More Effort Is Not The Solution Here’s What You Should Do Instead

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Even though we hear it all the time, sometimes it just doesn’t feel possible.

We want to keep going but it just seems too hard to continue.

You know what I’m talking about, it’s the constant advice of “The journey is what matters”, and “You have to be willing to be uncomfortable to succeed”, and other quotes that seem great on paper, but do little to help when we aren’t feeling well about our progress.

When we aren’t enjoying what we are doing, nor seeing the results we want, there are no quick bits of advice that can get us out of that rut. It all seems irrelevant.

Even worse, is if we see people on the same path as us who are getting much better results. They’re winning and we are not.

Quite often this will bring feelings of inadequacy, frustration, overwhelm, and worst of all, the urge to either give up immediately or to double down on our efforts.

Regardless of your approach, both of these will take you right to where you started, one, immediately, the other, after a short burst of intensive work, giving a little more motivation, that most likely will go away pretty soon.

Normally, this would be the part of the article where someone would be telling you to just keep going, head high, and full-speed ahead, ready to achieve your goals.

They would probably even throw an inspiring quote like “Success doesn’t just find you. You have to go out and get it.”, or one that has a wiser touch to it, such as “Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men.”

Don’t worry, that’s not what I’m going to do.

A better way

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What I’m going to urge you to do instead is to stop.

For some time, stop trying so hard to push past the obstacle that stands in your way.

When so much of the advice we get is geared towards the notion that if you only put a bit of extra effort in, then you’ll be able to overcome everything in your path, it can feel strange to hear someone tell you to stop.

While I’m not saying that hard work isn’t a big piece of the puzzle, because it is, I’m saying that hard-work alone won’t do it. Ever.

An equally important part of the puzzle is figuring out where you should be investing that hard work. Understanding which habits and actions are the most efficient when it comes to reaching your goal.

For example:

Imagine you are starting a business that sells lemonade, the thing is, you’ve never made lemonade before, nor did you create a business.

It is a daunting road ahead, but one that can be overcome.

Now, if you were to rely on “hard work” alone, you would probably be left trying to do a million different things that are of no importance to the business:

  • Learn how to do the best lemonade;
  • Figuring out how to best package it;
  • What the logo will be;
  • If you should have a website;
  • How to best grow your Instagram

And the other million things you could do.

The issue is, most of those tasks are irrelevant at the start.

In reality, there are probably very few things you should be doing, and improving on how to do, to get the results you want.

Thus, the only way you can figure those out is if you take a second to stop what you are doing and analyze what you should be doing.

Better Slow Than Not At All

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That said, even if you stop to analyze what isn’t going well and how to improve, chances are, you won’t get it right the first time. Or the second, or the third.

Most likely you won’t ever get it 100% right because there will always be some tweaks to be made.

That said, the more you do this process of analyzing and adapting, the more progress you will make, to the point that when you do take the time to look back at how far you’ve come, you’ll be nothing short of amazed.

Those who have the discipline to put their head down, focusing on the step in front, always looking to not only improve but to also remain consistent, are the ones who eventually reach the top of the “mountain”.

It’s the willingness to not only put the effort in, day after day, but to also look your failures in the face and have the fortitude to learn from them.

That’s the true test of the warrior.

The Harsh Reality Of Progress

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While it may seem quite nice and exciting on paper, in reality, things are quite different.

After a certain amount of time sticking with these new habits, you’ll inevitably lose excitement, the novelty of doing something new will have worn off and you’ll have gotten used to it. It will have become routine.

This is the part you have to watch out for, the breaking point you could call it because now that the initial excitement is no more, you’ll start questioning if this is really what you should be doing. If this is what you even wanted in the first place.

Your brain will start playing tricks on you, giving a million and one excuses as to why you should not do this anymore, and instead, find another pursuit that would give you the same initial excitement.

Unfortunately, far too often, we do listen to these excuses. Instead of focusing on the path we decided on, we start looking for new things to pursue, slowly losing consistency with the original task, and in a lot of cases, we don’t even search for something new, we just get lost with the usual procrastination devices.

Step by step, we find ourselves doing less and less of what excited us so much just a month ago, eventually, stopping completely.

Sounds familiar?

Because if it does, I strongly believe that above understanding the benefits of following through, it is the consequences of failing to do so that we must dive deep into.

When it comes down to the core of the issue, it’s not simply that you’re failing at the current task. The thing about life, as far as I’ve been able to observe, is that if you’re not moving forward, you’re also not standing still. You’re moving backward.

It’s the same thing as being on an airport moving walkway and walking in the wrong direction. If you walk at a moderate pace, you’ll stay in the exact same place. If you walk a bit faster, you’ll get ahead. But if you stop, you’ll be brought right back to where you started.

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(Credit to Casey Neistat for that analogy)

This is where Kaizen comes in.

What is Kaizen?

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It is the Japanese word for “improvement”. More specifically, “continuous improvement”.

“Kaizen sees improvement in productivity as a gradual and methodical process.”

It is the philosophy that focuses on making sustainable, consistent progress every day, as opposed to the one we so often follow of trying to get big results in a short amount of time.

By dedicating ourselves to this approach, we won’t notice any differences from day to day, week to week, and sometimes, from month to month. But the more we remain consistent, with slow progress, every day, the more we are tipping the scale in our favor. To the point where if you look three, four, five, six months into the past, you’ll be astonished by the results you were able to achieve.

For example, if we assume we are starting at 1, and everyday we dedicate ourselves to improving 1%, how much progress do you think you would have made after one year(365 days)?

365%, maybe?

Not quite. if you were to improve 1% every day, for the full duration of a year, you would be 3778% better. That’s almost 38 times as better.

Seemingly insignificant improvement every day will have lead to a drastic change in results… If you put in the work.

Because if you don’t, and instead of going up you start going down, then the same thing applies, only with negative results.

So How Do We Start?

Quite simply, slow.

To not get overwhelmed, first of all, identify the area of your life you want to improve: work, fitness, relationships, hobby, etc.

Once you have this area, you are going to identify what would be the dream vision of where you’d want to go with this. If everything would have gone as you’d like, how would it look for you?

And once you have that, you are going to identify the smallest step you can take in that direction, consistently, and then take it.

Maybe this is writing for five minutes per day if you want to become a published writer, or doing 1 push-up per day if you want to have a “greek god” physique, or doing 30 seconds of meditation if you dream of being able to not feel anxious anymore. Whatever your “north star” is, you’re going to start with the easiest habit possible to get on the path towards it.

While this may seem insignificant at first, demotivating even, what will happen, if you’re willing to consistently improve(kaizen), is that you will be miles beyond where you started.

But you have to start.

I know it is much more exciting to look at all the possibilities in front of us and never actually commit to one. To indulge in all that could be, dreaming of how good we can become, while never putting the effort required to do so.

We do this because it is hard to choose. To pick one path means rejecting all other paths, and possibly, making the wrong decision. It means rejecting all our potential, at least for the time being, in everything that isn’t our goal.

That’s a scary decision. It frightens us.

And because of that, we delay. Not because we don’t want to put the effort in, not because we aren’t passionate, but because we fear we might invest time into something that doesn’t matter.

This can be quite a paralyzing feeling. That said, for better or worse, you can’t ever know your final “north star” when you’re just starting.

It seems to go overlooked that the only way you can find what you want to do, as opposed to common practice, is by actually getting started.

Not by thinking about it, not by analyzing, not by praying to god for your calling to arrive. But by recognizing that, in a lot of ways, your calling chooses you, not the other way around.

A much better approach to have, as Viktor Frankl put it:

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

In other words, ask not what you need from life, ask life what it needs from you, right now, and start there.

Thank you for reading.

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Stoicism & Philosophy | Building @pathsofmeaning

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