of high school, my chemistry teacher told the class something that has stuck with me ever since:


“To succeed in anything, the first thing you have to do is flip the switch.”


What’s “The Switch”?

Two of the many ways “switch” is defined in the dictionary are:

  • A device for making and breaking the connection in an electric circuit.
  • An act of adopting one policy or way of life, or choosing one type of item, in place of another.

Both apply here. The switch is the decision that from this point, you will devote every power you have to your goals and what’s important to you.

The key word here being decision; before starting ANY goal, you have to decide…

-Is this important to me?

-Am I willing to struggle for this?

-Am I willing to make sacrifices for this?

-Am I willing to do this even when I don’t want to?

-Will I finish this, no matter what?

– Is it worth it?

Before you make any goal, make sure you’ve had this conversation with yourself! What’s the point of saying you want something if you haven’t even asked yourself why you want it? Why are you putting in the time and effort to this?

Look, chances are, if you don’t have a damn good answer to those hard questions, you WILL fail. You’ll give up because the discomfort just isn’t worth it.

Choose your pursuits wisely.

Awareness isn’t enough:

I’m not saying anything really ground-breaking here. You probabably know all of this already. But knowing isn’t enough. Just being aware on some superficial level isn’t enough. The power of “flipping the switch” comes from the fully-aware, CONCIOUS choice…

Literally sit down, (record yourself if you have to) and say out loud: “I will do this. And I will do it because…”.

Set your decision in stone. It’s hard to back out once it’s so cemented in your mind that to back out would be to betray a vow to your past self.



More on What’s Important:

If you’re like me, there comes a point when you realize you can’t do all the things you want. You can’t be a Broadway actor, Mr. Olympia bodybuilder, top of your class, legendary guitar shredder, and industry-shattering entrepreneur all at the same time. There will come a point where you will have to choose what’s important in your life.

Overcommiting yourself is a recipe for burning out, or at best ending up mediocre at everything; never reaching your fullest potential at any one thing.

Or maybe you’re someone who doesn’t have much going on. Just a simple day-job, going home after work to play some videogames or surf Reddit; just coasting.

As much fun as this can be, this is the easiest and best way to land yourself in a rut. With no goals, plans, or aspirations, life loses meaning, and (at least in my experience) depression follows quickly behind.

In either case, finding and choosing the things that matter the most in your life, and giving those everything you can WILL make life better. Struggling for them, working hard for them, WILL be more rewarding than any empty pursuit.

Basing goals on such core, near-and-dear principles guarantees that the goals become you. The process of achieving these becomes the path to fulfillment and cheating on these is to destroy trust in yourself.

It makes failing hurt more. And that’s a powerful tool.

You’ll Probably Fail Anyway:

I don’t mean fail in the direct sense; losing a job or failing a test. I mean you’ll fail yourself.

If you’re some kind of robot you might not, but chances are, (for us mortals) there will come a time when you skip a workout, sleep in, or skip a night of studying to re-watch the first season of Game of Thrones. You’ll probably even do this over and over until suddenly two weeks pass and you’re right back into old habits.

Most people will tell you: “It’s okay! Just get up and try again! It’s not about how many times you fall it’s about how many times you get up!”

I would argue this is the wrong approach. While it’s true that you’ll fail, you’ll get back up and keep going and blah de blah… But following this attitude too blindly lends itself to repeated failures, and contribute very little to the learning process.

Here’s what I say: “What happened?! If you keep failing like this, you’ll never get to where you want to be. Go back. Trace your steps. What conditions, what decisions lead you to here?”.

Don’t be afraid to be hard on yourself. Of course, don’t beat yourself up over every little mistake, but for the love of God don’t coddle yourself into the comforting dogma of “trying and trying and trying.”. If it doesn’t sting, you won’t change.

Think of it this way. If you put your hand close enough to a flame where it starts to feel uncomfortable, you’ll go “Hmm this is starting to get warm maybe I should back off.”. But if you stick your hand ALL THE WAY in and touch the source, you’ll be feeling that burn for days if not weeks. I can guarantee that you’ll NEVER want do that again.



Final Words:

The problem with flipping the switch is that it often feels backwards.

Doing the thing you want to do is hard, and slacking off is so easy, and feels so good. But you know you NEED to touch the flame, and who the hell wants to do that?

This is why it’s so crucial that your goals be so core to you. If your self-trust depends on sticking it out, you’ve already decided by flipping the switch that it’s worth it.

It’s worth the pain.

It’s worth the sacrifice.

“To succeed at anything, the first thing you have to do is flip the switch”


What goals have you “flipped the switch” on? Let me know in a comment or email! I’d love to hear from you.

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