I grew up in a family and culture where the equation was crystal clear: more effort = more results. The harder you worked, the better your results and if you weren’t getting those results, well, you’d better work harder, son. Up to a point in sports, this holds true. To be an elite performer, you have to put in the time, the difficult, frustrating effort to master your craft. This is the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in “Outliers” and Geoff Colvin in “Talent is Overrated”.
I got addicted to effort from an early age. Training for my sport and studying for grades, I went flat out almost all the time to get the results I had to get. Sometimes I got great results, sometimes I didn’t and when I didn’t I was confused, angry and resentful. How could this be? I did everything that I could, doesn’t the equation work?
I recognized this addiction to effort over time, but I found I couldn’t stop. As I moved through my career in high-tech, there was no down-time, I couldn’t fully relax, I had this built-in resistance to unproductive time. I hated being idle and finally came to recognize it as The Fear of Being Left Behind. I had built up this story that if I stopped working or training that I would fall behind the rest of you, perhaps never to catch up. I created this incredible, tireless, focused opponent in my head that I was chasing all the time. I never caught him and I got really, really tired.
Of course, this opponent doesn’t exist, he’s just a story I created to motivate myself back when I was a kid and he’s still around today. A lot of us have this guy in our heads, you workaholics know who I’m talking about.
In reaching for our best performance, we have to be fully present in the moment, not burdened by stories of how we’re falling short of what we should be, telling ourselves to try harder, work longer and focus more intensely. That’s not how great performance is created.
Try this: find a half hour in your day when you can be by yourself, no one will bother you, no distractions. No TV, books, internet, phones, iPods.
And just sit. Give it 10-15 minutes…feel that? It’s that guy telling you to get moving, do SOMETHING, because you’re falling behind. But you’re not, it’s the story that you wrote a long time ago that you now believe is true.
What other stories have you written?