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What is Effort? | Scott H Young

https://www.scotthyoung.com/blog/2020/03/09/what-is-effort/

scotthyoung.com

What is Effort? | Scott H Young
Recently, I wrote a piece asking why taking action is hard. Why do we so often struggle to take our ideas and actually do something about them? It's tempting to just say people are lazy or unmotivated, but I think the question is a lot more complex and interesting than it first appears.

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Effort as Energy Expenditure

Effort as Energy Expenditure

Effort represents an investment of a fixed resource, like calories.

For this reason, running takes more effort than sitting. It takes more calories and strains muscles and joints. If you run non-stop, you will need to eat more to stay alive, and you will wear your muscles out.

However, effort as energy expenditure does not fully answer why we struggle to take action, as effortful tasks, such as playing tennis, is more fun than doing nothing.

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Effort as Attention

Effort as Attention

Paying attention seems to be linked to effort, since deliberate control of attention take effort.

Focus is only hard if we're trying to focus. If our attention is held automatically, focus is not an effort.

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Effort as the Opposite of Habit

Effort as the Opposite of Habit

Effort could be seen as the opposite of something we do automatically. Effort then is what happens when we try to override an automatic pattern.

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Effort as Moving Upstream

You can look at effort in the context when you need to make a choice that involves internal conflict. Part of you wants to eat more, while the other part thinks you shouldn't.
Internal conflict requires you to move "uphill" or resist the easy flow.

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Different Kinds of Effort

Taking action is hard because it requires effort. Some things feel easy, while others feel difficult. This is a reason we don't always act on our plans.

But, maybe the problem is that we have combined distinct issues under the same label of "effort": physical fatigue, attention control, automaticity, self-control. If we could separate them, we might be able to ease the effort required to take action.

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SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:

Goal-Setting

Any goal or project will usually have these basic qualities:

  • A general ambition or motivation. (e.g. learn French)
  • A specific target. (e.g.  speak fluently)

Goals To Start In The Middle

When a goal has high uncertainty as to what level is achievable to reach within a particular time-frame, it is better to set specific targets in the middle of the process.

Plan your goals with the variables you do have: overall direction, time-frame, level of effort and strategies.

Reasons To Postpone Goal-Setting

  • Uncertain goals should be set in the middle. This will enable you to set the correct challenge level to maximize effort.
  • Some research shows that for very complex tasks, goal-setting can hinder effectiveness. This is because complex tasks are cognitively demanding in the beginning and can be frustrating because you can't perform adequately. To add on more tasks can impair your performance.

one more idea

Long-term flexible commitment

What many people fail at with long-term commitments is that they make their initial vision too rigid.

Flexible commitment can help overcome this by bringing together two pr...

Walk the Winding Path

  1. Stick to short commitments. Get good at this skill before going further.
  2. Understand your goal at different levels. The highest goal should be fairly abstract.
  3. Set a much more specific agenda of how I could fulfill this.
  4. Have periodic reviews where you can change your direction and incorporate new ideas. 
  5. Don't let your reviews interfere with the short-term process of committing.

The winding path: Goals and projects

Imagine your ambitions on two levels:
  1. A goal level, which is big-picture and abstract. It has just enough detail to inspire, but not so much that you're stuck pursuing things that don’t matter when conditions change. 
  2. Underneath that, have projects: these tend to be short-to-medium term efforts you think will help realize the larger goal.

The flexibility of the system comes once one leg of a short-term commitment has ended. This provides an opportunity for pivoting and redirecting.

Taking action = eventual success

Taking action = eventual success

Inaction is the biggest cause of our failures and our miseries. If we could consistently do the things we know we should do, we would be more successful, and our lives would be better. Yet w...

Explaining inaction

Some possible but weak reasons why action is hard:

  • Talent. But the world is full of brilliant stars that flame out and mediocre minds that build empires.
  • Preferences can explain our failure to try, but don't explain our inner struggles with inaction.
  • Capacity for effort. If your capacity for doing things is lower, it does not explain chronic bursts of activity with inevitable crashes in your goals and projects.
  • Motivation. Some people with the most reason have the hardest time taking action. 

Confidence

Motivation and expectation of success create a feedback loop:
  • Your motivation to complete a task depends on the value of the reward and your expectation of success. 
  • Your expectation of success depends on your motivation.

If your projects tend to fail, your expectations are low, and motivation fades. If your projects tend to succeed, your expectations go up, and motivation stays strong.