I caught myself recently, in the midst of preparing for a webinar I was due to deliver, in that old pattern of what I call effort-ing. That is, over-preparing and over-thinking, all in the name of doing a good job of course, but not overly helpful. I paused, thought about what really needed to be done (a tiny bit of tailoring and that was it) and got on with completing it. It then had a rather effortless quality to it. And yet, I was surprised at how I felt like I should be doing more!
It reminded me of my old inclination to put in a LOT of effort, do lots of hard work and prepare up the wazoo. Sound familiar? Do you have that work hard, hard, hard gene too?
I think we can be so used to things being hard, and feel a kind of comfort with that, that we forget it could be easy. We also think we shouldn’t be such a slacker, and work hard anyway! Or we’re determined to be the best, do the best and we think that ‘hard’ is the way to get there.
Because it’s our habit.
Because we’re not always very conscious of how we’re operating.
Because it’s what we were taught; work hard and we’ll respect you, love you, feed you.
Most of us learned from a young age that if we did enough we would be safe and taken care of (either physically or emotionally). It was conditional love.
Let’s face it, most families have their own brand of this.
It might come dressed as ‘have a good work ethic’ or ‘we’re not slackers’ or ‘good people work hard’. But really it’s saying – if you work hard enough we’ll believe you’re worthy of our affection, we’ll accept you, you’ll be ok.
As adults we get to re-choose our beliefs about this stuff and stop being a slave to our conditioning.
Success is in the fun
What it’s really time to get out heads around in our currently very western-effort-focused-business-world is that being relaxed and enjoying what we’re doing is the key to true peak performance and success.
In a recent interview with adventure athlete Steve Gurney (watch this space for the full interview coming soon), he talked about this very crucial aspect of performance: being in a relaxed state of mind. He shared his story of one of his earlier Coast to Coast wins which came about because he originally began the race as camera crew. He had trained sufficiently that he would be filming the front pack – the first time they’d been filmed inside the race. With cameras strapped to both his body and equipment, he kept up rather well and was still with the front runners after the mountain run. He realised he might be able to win the race. Abandoning the weighty camera gear, he says he ‘enjoyed the kayak very much’, and went on to win the race.
“It’s all about state, your state of mind.”
Having been in his youth what he describes as a ‘young upstart’ who trained very hard, sometimes over-training and burning out, this win was a turning point for Steve. He says it opened his eyes to how crucial his state of mind was in winning, and that in fact being in a relaxed state of mind, enjoying himself made all the difference. While previously he’d seen racing as being about 90% physical effort and 10% mental state, “I’ve now actually reversed that. It’s pretty accurately the other way around.” He talks more about state of mind in his first book, Lucky Legs.
When you see top athletes and players convert a try or high jump, there is an effortless to their movements. How often do we see people at the top of their game and think how they make it look so easy? And while we can be sure their training, physical fitness and experience will count, that is not usually what makes the biggest difference in the moment of competition. I’ve seen this in presenters and speakers too – it’s not necessarily the one with the most preparation or experience that delivers the most brilliantly, or is the most engaging on the day; it is most likely the person in the best state of mind.
When Steve describes that Coast to Coast win he uses the word effortless. He suggests turning that around with this question if you want to find the formula for performing at your best (whether it’s on the golf course, in a meeting or corralling the kids at homework time). Ask yourself:
If I was to have fun and it seemed to take very little effort, what state of mind and physiology would I need to have?
How would I be feeling? And what would my body be doing?
And the next time you catch yourself getting all serious and effortful about your to-do list or the game you want to win, remind yourself to have fun. You have it from the horse’s mouth that it could just help you win.