Decades ago, when I was an engineering student and my father was an engineering professor, I would go to him for help with tough assignments. His answer was always the same: “You just have to work harder.”
Nowadays, I feel that this is one of the few things he was wrong about. I believe that few, if any, people actually work hard. And in fact, working harder is one of the worst things you can do for your business.
I can hear some of you saying to yourselves, “Nonsense!” You have stories about long hours, tough employee problems, and hustling for business to stay alive. They are all very real. But there is a catch: what you think of as hard work really boils down to one of two things: it actually comes pretty easily to you, or you want the end result badly enough. Psychologists call this intrinsic motivation.
Let’s say that you hate Brussels sprouts (like me). And the only thing you will gain from them is a belly full of Brussels sprouts. I will bet – Mr. or Ms. Hard Worker – that no matter how much effort you put in, you aren’t going to make it through that plate of Brussels sprouts. Your intrinsic motivation is too low. And exhorting you to “try harder” won’t help.
Conversely, let’s say that you are used to putting in a long day. And now it’s the end of the month, and all those hours are going to make a real difference in your bottom line. You say hard work – I say intrinsic motivation.
Here are some real problems with telling yourself – or others – to work harder:
It breeds mediocrity. Purposeful effort can yield great results. But joylessly putting your nose to the grindstone gives most people little more than a sore nose. And if you find you are constantly pushing yourself, you are probably trying to succeed with less than your best.
It keeps you on the wrong path. How many people discover – often the hard way – that they never really wanted to run the business they are in? Working harder at something just because your degree is in the field, or your friends talked you into it, or it seemed like a good market at the time, is not just futile – it robs you of precious time on the path that will make you soar.
It doesn’t work. Go ask your teenager to do something she doesn’t want to do. Or tell your employees, who aren’t owners like you, to step up their game. How did those conversations work out? And guess what, it doesn’t work with you either.
I am successful at everything I do because it is all really easy. I love writing. I love speaking. I love creating blog posts for Carol Roth. I love having therapy sessions with people. I even get a perverse pleasure out of filing my insurance claims for patients every month, because it means business is going well. If I tried to replace any of it with hard work, I couldn’t imagine things not getting worse.
So don’t work harder. Build your intrinsic motivation instead. Then see what happens.