How to Work Hard When “Trying Hard” Doesn’t Work
I used to be a slave.
I was a slave to what the world wanted me to be. I was a slave to my mind, my emotions, that little voice in my head telling me who I could and couldn’t be or what I was or wasn’t worthy of.
I’ve been there — that rock bottom place you feel like you can’t pick yourself up from. Where you know that “if you only tried harder” things would be different.
Ultimately, trying doesn’t work. Thinking doesn’t work. You’ve been through these cycles before — the wishing, the wanting, and the spinning of wheels.
How do you move past the frustration phase and into the action one? You have to discover a method to help you become a doer.
The only way to become a doer is to find something worth doing.
People usually have it backward. They think if they will themselves to become better for the sheer sake of becoming better, they’ll start working harder and their life will fall into place. This doesn’t fit with how human beings behave. We need incentives to shape our behavior. The process of discovering which incentives will help you move forward is a large part of the equation.
How to Learn How to “DO”
To learn how to do, you first have to go back to the beginning. I grew up in a middle-class family, which meant I had a middle-class model to follow, a middle-class belief system, and middle-class conditioning.
I figured I’d go to college, get good grades, find a safe secure job, and be happy.
Once I got into college, however, things didn’t work out the way I thought they would. Instead of getting good grades, I got F’s. Instead of going to class, I got drunk and high. Instead of graduating, I dropped out prematurely.
My lack of success in the normal path did have something to do with my own laziness, but it also had something to do with the inkling I was working toward something that wasn’t worthwhile for me.
I was being taught things I wasn’t interested in, so why try?
I was being presented with a future that, deep down, didn’t seem appealing to me.
Also, I wasn’t looking forward to sitting in a cubicle and making sales calls or being an executive or going to conferences with people I didn’t like.
My parents and professors just couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t try harder. Why I was “wasting my potential.”
What they didn’t understand and what most people don’t understand, is that extrinsic motivators — motivation coming from the outside — don’t motivate people.
In my experience, everyone thought the extrinsic motivators of a 60k salary and a 401k were good enough. These extrinsic motivators always follow the word should.
You should work and get that “dream job.”
You should save money.
Lastly, you should be happy with the script society handed you.
Either two things happen with your “shoulds”
- You either do them begrudgingly and wind up unhappy.
- Or you fail to do them at all.
I stopped being a slave and found real motivation when I stopped focusing on what I should do and started doing what I wanted to do.
How did I discover what I wanted to do? I started exploring, questioning, and drawing conclusions based on the information I gained.
How do you find what you want? It’s a bit of a lengthy process, but a few key highlights are:
- Go back to the beginning — The things you loved as a child are the things you should do now.
- Deprogram/reprogram — When you’ve been told a certain way to live 100’s of times in subtle ways by your parents, teachers, peers, and the t.v., you’ve been programmed. You can rewire yourself by uncovering the hidden stories you tell yourself and coming up with a new one that fits.
- Try — Don’t commit. Don’t make a big grand statement about how hard you’re going to hustle. Take the things you enjoy and test them without attachment.
- Get good — You start with trying. If you enjoy what you’re trying, focus on getting good at it. When you’re good at it, you’ll have all the passion you need.
- Repeat — Try other nuanced versions of the thing you got good at. Add skills to your tool belt using the same formula of enjoy/try/get good.
In the exploratory phase, I looked for ways to get clear on what I wanted. To do that, I started searching — literally searching online for things like finding your passion, choosing a career, and improving your life through discovering those interests.
In the learning phase, you have no other goal than discovery. You read, talk with family and friends, take personality tests, reach out to people in different careers and send them emails asking about their process of finding their path in life.
Then, you come to some areas you might want to explore then you dabble in those areas until something clicks.
The trick is finding something you’re compelled to do. It has to pull you and draw you in. We all have things like that, but we can get caught in the idea that we need to have everything figured out before we pursue these avenues. No. Just explore without commitment and certain routes will become evident to you.
Then, once you have some areas that seem compelling, you’ll be more apt to try. Most people make the mistake of trying things that look appealing by conventional status markers like money, status, and power, but those carrots aren’t as tasty without the flavor of personal interest sprinkled on top of them.
Yes, you will have to will yourself in a sense to get to that point, but, as anybody who is honest about personal development would say, there are simply some problems with no easier answer than you gotta just do it.
My Journey From Broke and Depressed to Passionate and Productive
I spent a year doing nothing more than reading and watching videos online. After this, I made some conclusions and started testing them out. I wanted to be more creative, so I started writing.
I always had a love of words. I started writing because I thought it was fun and I had no plans of turning it into a career.
Now, I’ve published two books, but it all started with the intrinsic motivator of doing something I enjoy.
What you’ll find is much of your life either fits into the “hell yes” or “hell no” category. If something doesn’t fit the “hell yes” bill pretty early, it’s safe to say that’s not going to work out for you.
So when you test out these options, you can filter them into these buckets and make decisions faster. If you try something for let’s say, three months, and you feel excited about doing it regardless of the results you get, that’s the winner. You’re never going to succeed at something where the challenges of it diminish your excitement for it early on.
I see this so often in people who want to write because writing looks cool instead of because of their passion for doing it. The ones who succeed — even if they don’t do well early on — usually say to themselves, “hm…this is interesting. I’m going to see where this leads because I’d enjoy doing it in a wide spectrum of success levels.
And the good news? There’s never been more time to cheaply explore these options.
Right now, we’re living in what I call “the dreamer economy.” Everyone has the opportunity to start their own online business, build a brand, become a thought leader, do their own thing.
It’s an amazing time to be alive…but still, anything can turn into a “should” very quickly.
You Don’t Have to do Anything, Nor Should You
Now the conversation has switched to…You should start a business. You should quit your 9 to 5. Some people would be perfectly happy being an employee doing something they want to do.
Fast forward a few years and you’ll be happy, successful, have money, all of that.
Life is meant to be lived. It’s meant to be lived on your terms. The #1 problem people have with motivation is chasing after the wrong thing.
The more you search for arbitrary self-help tips without the context of your interests, the more frustrated you’ll get.
This is what happens when people tell you to start a morning routine but don’t tell you to find a reason to get up in the first place.
This is what happens when people prescribe advice to symptoms — lack of motivation, feeling helpless and being stuck — without diagnosing what’s causing the problems — lack of interests, lack of intellectual curiosity, and an overwhelming lack of self-awareness.
You derive positive outcomes, not by actions, but by underlying value systems and a clear sense of self that helps you answer the question — why should I try this?
You have to get honest with yourself about who you are, what you want, and even the state of your life as it is.
Until then, you will have this vague sense of a monotonous existence and get frustrated as to why you can’t see your blind spots.
So first, know those spots are there. Second, use exploration and learning to expose those spots. Then, you’ll be in a position to maneuver the chessboard when you see where more of the pieces are.
Ayodeji is the author of You 2.0 — Stop Feeling Stuck, Reinvent Yourself, and Become a Brand New You. Want a free copy of my first book? Get it here.