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January 23, 2009

The Role of Hunger in Your Business

Hunger and fear are good for your business. Not abject hunger and despairing panic, mind you. That’s too much. But a little touch of hunger and fear is very useful.

I know there are many people out there who would prefer that not to be the case. And I’m one of them. I wish inspiration and love were big enough motivators for action. But for us humans who aren’t yet enlightened, they don’t seem to work so well.

The problem is complacency. We most often don’t do things until we absolutely have to.

I’ve watched it happen–a client’s savings account dwindles down over time while they are stuck in fear or uncertainty about what to do or how to do it. Perfectionism has it’s tight grip on them.
Then the account hits zero, or whatever feels like “zero” to the person in question. And suddenly they leap into action.

Sound familiar? This is the mother of all feast-or-famine cycles. If you stay in that kind of a cycle, then your business can’t ever move much higher than the ground floor.

But before we go about seeking a fix, let’s take a look at the Sufi teaching that explains why this can be a good thing.

Lashed With Hunger and Thirst

There’s a Sufi story that goes like this: Source, aka God, aka The Divine, was talking to the ego, asking it to leave off injuring itself with various addictive behaviors and surrender to Source. “Am I not Your Lord?” The Divine asked in its inimitable Divine fashion.

The ego responded. “I am what I am, and you are what you are,” continuing right on with what it was doing. The Divine then plunged the ego into fire in order to purify it–kind of like putting metal into fire to burn away impurities.

The result? Nada. Twelve thousand years of fire and the ego is still clinging to its self-destroying patterns.

The Divine then plunged the ego back into the fire adding just a touch of hunger and thirst. Immediately the ego released its grip and allowed itself to be purified.

Yes, I’m talking about us.

The Difference Between Pain and Survival

What this short Sufi story outlines is the difference between pain and survival. Humans have an almost unfathomable capacity to deal with pain and suffering, but we have very little capacity to risk our own survival.

This is one of the reasons that I think this financial crisis is actually going to be healthy for us in the long run; by threatening our survival, it’s making people take actions that could’ve been done gracefully awhile ago. It’s painful, it’s scary, and a lot of people will end up being hurt. Yet apparently it’s necessary. And some of the actions we’re forced to take now may serve us well over the long term.

But that’s a far larger topic than I want to delve into, so I’ll just say that and move on.

Move on? Now you know complacency is a normal human state of being until hunger and thirst are added. So instead of just living with it, let’s move on to how to get your business fanny in gear without your bank account or some other survival button being pushed.

Keys to Hunger-Motivated Business

What else besides (lack of) money threatens your survival?

One of the reasons it works so well to declare goals before witnesses is because your identity as someone with integrity is threatened if you don’t follow through, and your ego sees this as akin to survival. It can be a bullying approach, so I recommend some measure of compassion in it, but it can also be very effective.

Take a moment in your heart to identify what qualities are core for you, such as integrity, generosity, or love. Now put them in play, usually with others’ help, by setting goals your ego will fight for.
It’s a little tricky, but then, so is the ego, and it’s okay to push the ego a bit, if the deeper intention is truly from your heart.

Here’s an example: In the recent Path to Profitability Retreat, we prided ourselves on holding a spiritual container that allowed participants to go deep into their processes. In order to provide that, we needed to double up on our own spiritual practices. So we did. It just so happens that both Holly and I have had a commitment to deepen our spiritual practices, and this goal helped get us there.

Use actual hunger or thirst to weaken your ego.

One of the key spiritual practices in nearly any tradition is the ascetic practice of fasting–avoiding food or water or both for a set amount of time.

Fasting weakens the ego. Whether it’s Ramadan, Yom Kippur, or Lent, devoted followers often report a purity of heart after fasting. The benefit of this purity of heart means that the ego’s grip is looser, and the heart’s intention and inspiration is more available.

Try taking a single day and, if it’s not dangerous for you medically, fast. Don’t eat or drink for twelve hours. Keep up your meditation and prayer practices during this time to support the process, and notice how you feel afterwards.

It seems like an impractical business suggestion, but spiritual traditions around the globe have recommended fasting and prayer before big projects or decisions. It creates that sense of purity and resolve that can get you moving forward clearly and in a big way.

Choose the middle path.

While fear of survival can get you moving, too much can paralyze you or make you sick. Don’t fast too much. Don’t let your bank account go too low. Don’t set goals you don’t have a chance of reaching.

The ego has all kinds of built-in mechanisms that can support you in your business, and fear of survival is one of them. You don’t have to think it’s wrong as a motivator, it’s actually very holy. But be conscious of how it works, and use survival with love and intention.

The best to you and your business,

Mark Silver

Mark Silver is the author of Unveiling the Heart of Your Business: How Money, Marketing and Sales can Deepen Your Heart, Heal the World, and Still Add to Your Bottom Line. He has helped hundreds of small business owners around the globe succeed in business without losing their hearts. Get three free chapters of the book online: