Eighty percent

Could it be that you’re not succeeding because you’re trying too hard?

Until recently, this sounded preposterous to me.

It was obvious: effort leads to results. More effort leads to more results. If something isn’t going the way I want it to, I need to try harder.

Problem is, this sets up a vicious circle. When you’re expecting the results that come with 100% effort and (for whatever reason) you don’t get those results, you might feel disappointed. Then you might channel that disappointment into trying harder.

But the harder you try, the more energy you use, and the more stress you generate. Then, when you work with less energy and more stress, you’ll probably make more mistakes, only disappointing yourself more—leading you to want to try harder again.

The result is that you’re constantly stressed and disappointed.

What if you decided, instead, to give 80% effort and expect 80% of results?

This could look like taking more breaks, allowing for some mistakes, or expecting success 80% of the time.

For example, if you’ve been trying really hard to establish a daily habit, you might feel guilty whenever you skip a day. The guilt can easily turn into negative self-talk like “I don’t have what it takes”, which can demotivate you and cause you to give up on the habit entirely.

In this case, try allowing yourself to miss one in five days (on average). When you miss a day, don’t beat yourself up about it. Remember “eighty percent” and make a specific plan to do better tomorrow.

If you like, you can also give 50% effort and expect 50% of results. The specific percentage doesn’t matter, as long as you stop trying so hard and relax a little.

In mindfulness terms, we could say that giving 80% effort is “letting things be” a bit. By not clinging so hard to great results, you might paradoxically be more likely to get those results.

So if you’ve tried giving maximum effort, if you’re not heading in the right direction, and if you’re stressed—why not reduce your effort and lower your expectations by 20% for a while, and see what happens?


— Peter

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