Have you ever made something harder than it needed to be?
Maybe it was a phone call you dreaded making and then after it was over you were said, “well, that wasn’t so hard.” I want you to think about that phrase: that wasn’t so hard. It wasn’t that hard, but before you did it, it felt like it was hard.
So many things in life feel like they’re going to be hard, and then they’re…not.
Yet life can feel so hard. It can seem so overwhelming. So complicated. At least it can for me sometimes.
As strange as it sounds, I have this special “talent” for making things harder than they need to be.
Take exercise for example. Some people make exercising harder than it needs to be. Now, some people love working out. They enjoy themselves. The enjoy the sweat. They get all the stress out. It feels great to them. But that’s not how everyone relates to working out. Some people, doing the exact same workout, will be full of anxiety (what if I can’t do that last rep?) or insecurity (I don’t belong at the gym) or even anger (when is that guy going to get off that machine!). Before the workout they stress about how bad it’s going to be. During their exercise they stress about not doing it right. Afterwards they’re disappointed about it not being as good of an experience as they wanted it to be. This takes the sweat and energy put into working out and actually increases the strain in a way that decreases the output. If you’re miserable when you’re working out, you’ll get less out of it.
Exercise is supposed to be enjoyable. But we do something to make it worse.
Some people do this with exercise. Some with relationships. Some with meetings. Some with leadership. And all of us with “work.” You see, there are things you can do that actually make the work worse. There are things you do that turn the work into “toil.”
“Work” is the energy we put into accomplishing something. “Toil” is the added suffering we create while doing or avoiding the work that makes the it more difficult than it needs to be.
The reality is that many of us relate to life like it’s a burden. We take hard things and actually make them harder. We import struggle, stress, strain, suffering and toil into the fabric of our lives. What we import is not inherent in the thing, the job, the relationship, the work, the life. We bring that to it ourselves. We feel like life is bringing the toil to us, but often times we’re bringing the toil to life.
But what if it didn’t have to be this way?
What if life could be effortless?
Not “effortless” as in the absence of work, but “effortless” as in the absence of toil.
What if work could be calm, light, free, creative, with a joy that bubbles up from within you?
What if your wrestling with life didn’t have to involve stress?
- Work is about adventure. Toil is about drama.
- Work is about creativity. Toil is about stress.
- Work is about action. Toil is about procrastination.
- Work is about peace. Toil is about fear.
Many of us don’t go to work every day. We go to toil.
In fact, too many people show up to meetings, work, conflict in a chronic state of toil. They’re expecting drama, stress, fear and so they procrastinate, complain and avoid. Ironically, when you expect drama, stress and fear you create drama, stress and fear. Expecting toil creates toil. And after a while, toil becomes a habit and we being to think that that’s actually how life is.
But just like the habit of toil, people can develop the habit of effortlessness.
Before you agree or disagree with that, just think: how much faster could you’d create results in your life if you’d learn to work rather than toil. Think how much faster your teams would solve problems if you could remove toil from the culture. Think how much energy you’d have for your loved ones and passion projects or volunteering if you could remove toil from your emotional ecosystem.
It’s not easy, but it is simple. You just have to cultivate more effortlessness in your life.
Here’s how to get started:
- Think about the areas of your life right now that might feel like toil. Maybe it’s a project you’re working on. Maybe it’s a relationship. Maybe it’s a form of self-care, like taking care of your diet. For me, it’s writing this article right now.
- Ask yourself, “What affect is relating to ________ as toil having in my life?” For me, bringing toil into this article is affecting my body (my chest is tight, my ears are hot, I can feel the cortisol and stress in my body. I feel heavy.) It’s making me want to rush through getting it done. It’s making me less creative. And less likely to write more because who wants to do something that makes them miserable?
- After you get clear on that, ask this very important question, one I asked earlier and one we ask our clients at Novus Global, especially after they get done telling us how hard something is going to be. We ask, “What if it didn’t have to be hard?” Then we smile, “What if it could be effortless?”
Many times just thinking about that question is like setting down a ton of bricks. Like an emotional release valve, the question at least creates the possibility that maybe it doesn’t have to be so hard. For me writing this article, I remember: oh yeah, I really love writing. This is really going to help people. I can feel my body relax and that opens up more energy. I feel more proud of what I’m writing and want to go back for another draft and make it better.
Paradoxically, making work effortless makes you more excited about work.
And believe it or not, this article was worse before I invited myself into effortlessness. Effortlessness is a performance enhancing drug. It creates energy. It elevates performance. And it reminds us why we love whatever it is we’re working on in the first place.
And so, for the rest of today, no matter what you’re working on or who you’re with:
Make it effortless.