What if ‘Working Hard’ Has Been Stopping You From Getting What You Want?
We value hard work. Hard workers are valued. Working hard to earn rewards, respect, acceptance and achieve goals is considered an admirable trait in almost all modern societies, cultures, organisations and families. It’s basically a given that we have to work hard for things. ‘You have to put in the hard yards’, ‘Do the time’ and ‘Put in to get back’. Lazy people are shunned, non-workers are ‘bludgers’ and lottery winners are just ‘lucky’(because it’s really just a fluke to get something for nothing).
The notion of exerting effort to earn reward is deeply ingrained in our conditioning – so much so that perhaps we don’t even notice thefundamental extent to which it drives and determines much of our behaviour. This is because our mind is packed full of programs based on effort equalling reward: “If I work hard, I’ll get promoted/paid more,” "If I study hard, I’ll pass the exam/get good marks,” “If I do this work out, I can eat this chocolate.”
In a nutshell, we’ve all been ‘wired for effort’.Effort, effort, effort. No wonder most of us find it so difficult to relax. Yet, even when we’re feeling a nagging guilt for ‘not working hard enough’ or the stress of ‘having to work harder’ we still don’t suspect that there is anything wrong with the ‘work ethic wiring’ because it is so socially acceptable and admirable.
So let’s have a closer look at being ‘wired for effort’. Implicit in the programming that rewards must be earned and deserved is the notion that you, just on your own, without any effort, are not worth anything. Let’s say that again. When you carry the belief that you only ‘deserve’ things when you work hard and put in the effort, you are also reinforcing the belief that you are fundamentally ‘not enough’. You are saying to yourself “I am not enough” or “I am not good enough”. I must be, do, or have something more (acquired through effort) in order to be worthy of reward.
If you’re feeling slightly uncomfortable with this concept, that’s understandable. It’s because you’re wired for effort. To entertain the idea that you can be deserving and earn rewards without any effort seems ridiculous. Plus you’re thinking about the consequences of abandoning this wiring. What happens? Do we all just become or raise a generation of lazy-good-for-nothings? Do we all just sit around eating cake? We would get nothing done and we certainly wouldn’t achieve any goals.
These are good questions. To answer them let’s explore the definition of ‘effort’ and distinguish it from the concept of ‘action’. Effort is defined as the ‘expenditure of energy to accomplish an objective’. It assumes two things: 1) the use of your energy (usually in taking an action) and 2) a purpose, goal or objective to be achieved by using the energy.
1) The Use of Energy.
When something is an ‘effort’you feel that you are using up your energy –the more energyyou use the greater the ‘effort’. But it is possible to achieve an objective without going to a lot of effort and consuming lot of energy. Consider the objective you may have to show your family that you love them. How much energy is expended in fulfilling that objective by giving a hug or saying ‘I Love You’?Not a great deal at all.
2) The Goal or Purpose.
When the goal is difficult, you tend to assume that more ‘effort’ or energy is required. If a task is complex, you need to try harder. But this isn’t necessarily true either. Simple goals canalso become energy-draining. Consider the above example about showing love to your family, I am sure you can think of plenty of times when this simple goal proved quite an effort, especially when you’re living or holidaying with them!
So what does determine effort and increase the demand for energy as you carry out tasks in pursuit of your goals? The level of resistance you feel as you carry out your tasks. To achieve a goal you can take any simple or complex action but the amount of energy you need to expend to complete this action will be determined by the level of resistance you experience as you complete it. For example, if you try to push a person over and they do notpush back or resist, little effort is required to push them over. If that person pushes back, the effort required to push them over is increased. So any increase in effort is caused by the level of resistance encountered.
So what creates resistance and drives effort?
Your beliefs, thoughts and emotions. The things which you label as a barrier or perceive as a force working against you, and the way in which you react to them, will ultimately determine the amount of effort you feel in going about achieving your goal. If you have a goal to learn salsa dancing yet carry the belief that you have terrible rhythm and coordination, then you already have enough resistance to make salsa dancing a lot of effort. Yes you may have gathered evidence in the past to prove these beliefs true, but clinging to your past beliefs (no matter how true they seem) is not going to help you free up the energy to enjoy learning something new.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi believes that we are all capable of reaching a state of effortless concentration and enjoyment, which he calls “flow.” Flow occurs when a person faces a clear set of goals and their skills are involved in overcoming a challenge that is manageable. It happens when you are completely immersed in your experience, your full attention is focused on the movements of your body and there is no room in your awareness for conflicts, contradictions or distracting thoughts or emotions. Athletes or musicians might call this “being in the zone”. If you can recall a time when you were in “flow” you will probably recall that it was completely “effortless”. The task might have been complex and challenging, but you were completely involved in the action – not in a thought, emotion or judgement regarding the action. When you are in action without any resistance, you are in flow and it feels effortless.
So, rather than becoming directionless and unmotivated, abandoning the belief that you have to work hard will actually free you to have more energy and achieve more. To increase your energy, yet lessen your effort, start attending to and releasing or changing the beliefs, thoughts and emotions which work against you and create resistance. Also, establishing a baseline of truly knowing that you are worthy, loved and accepted as you are without having to do anything to ‘earn’ these things, will enable you to undertake any action without resistance. You will no longer have to push through, work hard, struggle, battle or fight for anything. All you need to do is know you’re worth it, put your heart into it whatever you are doing, completely engage with the moment and feel the flow.
Csikszentmihalyi references the Buddhist saying to “act always as if the future of the universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference”. It is this serious playfulness that makes it possible to be both engaged and carefree at the same time. So, when are you going to decide that you are good enough just as you are and that you don’t need to work hard to achieve any goal of your dreams? When you decide that you are worth it, your life, work and play, becomes effortless. I dare you to be worthy of an effortless life..