The one way to avoid hard work

If you are like me, you absolutely dislike working hard. Before you judge me as being lazy, which I surely am, allow me to elaborate a little more. Have you ever felt that, even after putting in weeks or months of effort you are no closer to your goals compared to when you started? The end is often not easy to see, and working hard, without any reward can get depressing quickly. Has it ever happened to you, that you got demotivated and gave up mid way?

Well, if it has, don’t label yourself as being lazy or demotivated, not yet, because you may be onto something.

There are two ways in which a person can dislike working hard.

  1. They are not motivated, and as a result, feel lazy, and actually don’t want to do any work.
  2. They aren’t lazy, but they feel that hard work is not absolutely necessary to get what you want. 

And they are right! Most of the time, motivation is not our problem, our problem is we don’t know how to channel that motivation into actual work.  

Well, what does that mean? Firstly..

What is hard-work?

Hard work, simply put, is work done in the presence of an opposing force. If there was no opposition or struggle, your work would be easy and direct.

If you wanted to drop ten pounds of weight in a month, and you felt no inward struggle, you would just go ahead and do it. But when there is struggle, it becomes quite difficult. Struggle being, inability to exercise or stick to a diet, despite your efforts to do so.

For example, if you want to exercise, what is really stopping you?

Often, these are the steps you have to go through:

  1. Driving home from work.
  2. Making a quick dinner.
  3. Having dinner.
  4. Relaxing for a couple of hours.
  5. Putting on gym clothes and shoes.
  6. Driving to the gym.

In reality this is what happens.

  1. Driving home from work, while thinking about what you can make for dinner.
  2. Making a quick dinner, while wondering if this is healthy enough.
  3. Having dinner, while wondering how much to eat, and in the process, eating too much.
  4. Relaxing for a couple of hours, while wondering if you can digest all that food you just ate before going to the gym.
  5. Looking at the gym clothes, while thinking that you are a little too tired and also might have overeaten.
  6. Eventually deciding not to go to the gym, and then wallowing in self-pity and regret for the rest of the night.

Sounds familiar?

The same thing can be read as this:

  1. Driving home from work, while overthinking.
  2. Making a quick dinner, while overthinking.
  3. Having dinner, while overthinking.
  4. Relaxing for a couple of hours, while overthinking.
  5. Staring at the gym clothes, while overthinking.
  6. Eventually deciding not to go to the gym.

In every case, you could say that if you didn’t have those thoughts, then may be, you could have gone to the gym. If you could just act, then you could have gotten the job done! Then, what really is hard work?

Hard work = Overthinking in Action.

Does that sound too simple to be true? Try asking yourself these questions.

  1. Do I ever miss any good opportunities, because I am afraid to act on them?
  2. Have I not gotten promoted at work, because I always hesitate to speak up?
  3. Have I ever abandoned a project midway, because it got too stressful to pursue?
  4. Have I given up on my dream, because I am afraid of what others would think if I succeed, or worse, if I fail?
  5. Have I not learned new skills in many years because I think learning is difficult?

You see, fear, hesitation, stress are all different results or outcomes of overthinking. They are sustained by overthinking, and in return, they create even more overthinking. So it becomes a vicious cycle that makes you incapable of taking action.

If only you had a quiet mind that could focus just on execution, and not on analysis, you could have succeeded! If only you could just act, instead of congratulating yourself on small victories and beating yourself up for small failures, you would rapidly progress. So the next question obviously becomes..

How to not overthink?

If I ask you, “Is climbing Mt. Everest a difficult task?”, you’d laugh at me. Even for experienced mountaineers, climbing Mt Everest, is a tall order. It is extremely hard, no matter who tries it. Yet, if I ask you,  “Is climbing Everest, equally hard for everyone?”, you’d have a different answer. Not everyone has the same climbing experience, physical endurance and mental fortitude. You need all three, in almost unlimited supply, and some more, to attempt such a thing.

Let’s assume for a minute that you want to climb Everest, and that you have all the qualities needed. You have climbed all the top peaks in the world, so you have the experience, and you have run marathons in cold weather to develop tremendous physical endurance, and in the process, you also have developed unparalleled mental strength.

You visit Everest and prepare for the climb by staying at the base camp for a few days, going for a few short climbs, studying weather patterns and getting mentally ready. You know that you have the perfect weather conditions, the perfect team, the perfect guides, and the perfect mindset to succeed. You are ready to conquer Mt. Everest.

Now, what is the only real thing that matters for you to complete the climb? What is the only thing that remains to be done? What is the only metric that matters?

The answer may seem obvious.

Lao Tzu identified it perfectly when he said,

The journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step.

However, Mr. Tzu also pointed to a much deeper truth, which he might have forgotten to mention. Do you know what that is? 

The journey of a thousand miles begins, continues, and ends too, with a single step.

Think about it for a second. You cannot go on, unless you take that second step, and the third step, and then the next one. If you do, then whatever you are thinking, or not thinking, is immaterial. As long as you take that step in the right direction, you are moving towards your goal.

No great man or woman, such as (insert the name of whoever inspires you, in the fields of arts, sports, business, sciences etc.) got to where they are overnight. We look at their lifetime achievements, and wonder how they achieved so much at such a young age, but what we do not see that they worked hard for years, day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute, slowly building up to where they are today. 

I am not suggesting in the least bit, that accomplishing great things is easy, however, the  perception of rarity and wonder about other people’s success is largely fueled by a powerful illusion, which is this:

The most powerful illusion about success, is that it can make one thousand individual steps, look like one giant leap. 

A few years ago, I had set a small goal for myself, to run a half-marathon. When I started training for it, I could not run a single mile, let alone 13, which is what a half marathon requires. I trained for 10 weeks. Still, the most I could run, until the day of the race, was only 8 miles. I had no idea whether I would be able to finish the half-marathon, which is 13.1 miles.

I simply promised myself one thing that day.

“As long as I can stand, I will lift one leg, and put it in front of the other”.

I had many small cramps in my calves and toes, but when I was about 6 miles into the race, I had a severe cramp in my right foot. The pain was unbearable, and I began to limp. I remembered the promise I had made, as long as I stand, I will keep moving forward, no matter what, and that’s what I did. Surprisingly, the pain just went away after a while.

Preparing to run 5 extra miles without any preparation seems difficult at first, but what’s not difficult, is taking one step at a time, and not keeping the count.

If you think this is still hard to do, I have some good news for you. This is not something you don’t already know. All you need to do is remember that you have already done this in your past.

Ask yourself these questions, and you will realize, you already know this simple truth, deep down.

  1. Have I accomplished something that took me years to complete? A graduate or a college degree, or even school?
  2. Do I have any great habits which others around me find very difficult to maintain, like reading, exercising, proper diet, waking up early, or even having breakfast daily?
  3. Am I really good at something, which most people find hard to do? Cooking, painting, running, gardening, art work?

If yes, how did you do it?

You didn’t plan too much in advance, you just took one day at a time. Some days you perhaps didn’t give your best, and on others you worked pretty hard, but you kept moving forward. Sure, in school you had a lot of company, but your classmates didn’t do the work for you. You did all the work yourself !

The method of avoiding hard work is then quite simple.

  1. Break down your task into small steps.
  2. Find the step you need to take today, in the next hour, in the next minute, and in the next second.
  3. Then take that step, and repeat.

“But what about prioritization?”, you might ask.

Prioritization, is a double-edged sword, which if used incorrectly, can easily become procrastination.

Sometimes, you just have to go ahead and get started. You can prioritize once you have a momentum going.

If you want to go to the gym, you could say. I am going to get up now and go towards my closet. Now that I am here, I am going to find my gym clothes. Now, I am going to put these clothes on. Now that I am ready, I am going to get in my car and drive to the gym. Now that I am at the gym, I am going to warm up. Now that I have warmed up, I am going to work out. In this way, before you know, you are done.

Connection to Mindfulness

This method gets easier every time you practice it. You also begin to stay in the present moment, because your mind cannot focus on a task that is too far out. This, then becomes the beginning of mindfulness practice. Doing what you are doing right now, focusing only on the current step, and then on the immediate next small step. 

The only real way to channel your inspiration into action, is by walking the narrow bridge that passes through the present moment. Like a tight rope walker, you train your mind to focus only on the task at hand, which after having broken up many times, is often ridiculously simple to do. There is no hard work, and there is no struggle.

You might even say that eliminating hard work is not only possible, but also imperative to reaching your goals.

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Images courtesy of Jesse Oricco and Martin Jernberg

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