Effort Is Not A Dirty Word: Five Ways You Get A Big Payback

“Lose 10 pounds in 10 days — without diet or exercise!” “Win the lottery, live a life of ease!” “Click here to meet the man of your dreams!

Poof! Just like that, we’re rich, thin, in love and, presumably, happy. Except…we’re not.

And yet, each time we fall for – or are at least tempted by — the lure of the quick fix because we want to believe that we can have it all, instantly, without breaking a sweat.

Why We Avoid Effort

Just like Charlie Brown believing that, this time, Lucy will hold the football so he can kick it, you’d think we’d know better by now. So why are we so attached to the illusion of gliding through life, no effort required?

Well, for one, changing the status quo means we have to leave the familiar comfort of inertia. We have to acknowledge that there is no quick fix and whatever we want to achieve is going to require time and energy.

Next, there’s the discomfort of uncertainty: the nature of effort requires that we persist without a guarantee of success or that we’ll even get the result we’re striving for. We might even, ugh, make mistakes. Not committing full effort provides a handy fall back: “Well, I could have done it if I had really been trying.”

Then there are those who believe in the power of talent — that you either have natural ability or you don’t and there’s not much point in making an effort if you’re not naturally gifted.

Finally, effort is not glamorous; typically, it involves mundane repetition and attention to detail. And in our highly automated, consumerist culture, where the media depicts models looking vaguely bored and above it all, it’s simply not cool to look like you’re trying that hard.

Why Effort Is Worth It

Before you settle back into the couch with your remote though, let me point out a few things that make effort worthwhile.

Effort gives life meaning.

In her book, Mindset: The Psychology of Success, psychologist Carol Dweck says: “Effort means you care about something, that something is important to you and you are willing to work for it. It would be an impoverished existence if you were not willing to value things and commit yourself to working toward them.”

Effort forges connection.

That’s what Boing Boing founder Mark Frauenfelder and his family thought. Suffering post dot-com bubble burnout, they set out to cut through the absurd chaos of materialistic modern life and find a path that was simple, direct, and clear. In his book Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World, Frauenfelder tells the story of keeping chickens in his own remote-controlled chicken coop, making a guitar out of a cigar box and keeping his own bees. The reward for their self-induced labors? Greater perceived value and lasting enjoyment.

pianoEffort is more important than talent.

Benjamin Barber, an eminent sociologist, once said: “I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures…I divide the world into the learners and nonlearners.” A growth mindset – the commitment to stretching beyond where you currently are — is, in fact, what matters more than natural ability, says Daniel Coyle, author of The Talent Code. It’s what drives desire and creates “the energy that fuels the engine of skill acquisition.”

Effort is essential for mastery.

Despite our cultural bias toward instant gratification, there’s no way to reach a high level of excellence — in anything — without hours of effort. Want an exact number? In his latest book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell says that “10,000 hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again.”

Effort leads to flow.

Although a state of flow is often associated with a feeling of effortlessness, initially it requires focused effort to get there. Once in the flow, you can enjoy an activity for its own sake, not the external rewards it might bring. Daniel Chambliss, author of Champions: The Making of Olympic Swimmers, notes: “The very features of the sport that the “C” swimmer finds unpleasant, the top-level swimmer enjoys. What others see as boring-swimming back and forth over a black line for two hours, say-they find peaceful, even meditative, often challenging, or therapeutic.”

Growth, mastery and meaning: Sounds to me like an excellent return on investment.

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