One of the biggest indictments of a person’s character is to suggest that they don’t work hard. Much of the American cultural DNA is sequenced with gene-envy for those who “work hard”. Naturally, when we encounter someone who doesn’t work hard we instantly label them as lacking desire, being lazy, or worse — being a loser of some kind. But could there be more to it than that?
I have believed for years that one of the limiting factors with effort is confidence. It’s difficult to get someone to work hard at something they aren’t confident in. Several years ago I appended this notion somewhat in favor of a clearer understanding:
Perhaps a limitation in work ethic is really a lack of resiliency and mental strength. How did I arrive at this distinction? Easy, I read someone else make a compelling argument for it. Noted author Malcolm Gladwell (Blink, Outliers, Tipping Point) was part of an email exchange with ESPN sports writer Bill Simmons and this reply by Gladwell is a marvel into the psyche of work ethic:
Gladwell: Why don’t people work hard when it’s in their best interest to do so? This is actually a question I’m obsessed with.
The (short) answer is that it’s really risky to work hard, because then if you fail you can no longer say that you failed because you didn’t work hard. It’s a form of self-protection. I swear that’s why Phil Mickelson has that almost absurdly calm demeanor. If he loses, he can always say: Well, I could have practiced more, and maybe next year I will and I’ll win then. When Tiger loses, what does he tell himself? He worked as hard as he possibly could. He prepared like no one else in the game and he still lost. That has to be devastating, and dealing with that kind of conclusion takes a very special and rare kind of resilience. Most of the psychological research on this is focused on why some kids don’t study for tests — which is a much more serious version of the same problem. If you get drunk the night before an exam instead of studying and you fail, then the problem is that you got drunk. If you do study and you fail, the problem is that you’re stupid — and stupid, for a student, is a death sentence. The point is that it is far more psychologically dangerous and difficult to prepare for a task than not to prepare. People think that Tiger is tougher than Mickelson because he works harder. Wrong: Tiger is tougher than Mickelson and because of that he works harder.
So the takeaway here is simple: the gains lost by not working hard are squarely pitted against the mental gimmick of always thinking we have a chance “next time”. In the meantime, of course, we suffer defeats anyway, our muscles atrophy, and “next time” ends up being Never Land. Interesting food for thought. Are you tough enough to work hard?
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