I visited my mom in Florida recently, and we did Tai Chi on the beach at 7am on a Thursday morning. The sun was low over the horizon, the water was a deep crystal blue, and the waves lapped gently on shore. It was a perfect setting for Tai Chi.
I had never done Tai Chi before, but the instructor was great and I learned not only few moves, but also a key principle of Tai Chi—that we all have a fixed amount of Chi (life energy). When we have expended it, we die. In fact, someone who practices Tai Chi doesn’t say “he died of a heart attack”, they say “he died because he didn’t have enough Chi left to recover from a heart attack.”
I had never heard this idea, but it makes sense, even from the perspective of Western medicine. When you spend your life (and your life’s energy) working long hours, pushing hard, and living under stress, your body shows signs of this stress: high blood pressure, heart attack, weight problems. It’s a sign that your body is out of balance, “running hot”, churning through your life’s energy.
Yet among high-achieving, driven, smart, successful “A-students”, the work hard mentality is well ingrained. Success comes from hard work, discipline, focus, persistence, grit. Even Einstein said it: “Genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work.” It’s assumed to be the path to a successful career, and very few people question it.
But do you think Einstein worked 100+ hour weeks and pulled all-nighters to come up with E=mc2?
Slow down to go fast
You may know intellectually that pushing hard isn’t good for you, but it’s a whole other thing to give up that drive when it’s been central to your success in life so far.
When you’re tired and know you’re not at your best, what will you do? Will you push through or will you take a break?
That is the wrong question.
It’s too easy to fall into a binary decision, looking for answer between two poor choices. You have to ask a better question.
Newton says that every action is met with an equal and opposite reaction. If you push to get something done, your effort is met with an equal measure of resistance. Of course you would be more effective if the resistance weren’t there, but how do you make progress without effort?
Upgrade your InnerTech
If your approach to progress in life is based on hard work, persistence, grit, grinding it out—there is another way. Changing your approach requires upgrading your InnerTech, the beliefs and habits that define how you navigate life. Follow these three steps.
1. Pause and take a deep breath.
When you’re stressed you get tunnel vision, focused only on the task right in front of you. To see other options, you first have to relax. You can do that in one minute by intentionally slowing your breathing. Breathe in through your nose for a count of three, breathe out through your mouth for a count of six. Do this five times, deliberately letting go of tension and stress as you exhale.
2. Change your perspective.
You work hard when you believe it’s required to reach you goals. Imagine for a moment that you have reached your goals already—you have reached the level of success and accomplishment your hard work is intended to help you achieve. When you have succeeded, you will feel different and have a different perspective on the work required to get there.
You can live from that level of accomplishment right now. You don’t need something external to change. Look at this moment from the perspective of accomplishment and success, then decide what you will do.
I applied this three step process just last week. It was Friday afternoon and I was worn out. I had committed to posting on LinkedIn every day, but I didn’t feel like coming up with something to say.
I considered the first two options that came to mind—crank it out or skip it—but neither felt right. I found a third option by changing my perspective to see myself as a highly successful coach where my life and my work were more fluidly integrated, where I could talk about my failures and uncertainties, and where I could be myself without worrying about having it all together (since who would want to hire a life coach who doesn’t?). From that perspective, I saw that I could be open, integrated, and vulnerable right then. I didn’t have to wait for some future success. I wrote my post without resistance. I even enjoyed it.
Next time you’re pushing hard, rushing, or grinding it out, try a different approach. Upgrade your InnerTech with this simple three-step process and create success without all the hard work.