Stop Trying Harder


Running faster doesn't always get you to your destination sooner
More effort isn’t always the answer

When the going gets tough, we often hear leaders encourage their staff, their colleagues, their teammates to “try harder”.  This is a waste of time.

Trying Harder at the things you are already doing does not increase your likelihood of success.

It reminds me of Sheryl Sandberg’s recent admonition to women to “Lean In” at work to increase their likelihood of success at the top levels of the corporate world. While there are definitely moments where we could all “lean in” and put a little more effort into our careers, our jobs, our businesses, other areas of our lives, for the vast majority of us, we are already maxed out in our ability to give more, try harder or lean in. The coach yelling on the sidelines to “run faster” may be effective when we are letting our mindset get in the way of our efforts, but often we have already reached our maximum, and further effort is an unreachable, exhausting and demotivating idea.

When you find yourself not getting the results you desire, stop trying harder.  Step back and analyze what you are doing. Reexamine your goals and the strategies you have been using to get there.  Instead of trying harder, try something new.  Adjust your approach, and see if you can shift your energy and your results by shifting your activities, your behaviors, your environment or your intentions.

In business, look at root causes.  If your current approach isn’t working, make sure you have really implemented it correctly.  Did the target number of calls get made?  If so, what was the result of those calls?  If not, what got in the way?  How could that barrier be overcome?  Is there a more obvious solution to the problem given what you have learned in the meantime?  Often “trying harder” is the excuse for not thinking objectively about what is actually happening, taking responsibility for the current results, and applying your effort to developing a better goal, a more effective strategy, or overcoming specific barriers standing in your way.

Recognize when you have truly not put in the effort required and ask yourself, “what would it take for me to be more fully committed to this effort?” and work on that.  For those times when effort has not been lacking, ask “what else could be keeping me from my goals, and how could I approach it differently?”  Telling yourself that you or your team are lazy, uncommitted or not capable in some way simply reinforces the idea that you cannot truly change your results.  Embrace the lack of progress as a sign that you have not yet found the true solution, and focus on finding a new one.

If you are banging your head against a particular problem, change your approach, or find a new problem.  But most of all, stop trying harder.