I have always been about 100% effort. In sports, in relationships and at work. Every major success I had would primarily be put down to hard work. I thought my proudest achievements came because I worked harder than the next person. Studied harder, worked longer hours and did more intense training.
I always saw significant work success like running a marathon. You’ve just got to put in the time, commit to the process and push through the pain barriers and then, boom! – you’ve achieved your goal / won your pitch / or earned your promotion.
But with every occasion I didn’t quite achieve my goal, despite all the overwhelming time and effort, despite all the energy poured into it I became resentful. Like all the effort poured in should equal the amount of positivity that came out the other end.
Except that’s not how it works. Sometimes the biggest slacker in the office gets the promotion and the laziest creative pitch wins.
Sometimes the worst player in the team scores the winning goal. The formula for most people’s success is far more nuanced than ‘must try harder’.
Despite the huge progression in promoting a work/life balance many sectors still elevate those who will work the most hours, take on the most projects and seem to be always giving it ‘110%’.
Popular culture, in many ways, also validates our belief that grit and passion are the unfailing ingredients in the elixir of success. Think back to the countless movie training montages you’ve seen (Rocky IV hanging sit-ups anyone!) and the subsequent hero’s victory.
Of course, intense training and extraordinary effort is critical to becoming the best of the best. But this myopic view of unrelenting, maximum output, when transferred to the workplace, can lead to unproductive physical and mental exhaustion.
To perform at our best we need to take care of our mind and body and create a working pattern that helps us thrive.
Passion and grit are undoubtably a key part in achieving some of our ambitious life goals. However, it’s important for our long-term benefit that we keep these powerful resources in check with some positive guidelines. Here are six suggestions on harnessing your drive without compromising your mental and physical health:
1. Ask a friend or mentor if it makes sense
It’s great to have a mentor or a respected friend who understands your passions and ambition but will also speak more objectively into your situation. Sometimes the end result is not worth the sacrifices you are making. Having a trusted ally who will be honest with you is key to harnessing your strength in the right direction.
2. Work smarter not harder…
The amount of effort you put into a project can always be outdone by someone doing it a smarter way. Think about how the Wright brothers beat Samuel Pierpont Langley to achieve the first manned flight. Two intelligent, practical bicycle repairmen vs a huge team of hard-working professional engineers. Despite the vast effort of Langley’s team they were beaten by a smarter, more practical approach.
3. Don’t forget to look after yourself
Both mental and physical health can be seriously affected by putting in too much time at the office. Make sure you value your own well-being highly enough and don’t continually sacrifice yourself on the altar of work. Protect yourself from burnout. The Mind mental health charity has great tips for maintaining positive mental health at work here.
4. There’ll always be more opportunities
Don’t beat yourself up over moments you perceive as failure or missed chances. If you’re serious about the path you have chosen you’ll find another way.
5. Be self-disciplined
As we get increasingly tired, we become less self-disciplined and less productive. In effect, we can’t see the wood for the trees. Sometimes the most productive thing we can do is put in less time and make that time more focussed. Reconsider your working patterns and use self-discipline to optimise your productivity.
6. Sometimes you have just got to let it rip!
…Then there are those times when nothing will get a goal achieved more than grit and your laser-focussed passion. No theorising, team meetings, self-help books or insightful comments will get a job done more than the hunger and white-hot desire you have to get a particular goal achieved.
But remember, that is valuable fuel you are burning. It isn’t healthy for the highest levels of intensity to be sustained in the long term and shouldn’t be used as the default method of getting a tough job done.
And when harnessed with intelligence, mentoring and with one eye on the bigger picture, they become the most powerful fuel available – driving greatness in both sport and work.