I am a fundamentally lazy person…
Or maybe I just never learned how to work hard. Whatever the reason, I was never very good at sticking to things, putting in consistent effort, and really trying.
This is not to say that I was a slacker. I did all my homework, got good grades, did everything I was supposed to do but nothing and I mean nothing more. I got really good at doing just enough to skate by. In fact, I got so good at this that I forgot what it felt like for a while to give something my all and really try.
It’s weird because we live in a country that supposedly praises hard work, loyalty, and dedication, but at the same time there’s a stigma against those who try especially hard. They even have their own ~insult~ name: “try-hards”. Nobody wants to be the try-hard in class that everybody hates. So, I learned not to try. I would go so far as to say that school taught me not to try, but that’s a conversation for another day.
Now this post isn’t about the nitty, gritty details of how to actually make the shift, as you all know my answer to that is “tiny, little, baby steps”. Instead, I want to focus on motivation, mindset, and how to make that shift at a lifestyle level.
For me there were two main shifts.
Overcome fear of “trying”
I only just realized this, but after years of not trying, I was genuinely afraid of trying hard. This might seem stupid, but not trying is so safe. If you don’t try and you don’t succeed, it’s fine because, well, you didn’t even try in the first place. But if you try and don’t succeed, well then you really failed. So I guess, in some way fear of trying is related to fear of failure, something I think we all struggle with, and something I am still working on to this day. (Side note: check out this site for an inspiring and entertaining series on facing rejection).
Now, I’m not an expert and I’m sure there are a million and two ways to overcome a fear of “trying”, but here’s what worked for me. Start small. Yeah, yeah I know you’re sick of hearing me say it, but guess what, I’m going to keep saying it because it really works. Start small and just try. Start trying. I love preparation and planning but you can only do so much of that before it’s time to take action. For me, I chose to start with exercise. Because yes, my fear of trying even extended to exercise and sports. If you never shoot, you can’t miss right? Wrong, you miss everything. So what would happen if for just, I don’t know, two minutes I tried as hard as I could? Just two minutes. Two minutes of running as fast as I could or doing as many push-ups as I could. And what do you know, just like that, trying hard became addicting. Because as scary as it is to give something your all knowing you might fail, there’s a special satisfaction that comes from putting in every last ounce of effort you have into something, regardless of whether or not you succeeded or not. You tried your best. You put everything on the table. You have no regrets. Because even when you do fail, it’s just another step along the way, and you can try again.
I think it also helped me a lot to try in an adjacent field to where the most fear lived(school). For the most part, nobody would be mad at me or even care if I tried hard while planking or squatting or running. In fact, I could usually hide that I was trying hard if I really wanted to. But then comes the next phase, how to stop caring what other people think about you (so you can try hard whenever, wherever, and however you like). I think this subject probably deserves it’s own post entirely, but here’s what I try to remember. When I know who I really am and what I really want and what I really care about, then it’s much easier to ignore the pressure of others. The more I connected with myself and became confident in myself, the less I care about what others thought. I’m still working on this today and I only mention it here because I think it’s an important part of overcoming a fear of trying. But now, on to shift 2.
Find your “why”
Every single productivity guru or lifestyle coach will mention this step, but sometimes things actually do get popular because they work. Finding reasons that matter to you is important because only you can make yourself try. And if you’re going to be able to do that properly and consistently, you’re going to need some pretty strong “why’s” backing you up.
For some students, getting good grades is motivation enough. These people do well in traditional school systems. For the rest of us, getting good grades might play some role, but it’s not enough for us to try as hard as we can. So we need to find better whys. For me, I found that I started doing much better in school when I stopped thinking about grades. I’m (clearly) interested in personal development so if I framed class time as an opportunity to practice being present and practice my strategies for learning, then I ended up paying attention way more than if I just tried to do what I thought was necessary to succeed in the class. Maybe you have no interest in those things. Maybe you want to learn how to thrive in a system. Life is full of systems and people telling you what to do and if you want, school can be a chance for you to practice navigating that system. The point is, it doesn’t matter what it is, just find your why. You can find a why for a specific class, a specific day, or maybe if you’re lucky school or work as a whole. Just practice reframing whatever it is you’re working on as an exercise in finding your why and suddenly you’ll find yourself a lot more invested.
Implementing both of these shifts will take time and many baby steps, but if you, like I did, think that you are just a fundamentally lazy person, maybe you just never learned how to work hard. Try it. You might just surprise yourself. ``