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Why You Should Do the Hard Thing First

07/10/2013 12:12 EDT | Updated 09/09/2013 05:12 EDT

I was listening to a podcast this past week where fitness expert Ben Greenfield interviewed former alcoholic drug abuser Mishka Shubaly (who is now a sober ultrarunner and writer, having written numerous Kindle ebooks like The Long Run).

So why is a bankruptcy guy telling you about Mishka Shubaly? Because in the podcast he said something that I thought was brilliant:

"Whenever you have the option, take the pain up front."

He explained that we human beings are biologically programmed to seek pleasure. When he was drinking, he drank heavily to feel good, or at least to feel "less bad." Inevitably by the next morning he felt horrible. The pleasure was first, and then the pain arrived, and that's not a good formula for success.

That's why his advice is to "do the hard thing first". When you get up at sunrise to go for a training run your body feels the pain of getting out of bed, and the first mile or two are tough. But then you get warmed up, you get into it, and you feel good. For the rest of the day you feel great. You take the pain up front, and then feel the pleasure.

So back to my question: why is a bankruptcy guy telling this story?

Because the "take the pain first" philosophy works in most areas of life, not just physical fitness.

Why do we have too much debt? Because we take the pleasure first, not the pain.

We go into a store and we want that thing, so we put it on our credit card. We get the pleasure of having it, but then we suffer the pain of making payments for many months, probably long after we have forgotten the pleasure of buying it.

A better approach would be to feel the pain of saving money first, so that we can have the pleasure of paying cash for what we want, with no further "pain" from paying a lot of interest and high payments in the future.

It's not easy, but in the long run taking the pain first is the best approach.