Dec 12

Success: Why you can’t give 110% effort forever

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Success: Why you can’t give 110% effort forever

Ever noticed how supremely positive people continually exhort you to strive to perform at the very highest level possible… all the time? This is accompanied by abstract references to glib and shallow motivational quotes, like:

“set a goal that makes you want to leap out of bed in the morning”…

Essentially what they appear to be saying is that there is some “standard” that you should aspire to in every waking moment and that this should be how you measure yourself every day. However, what this assumes is that each and every day you will have the same amount of personal resources, motivation and drive.

How is it for you?

Can you, hand on heart, genuinely say that every single day you have the same amount of motivation, commitment and energy? Sometimes you just want to have a quiet day…

I am sure that there are people who will say that they give everything they do 110%, however most of us in the ‘real world’ encounter everyday challenges that drain mental energy. Stuff happens.

Mental energy is not a finite resource – as the day progresses we get decision fatigue… that issue we are worrying about keeps forcing its way into the front of our thoughts… we bring unfinished stuff from the last task into the ones we are working on now. Coupled with the inevitable challenges of simply living (I lost my credit cards, so now as well as everything else, I have to phone the Bank).

What defines the ‘gold standard’ of achievement that we must aspire to?

The list is far too long for us to go into here, but essentially we meet the standard when we are feeling and delivering at our maximum capacity, when nothing goes wrong, when the risks we took pay off etc.

So is it appropriate to continually live measured by the ‘gold standard’? Not according to respected management thinkers like Marshall Goldsmith. Striving to meet a standard that is artificially high is most likely to set us up for disappointment as a minimum. Lets look at the following simple chart to illustrate the point:

No two days are the same in terms of how much energy and motivation we have to spend on ourselves, our work or those things that are important to us. We get dragged down by unexpected issues (which can be quite debilitating) and some days we feel more energised than others. Usually however, there is an Expectation gap between the “gold standard” and what we are actually capable of achieving. (The gold standard is the “Expectation” and the gap is how we actually performed against it). Occasionally we will do more than we expect in a day (but I would suggest this isn’t something that happens very often!).

Real Life

This Expectation Gap can create anxiety as you look back at the day and apply the gold standard, you forget the washing machine flooded the kitchen and the dog had to go to the vets… and we start to worry that we aren’t making progress towards our big life goals. This can become a serious problem for some people – perfectionists start to put things off, because they know they can’t do something against the high standards they set for themselves, not recognising that they are most likely impossibly high. Others turn the disaster into the reason why they are not making progress… the flooded kitchen simply becomes the latest excuse for not progressing against the big goals, whilst they look for the next excuse.

If this sounds like you, I’d recommend that you speak to a coach who can help you gain a more helpful perspective and choose to do live life differently (yes it is a choice).

There are a couple of things you can do:

  • Ignore the “gold standard”, this measures performance in an unrealistic way.
  • Review the day against what was realistically possible.

Put even more simply:

measure how much you tried (what was possible) rather how well you performed (against an impossible “gold standard”).

Every day is different and you can’t run at 110% forever. Recognising that I did the best I could against what was possible TODAY is more realistic than trying to measure yourself against a level of performance you were NEVER going to achieve. As long as you can genuinely say that you did the best against what was possible.

If you still feel you are falling short, don’t beat yourself up, tomorrow is a new day. It is also helpful to reflect on the progress you have made. Life is full of ups and downs, so it is not the peaks and troughs that are important but the overall trend… if your trend is not upwards towards your goals, perhaps it is time you did something a little differently (#ChangeSomething) or started doing something new (#StartSomething)? If the trend is upwards, then you must be doing something right!

  1. Richard C 24 Dec 2016 | reply

    Great article. As one who regularly beats himself up for not performing, I am going to try your suggestions.

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