Don’t try so hard

It is a hard lesson to learn and one that I continue to take my time getting right.  Perhaps the “must try harder” message at school penetrated too deeply?

In so many areas of life; love, business, sport or socially, trying too hard is counter productive.  I remember clearly trying too hard when I raced cars and loosing time through spins or off track adventures.  If I was lucky it was a few seconds, the few times I was unlucky it took days to put the car right.

With cycling the effect is more subtle, but in my case trying too hard means pushing my heart rate too high.  The funny thing is you only actually get fitter by going more steadily, at a lower heart rate.  There is very little fitness benefit to pushing yourself to the limit.  The lesson is to develop the skill or the fitness gently so that you can be effective whilst also being relaxed.

Last week I was delivered a new training program twice.  The first time the material was unfamiliar and I felt pretty clunky with it, it was OK, but certainly not a great performance.  The second one I was able to relax with the material and be far more inspiring for the participants.

What happens when you are delivering a new program for the first time is that there is so much to think about in terms of content, timing, the energy of the participants and so on that your (my) brain gets over loaded.  If you set the expectations too high, you get nervous and the whole thing falls apart, so you just have to relax, do the best that you can and be comfortable with that.

During the learning/training phase of anything, we have to work hard and only get mediocre results.  Whether it is on the bike, in the office or delivering a training session, having the humility to learn effectively, rather than trying to do it all before you are ready is the key.  The lesson of many great human achievements is to persevere, in spite of the hard work and the minimal results to become sufficiently well practiced that good results can be delivered without trying too hard.

It is when we insist on outstanding results, without putting in the ground work that damage is done.  Short cuts are the route to pain and suffering – whether it is athletes doping or businesses pushing staff, suppliers or the law too hard.

The tragic story of yachtsman Donald Crowhurst shows the potential for harm.  Crowhurst attempted to win the 1969 single handed round the world yacht race to bail out his failing business (another short cut).  Soon after starting he realised that neither he nor his boat were ready for the challenge of the Southern Ocean.  So he planned an elaborate deception to maintain false logs and radio reports while waiting in the South Atlantic for the rest of the fleet to come back around.   His plan was to rejoin in last place  ensuring that his logs would not be too closely scrutinized, however he mistimed his re-entry and as the race entered it’s final stages appeared to be leading.  The strain of it all overtook him and he committed suicide, his boat being found adrift some time later.

Far from trying harder, as so many of us were told at school, the key is just to keep doing.  A study by K Anders Ericsson, made famous in Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers”, found that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours or 10 years of practice to become an expert, in other words someone who can deliver outstanding performances, without trying too hard.

The trick is, just to be ourselves, to find the thing we love enough to put in the practice and stand the disappointments, without trying too hard, and be proud of what we achieve.

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With love


Neil Crofts
authentic business
+34 646391384
Skype – neilcrofts



About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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2 Responses to Don’t try so hard

  1. jefffuge says:

    Neil, I know football is not at the top of your list of favourite sports so you may not have seen this on the Guardian website today. I was reading it just before your email landed – it’s a timely example of what you’re talking about:

    • Neil Crofts says:

      Indeed and I think the same could have been said for Lewis Hamilton’s driving for much of last season and perhaps Nico Rosberg at last weekends Grand Prix. The ability remain authentic amid all of the pressure is the real skill.

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