Yesterday, my older boys and I had a breath-holding contest. It was my idea. I had just been trounced by the two of them in an underwater-propulsion contest. (Imagine human torpedoes bouncing off pool walls.

“Holding our breath? You just want to do something you can win at,” No.2 son Patrick astutely pointed out. (I had apparently abused them with my breath-holding-gold-medal-at-Club-Med story several times.)

I applied one of my most sophisticated persuasive tactics Chicken?” I taunted.

Naturally, they relented – and I handily won the first round. But my time was only 65 seconds, not Club Med gold level. Two more rounds followed. I maintained a slight lead. Our times were 1:10, 1:25, and 1:30. Then, on the fourth round, something surprising happened. Patrick held his breath for 1:50 and beat us all!

It was an astonishing feat – 25 seconds better than his till-then best.

You can easily hold your breath for 40 or even 50 seconds. But after that, it gets uncomfortable. After about a minute and 15 seconds, you think you are going to explode. Each second lasts a long time. Getting to a minute and 50 seconds meant Patrick had to endure an awful lot of pain.

Can you guess what happened next? I put my life at risk. On the verge of losing consciousness, I somehow forced myself to stay under water for 2:05.

Two more rounds followed. In the end, we posted scores of 2:18, 2:05, and 1:38. (Liam smokes!).

It was an edifying experience. I felt I had reached my absolute physical limit at one minute. I could not – I was sure – endure the pain any longer.

And yet, thanks to my sons’ natural good health and my own unmitigated competitiveness, I doubled my time. And so did my boys.

Why You Should Stick Your Own Head Under Water

Among the characteristics you need to succeed, nothing is more important than endurance.

Imagination will give you the dream, but millions will carry around the same vision. Initiative will get you started, but thousands will start off with you. Good judgment will keep you from stepping off the path, but hundreds will have good judgment. In the end, to overcome all the hardships and ride out all the troubles, it is endurance that will bring you home.

Doing something you are good at takes no special effort. But getting to the top . . . succeeding at the highest level possible . . . means undergoing pain.

Pain, in the long run, is failure’s greatest weapon. And pain waits for everyone who aims for the top.

Think about your own situation. Think of what you have done and what you have failed to do. Ask yourself why.

Tony Robbins says there are only two human motives: an attraction to pleasure and a fear of pain. Of the two, fear of pain is the stronger.

How much you can do – as compared with how much you are doing now – may be a difference of 100% (just as it was for me and my boys). Getting that much extra out of yourself might require nothing more than simple endurance.

Review your goals. Ask yourself honestly what pain you fear. Is it boredom? Tedium? Hard work?

Is it the fear of failure? The fear of success?

Think about it. But not too long. Because your salvation is not in figuring out why your lungs burn after 60 seconds but in forcing yourself to hold your head under water a little longer.

And you can do that. If you try.

Start today by picking out something important that you are not getting around to doing. Make yourself a promise that you will spend 15 minutes – and no more – just doing it. Fifteen minutes goes by fast . . . even if you are uncomfortable. And those 15-minute efforts will add up.

Some time from now, you will look back on this day and wonder what it was that ever stopped you. You will be able to look back and see not only what you accomplished but also how many you passed along the way – some of whom had more talent than you.

You will recognize that, more than anything else, it was your mental fortitude that mattered. As Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and philosopher, said, “There is nothing happens to any person but what was in his power to go through with.”

Our greatest goals – our most worthwhile objectives – wait for us on the other side of pain and panic, doubt and worry. Getting there takes skill and ambition. But more than anything else, it takes the capacity to endure.