The Law of Least Effort vs Hard Work - Which is better? - Part 2

This is continued from The Law of Least Effort vs Hard Work - Which is better? - Part 1

Yesterday we talked about Law of Least Effort and questioned that growing up we all have been taught that hard work really pays off and that effort is a good thing. Don't these ideas contradict each other? Is one of them more correct? Does each method work in some situations but not others?

When we thing of hard work we think about the late nights and early morning. We think of strenuous difficult work. I have always wanted to understand the difference and resolve this conflict for myself.

There's so many different kinds of hard work. Example: physical exertion,mental work(like writing a book, composing a song, or starting an online business), emotional stress(summoning the courage to quit your job, going through a divorce, or having to declare bankruptcy), holistic or spiritual trials, where we face deep, multi-faceted changes like stepping into a new lifestyle, switching careers, or questioning the very nature of reality.

Does Least Effort Mean Avoiding Work?

Is it intelligent to expect that certain tasks will get done with no effort? Will your body somehow get into athletic shape if you just sit around on the couch watching TV? Will your book write itself while you're out playing golf? Will your taxes get filed while you're not paying attention?

Some people seem to have convinced themselves that avoiding physical exertion, mental work, emotional stress, and spiritual trials is the proper application of the Law of Least Effort. At one time or another, I probably counted myself among them. But these days I don't have much respect for this approach. Try it for yourself for a few years if you want... but only if you enjoy stagnation.

That said, I actually love the Law of Least Effort. I feel it's a wise principle in general, as long as we apply it intelligently. Intelligent application doesn't include using this idea as your justification to wriggle out of doing the hard work that's required for certain results.

The truth is that there are plenty of goals that require hard work - lots of hard work! These are often the most interesting and worthwhile goals to tackle.

The problem isn't that the goals are hard. The problem is that in addition to the necessary physical and mental effort (and perhaps some required emotional stretching as well), we're adding a hefty dose of unnecessary inner resistance to those goals - especially in form of resistance to the process of getting there. We see the hard work ahead of us and say "Oh no, not that!"

The Law of Least Effort doesn't mean that we should avoid these types of challenges. Rather, try to see it an invitation to stop resisting the required effort in such tasks. When you stop resisting a challenge, it becomes easier because you're no longer fighting with yourself. "Least effort" means "Stop adding unnecessary resistance on top of the truly necessary work."

Necessary vs. Unnecessary Effort

When I was a kid, maybe around 9 years old, I wanted to learn how to ride a bike. I'd been riding one with training wheels for years, but each time I tried to ride it without them, I'd get scared that I'd fall and hurt myself. So I avoided doing what was necessary to develop this skill.

Then one day I discovered that my little sister was trying to learn to ride a bike. I saw that she was close to figuring it out. No way was I going to watch her pass me up and figure it out before I did! Suddenly I let go of all resistance to the challenge.

Action-wise I got on the bike without any training wheels and did the best I could. I accepted that I might fall and that it would probably hurt if I did. I tried to stay close to people's lawns so hopefully I might onto the soft grass if I took a spill. My first few attempts were crazed spirals of doom. I couldn't make the bike go straight and had to endure some road rash. But I kept going, fueled by raw determination, and in less than an hour, I figured out how to balance.

What was the actual effort required to achieve this goal? Physically it wasn't that strenuous, although it took some trial and error and the willingness to endure minor injuries. Mentally it wasn't so effortful since the process of learning to balance was mostly subconscious. Emotionally it required some courage, but once I'd resolved to do it, it was mostly fun and exhilarating, especially when I felt I was beginning to get it.

But what was the unnecessary effort that I piled on top of this? Years of delay. Holding back with utterly useless training wheels. Worrying about falling and hurting myself. Feeling like I was missing out while younger kids were out riding their bikes and having fun.

Do you see the difference between necessary effort and unnecessary effort?

It's not like I could just lie on my bed and expect to learn how to ride a bike. That would have been easy, but would it have been less effortful?

If you keep thinking about a goal and trying to get there with the easiest approach you can find, is that really the path of least effort? Or is it a path of energy-wasting self-delusion?

If you add up all the time and energy you've spent thinking about quitting your job or trying to cut corners financially, is it possible that it would have taken you less time and energy to start your own business and make it successful?

Many people walk for miles in search of an elevator to avoid climbing the staircase in front of them.

Is it possible that you've been avoiding the true path of least effort by trying to take the seemingly easier path?

What Is Ease?

Is ease the same thing as avoidance? If you avoid all difficulty and challenge, that may seem easier in the short run, but doesn't it end up becoming more difficult in the long run?

Is it easier to develop the habit of spending a little less money each day and being a little more ambitious about your career? Or is it easier to overspend and sink into debt, waste a lot of extra money on interest payments, and possibly go bankrupt or endure a foreclosure?

Some level of challenge is good and healthy for you. The path of ease is not the path of laziness. It's the path of getting stronger, so your daily challenges feel lighter.

Your biggest problem isn't the difficulty of the tasks before you. The required work is doable. If you get busy doing the required work now, you won't waste energy on unnecessary effort by piling on worry, complaining, and avoidance behavior.

Tackling physical work makes you fit. If you avoid mental effort, you can look forward to a life of progressive dullness and dim-wittedness. Tackling difficult mental work also gives you a sense of accomplishment. Your confidence rises. You flow through each day with passion and high energy.

I could have putzed around doing nothing today, but to me it's least effortful to get to work. Create something. Share something of value. It's good exercise for my brain. It keeps me feeling sharp and alert.

What's funny is that it's actually easier to dive in and work like crazy on a project than it is to fret, fuss, delay, and worry about it.When you resist hard mental work, you're wasting energy feeding that resistance. But when you let go of that unnecessary resistance and just do the required work, you'll likely find that such efforts are enjoyable and rewarding. Tackling challenges feels great!

You may not be able to control all the emotional conflict that wells up within you, but you needn't resist it either. Why endure years of anxiety and procrastination over something you can do today?

Many people avoid public speaking. Some of the best and most experienced speakers I know still get nervous before they speak. But they've learned not to resist those feelings. They just accept that they're going to feel that way. And this helps transform their nervous energy into excitement and passion when they get up and speak. And they do fabulously well.

When you release your resistance to certain emotions you perceive as negative, you can invite and experience a lot of fun on the other side.

The word courage comes from the Latin word cor, which means heart. Courage is heart-centeredness. Courage is also part of the path of least resistance. When you wield courage, you stop resisting your emotions. You stop using fear, shame, guilt, and worry as excuses for not taking action. 

You can learn to fall in love with challenges that require emotional effort. Instead of thinking that you should avoid what you fear, see these challenges as desirable growth experiences.

I love that I uncopyrighted my articles and donated them to the public domain. Working through these fears leaves me free to do more research, writing, speaking, and traveling. I don't have to waste my time and energy on unnecessary efforts like protecting my privacy, fighting online piracy, or worrying that someone on the Internet might not like me. By embracing the required effort and turning towards my fears, I can slough off the unnecessary emotional waste that would otherwise slow me down and drain my energy.

Which is easier in the long run? Face a fear now and deal with a short burst of wild emotions, or avoid it indefinitely and endure decades of regret? Which is truly the path of least effort?

Fall in Love with Hard Work

The Law of Least Effort isn't telling you to shun physical training, dodge mental challenges, and hide from all your petty fears. It's simply an invitation to stop fighting with yourself in your own mind.

At the start of some of the toughest P90X workouts, Tony Horton says to "Get your mind right." This is a reminder to focus on the task at hand. Even though the workouts are very tough, it's important that you don't psyche yourself out in advance and make excuses to quit if you want results. Put your attention on the present moment and do the immediate task or exercise to the best of your ability. Don't get hung up worrying about how difficult the challenge will be. And don't worry about the long-term results you may or may not achieve. Just do the required task. Take it one set, one rep at a time.

Tony also likes to say, "Do your best, and forget the rest." If you do your best, that's enough. And you can always do that much. With this attitude you really can't fail.

If you do your best and drop the inner resistance, you'll make gains. If you tackle physical challenges, you'll get stronger and fitter. If you tackle mental challenges, you'll get smarter and sharper. If you tackle emotional challenges, you'll become braver and happier. Is that effortful? Perhaps. But if you get your vibe right and stop resisting this type of work, you'll transform that effort into growth, joy, and fun.

Does it take effort to have fun in life? Again, perhaps it does. But when you're having fun and loving your life, will you even care about the effort? Will you even notice it? Or will you be too absorbed in the fun to fuss over how much action you had to take?

Surrender to effort. Embrace the required work. Drop the unnecessary resistance, including the fairy tale fantasy of no effort. This is the real path of least effort.

If you really get this, you may recognize that the Law of Least Effort and the Law of Hard Work are in fact the same law. They're both equally correct.

Source: Excerpted from Steve Pavlina 's "Personal Development Insights" newsletter email #52.