Stop Trying So Hard

Stop Trying So Hard

Jan. 17, 2020

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It seems as though the image of a failure is a lazy slacker. The opposite is a workaholic achiever.

Along those lines, it seems as though the opposite of “careless” is “careful.”

And “careful” means “try harder.”

The mistakes and failures that mess everything up would all go away if people just tried harder.


Not so fast.

For a short while, it’s possible trying harder would help.

I wasn’t really paying attention then. I’m really paying attention now!

Maybe that one immediate problem gets fixed.

But trying harder is actually a recipe for long-term failure.

For example, do you know who played the longest match in pro tennis history?

John Isner and Nicolas Mahut.

Their Wimbledon match lasted three days. They spent over 11 hours on the court.

They tried really hard.

Guess what happened next?

Isner got killed the next round. And Mahut wasn’t the same for about a year.

They tried hard and put on a historic show.

But the hard trying ruined their chances of success.

Trying hard fails in other cases, too.

Ever decided to start working out after a break?

That first day is exciting, so exciting that you go super hard. The burn feels great and you don’t want to stop.

Working harder is better anyway. No need to stop.

What happens the next day?

You’re so sore you can’t get out of bed. You tried hard the first day, then were crippled for a week.

And by the end of the week, it’s easy to just bag it.

Things are busy now anyway.

On the other hand, if we had gone easy, we would have been fine. If we did half the work at half the intensity in half the time, we wouldn’t be sore the next day–we’d be at the gym again.

And the next day, too.

Pretty soon working out turns into a habit. Soon after that we’re the fittest we’ve ever been.

As long as we don’t try too hard as we go.

It also applies to studying.

If you want straight A’s, you don’t pull intense all-nighters. You read a little every day. Do a few questions every day. And brush up lightly before the final.

Too much information leads to fatigue. Studying through the night doesn’t lead to better grades.

And so it goes for almost anything.

Want to go running every day? Browbeating yourself with hard-core mantras and exhausting workouts won’t do it.

What will do it is do something simple like put your running shoes by the door. And then going for brief, light jogs. Even if it’s only for a few minutes.

The light jog today means you’re still jogging tomorrow. And that’s the secret.

Wild intensity only works for a moment, if it even works at all.

Calm, enjoyable habits work for a lifetime.

A famous coach once said, “You can’t make everything a life-and-death situation. For one thing, you’ll be dead a lot.”

If we want sustained excellence, we have to try easier.


My book is called The Inevitability of Becoming Rich, and you can find that here.