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What is Effort? | Scott H Young

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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What is Effort? | Scott H Young

What is Effort? | Scott H Young

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

scotthyoung.com

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Key Ideas

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

Self-control
Self-control

It’s your ability to resolve conflicts between your short-term desires and your long-term goals.

For example, successful self-control means sacrificing immediate pleasure (cookies a...

Why self-control matters

People who have high self-control aren’t missing out on enjoyment. Not being able to resist temptation and enjoying life are not the same things.

They tend to eat in a healthily way, exercise more, sleep better, drink less alcohol, smoke fewer cigarettes, achieve higher grades at university, have more peaceful relationships, and are more financially secure.

Biological limits to self-control

Research showed that self-control is ultimately limited by our biology. We can’t exercise effortful self-control indefinitely – the brain has to do regular maintenance to remain functional.

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A habit of compounding growth

Reading is a habit of compounding growth. When reading, you'll learn more, and you'll generate ideas and motivation for making other changes.

Reading books means you're getting more concentra...

Put the book down

The real cause of reading too few books is that you don't enjoy it enough.

Don't feel compelled to finish a book that has become boring, predictable or unhelpful. Start a new one. You can have many books through various states of completion. Some won't be finished, and that's okay. Reading less is worse than having a few go unfinished.

Build an online library

An obstacle to your reading habit is not having enough interesting books waiting to be read.

Create a list of potentially good books. If you have a Kindle or eReader, get samples of any book you might want to read — Source your wishlist from suggestions from other writers and authors. When someone recommends a book on a blog or tweet, add it to your wishlist.

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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.

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Learning Slows Down with Age
Learning Slows Down with Age

Most aspects of mental processing slow down as we age. While we continue to accumulate knowledge of the world at a slower rate, we gain more experience that increases our wisdom.

Our minds tend to grow worse

Researchers disagree in their hypotheses about how our minds tend to get worse with age. What can be observed is the following:

  • Older individuals do struggle more with Stroop tasks, where an automatic habit needs to be overridden by instructions.
  • Older individuals have a harder time with multitasking.
  • Older people find it difficult to bind information that occurs in a combined context. It impacts their ability to remember life events.

However, older people seem to be better at emotional regulation.

Cognitive Reserve

Some people seem to age mostly with minds intact and others notice dramatic slowdowns. The brain appears to have a lot of redundancy built-in - known as cognitive reserve.

Education seems to have a protective effect on aging, possibly because education contributes to cognitive reserve.

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Practice loops

Practice loops are useful as a concept to think about learning any skill. A practice loop is an activity or group of activities you repeat over and over again while learning somet...

Loops and drills

Many loops aren’t straightforward repetitions. You may never write the same essay twice. The loop isn't writing a particular essay, but the overall process for writing essays.

In the same way, each thing you learn may have more than one loop. Drills are smaller loops to focus on smaller parts of the bigger loop.

Designing Your Practice Loop

Step one involves figuring out what your loops are. These are the activities you repeat over and over when learning something.

Next, analyze the loop for different parts to see whether you can make improvements. It will result in faster learning.

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Output comes from input

If you want to have a lot of good ideas, you need to expose yourself to good ideas.

This means reading books, having conversations with interesting people, seeking out new experiences,...

Have a capture mechanism

Creative ideas often come to you when you’re not deliberately trying to solve a problem, when your mind is relaxed.

That's why your creative process must include a system to capture ideas when you have them, so you can work on them later. The simplest mechanism is simply to have a list where you keep ideas.

Incubate your ideas

Regularly review your ideas lists. Incubation helps because just as a spontaneous connection can generate an idea, an incubated idea can spontaneously mature into a plan of action if you take care of it.

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Habits

Habits form a core idea in behavior change. It requires that you change your behavior by regularly doing something.

To get fit, you need to have a habit of eating well and exercising. T...

Goal-Setting

Goal-setting is required to decide what you want and planning how to get there. Just having an idea of what you want to achieve is usually not enough. Setting a goal needs to be paired with plans, systems, or habits to make it achievable.

Goal-setting should be SMART (Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.) However, some people argue for being completely process-oriented and ignoring outcomes.

Systems

Systems organize your behavior and decisions with formal rules. They are often built off of concepts of scientific management and organizational theory, but it is applied to your personal life. 

A productivity system is one type of system that is aimed at helping you get work done by organizing the things that need doing and telling you when to do them.

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About gratitude

Gratitude isn’t just a practice of saying thank you, but also the process of focusing your attention away from problems and danger and onto things which are good.

It takes a lot of pra...

Adjust your reference point

Since gratitude is a relative experience, it’s often useful to recognize how many things aren’t problems in your life, but you just never notice them.

Even if you feel like you don’t live in great conditions, that your friends have better jobs and relationships there were many points in time when things could have been much, much worse. 

Avoid comparisons

The next time you think the average person is better off than you, ask yourself whether you might not simply be ignoring the problems and pains of others, simply because they aren’t as visible as the success people want you to see.

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