Maybe you shouldn’t try so hard

If you want something, you have to go get it, right? You have to do something. If you’re not getting the results you want, you have to do more or do better.

Wrong.

Many things will go better if you don’t try so hard.

It may be very difficult for you to believe this. I certainly did not believe it even a few years ago. Yet it is true.

Here are some situations in which trying hard does not work:

  • Finding a life partner
  • Having fun
  • Trying to calm someone else down
  • Trying to calm yourself down 
  • Coming up with ideas for creative work

I’ve encountered this last one especially often recently.

Now that I’m running the 30-Day Creator Challenge, many people tell me that it is difficult to come up with topics to write about. They want to write (or shoot videos or record podcast episodes) every day, but they don’t know what to write about. Essentially, people lack good ideas.

So they come to me and say: “Peter, I don’t know what to write about. I don’t have any ideas. I just look at the blank screen and I’m not inspired.”

Of course, staring at a blank screen won’t help you come up with a topic for a blog post. Going for a walk, on the other hand, will—unless you keep trying and trying and trying to come up with that topic while you’re walking.

Paradoxically and counterintuitively, taking your mind “off” of the subject helps you generate creative ideas. (The truth is that you’re not really taking your mind off of it. Your attention may be elsewhere, but your subconscious is actively working on the very thing you want to achieve.)

How can you take your mind off of the subject, then?

If you struggle with trying too hard, the best advice I can give you is to meditate. 

Perhaps you’re getting sick of all the people who are encouraging you to meditate. It’s very popular these days—is it just a fad?

No. In meditation, you practice the art of not trying too hard, but also not trying too little. If you have a tendency to try too hard, you’ll learn why that doesn’t work, and what you can “do” instead.

If you don’t want to build a meditation habit, you can still practice trying less hard by building more downtime into your day. Let yourself feel bored. (Don’t reach for that smartphone the seconds you’re bored.) Stare out the window. Go for walks.

Of course, the key is to do these things without the intention of having them solve your problem. Because then you would, again, be trying.

It’s a knotty problem, isn’t it?

Yours,

— Peter

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