I recently came across a quotation on the Internet that resonated with me: “Continuous Effort - Not Strength or Intelligence - Is the Key to Unlocking and Using Our Potential.”
I quickly found it all over the Internet, usually attributed to Winston Churchill. However, after further investigation, learned he never said that. Some believe it first appeared in print in 1981 in Liane Cordes’ small, but appealing, book, “The Reflecting Pond: Meditations for Self-Discovery“. Yet, the same quotation is also attributed to Black Elk, who predates Liane Cordes, so if he actually said it, he was probably the first to do so.
Although we should give credit where credit is due, you may agree with me that what was said is more important than who said it. So, for the rest of the article, let’s focus on the important subject of effort (hard work), more than we do on the people who were generous enough to share their wisdom with us.
Larry attended a free lecture given by an internationally acclaimed spiritual teacher. The visitor from India spoke about the unlimited potential of man. Larry was feeling both excited and disappointed. Excited by his potential, but disappointed because he didn’t know how to tap into it. At the end of the lecture, the guru asked everyone to line up and come before him for a second or two. “I can read your hearts,” he explained, “and will answer the question that is troubling you the most.” Once again Larry was excited. Is he going to teach me how to release my potential, he wondered. Within minutes, Larry found himself before the guru. The wise man placed his hand on Larry’s head, drew him near, and whispered, “Move on!”
Move on? Before Larry could ask for an explanation, the guru was already whispering to the next person. Larry would have to figure out the meaning of “Move on” for himself. Haunted by the message, two weeks later Larry told his boss, the Warehouse Manager, that he changed his mind and was willing to work overtime. This meant less time for partying, but more money that could be saved. Within six months he was attending night school and studying computer networking. Shortly after completing the course, he received a job in his new field. He was now earning three times more than he did in his previous job, without doing overtime!
By the end of the year, Larry couldn’t believe his good fortune. He now had an impressive apartment, a caring and supportive girlfriend, and a job that he loved. Things couldn’t be better! But the guru’s message resurfaced in his mind. Wait a minute, he thought, the guru didn’t tell me to STOP after getting a good job; he just told me to MOVE ON. Inspired, Larry decided that within six months, he would move on by opening his own company.
Two years later, Larry and his wife, Sheila, had two bright children, a small but successful company, and were planning to move into a new home within three months. Larry once again remembered the guru’s message. No need to stop, he mused; why not share my expertise and help others start their own businesses? So, Larry established a new franchise. He and his franchisees are now flourishing. In fact, his company was written up in Success Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Newsweek. Next week, he attends his fifth annual franchise convention, where he and his staff will greet, encourage, and train his more than twenty franchisees. Please note there is no end to this story because there is no end to one’s potential. Larry will continue to MOVE ON.
We were meant to fly in a boundless sky, to endlessly move on. I’m sure you agree with Henry Ford who said, “There is no man living who isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can do.” Why is it that Larry and others like him are moving on while many of us can’t get off the launching pad? What’s holding us back? Well, it’s hard to fly with weights chained to our legs. The weights are our addictions, attachments, and bad habits. For example, before meeting the guru, Larry was more interested in partying than working or studying. If we are to succeed, we must follow his example and sever the chains by breaking the habits that are holding us back.
Why Make an Effort?
They say that hard work won’t kill you, but why take a chance? Well, there’s good reason to work hard because effort is the golden key that unlocks our potential. Or, as Erich Fromm put it, “Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is. The most important product of his effort is his own personality.”
What can we gain by doing nothing? For as the Chinese say, “Ripe fruit falls by itself, but it doesn’t fall into your mouth. Sophocles agrees for he taught, “Success is dependent on effort.”
Besides, effort is how we experience life. When we’re not expending energy, we’re not living; we’re sleeping. Also, working hard now makes it easier for us later. And the harder we work the more skillful we become. That’s why Lucille Ball said, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.”
Hard work is well worth the effort because of the achievements and exhilaration that follow. After all, “Happiness includes chiefly the idea of satisfaction after full honest effort. No one can possibly be satisfied and no one can be happy who feels that in some paramount affairs he failed to take up the challenge of life.” (Arnold Bennett) Also, “Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s when you’ve had everything to do, and you’ve done it.” (Margaret Thatcher)
And hard work is the only way to get what we want, as Peter McWilliams explains, “In reality, serendipity accounts for one percent of the blessings we receive in life, work and love. The other 99 percent is due to our efforts.”
Here in the words of wise men and women are other reasons for making a great effort in all we do:
“Beyond every effort put first, lies an undiscovered opportunity.” (Cassia Lewis)
“Character is what emerges from all the little things you were too busy to do yesterday, but did anyway. (Mignon McLaughlin) “Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.” (Sri Swami Sivananda)
“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” (Abraham Lincoln)
“Much effort, much prosperity.” (Euripides)
How Should We Direct Our Effort?
Now let’s turn to the wise for ideas on how to direct our efforts.
“The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.” (Roger Bannister)
“Some men give up their designs when they have almost reached the goal while others, on the contrary, obtain a victory by exerting, at the last moment, more vigorous efforts than ever before.” (Herodotus)
“If you’re not gonna go all the way, why go at all?” (Joe Namath)
“Do a little bit more than average and from that point on our progress multiplies itself out of all proportion to the effort put in.” (Paul J. Meyer)
“When you reach for the stars, you are reaching for the farthest thing out there. When you reach deep into yourself, it is the same thing, but in the opposite direction. If you reach in both directions, you will have spanned the universe.” (Vera Nazarian)
“To get the most out of the world one must conscientiously strive to put the most into it.” (B.C. Forbes) “If one has not given everything, one has given nothing.” (Georges Guynemer)
“To learn, you have to listen. To improve, you have to try.” (Thomas Jefferson)
“When we have our body and mind in order, everything else will exist in the right place, in the right way. But usually, without being aware of it, we try to change something other than ourselves, we try to order things outside us. But it is impossible to organize things if you yourself are not in order. When you do things in the right way, at the right time, everything else will be organized.” (Shunryu Suzuki)
10 “P”s to Strengthen Our Efforts
The 10 “P”s to strengthen our efforts are: Persistence, Perseverance, Pride, Preparation, Patience, Possibilities, Progress, Passion, Plan, and Positive attitude.
1. Persistence. “To fail is a natural consequence of trying, To succeed takes time and prolonged effort in the face of unfriendly odds. To think it will be any other way, no matter what you do, is to invite yourself to be hurt and to limit your enthusiasm for trying again.” (David Viscott) “Effort only fully releases its reward after a person refuses to quit.” (Napoleon Hill)
2. Perseverance. “It’s the constant and determined effort that breaks down resistance, sweeps away all obstacles.” (Claude M. Bristol)
3. Pride. Have enough pride to always do your best, and remember,“...what thwarts us and demands of us the greatest effort is also what can teach us most.” (Matthew Arnold)
4. Preparation. “The person who is waiting for something to turn up might start with their shirt sleeves.” (Garth Henrichs)
5. Patience. “Be not afraid of going slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” (Chinese Proverb)
6. Possibilities. “It is surprising what a man can do when he has to, and how little most men will do when they don’t have to.” (Walter Linn)
7. Progress. How can we make progress without first making an effort? “Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all. (Sam Ewing)
8. Passion. “Put your heart, mind, intellect and soul even to your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.” (Swami Sivananda) “Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) “Give your dreams all you’ve got and you’ll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you.” (William James)
9. Plan. How can you get what you want from life if you don’t know what it is and plan for it? “I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can’t find anybody who can tell me what they want.” (Mark Twain)
10. Positive attitude. You can tell when you have a positive attitude, for that’s when you stop trying and start doing. “Warning: Authorities warn that ‘try’ is a dangerous expression that has enormous power to influence your behavior. It’s toxic. Use it very carefully. When ‘try’ creeps into your language or into your thoughts, pluck it out quickly.” (Walter Anderson) “The difference between try and triumph is a little umph. (Marvin Phillips)
Tips on Using Effort Wisely
“There are hundreds of tasks we feel we must accomplish in the day, but if we do not take them one at a time... we are bound to break our own physical or mental structure.” (Ted Bengermino)
Learn how to work smarter, not harder. Learn how to organize and manage your time to avoid burnout.
“All the so-called ‘secrets of success’ will not work unless you do. (Unknown)
“You cannot plough a field by turning it over in your mind.” (Unknown)
“Hard work doesn’t guarantee success, but improves its chances.” (B. J. Gupta) And it guarantees experience from which you can learn.
Focus on what needs to be done each day and tomorrow will take care of itself.
Don’t overlook the power of delegation. “I made up my mind long ago that life was too short to do anything for myself that I could pay others to do for me.” (W. Somerset Maugham) “I would rather earn 1% of a 100 people’s efforts than 100% of my own efforts.” (John D. Rockefeller)
For the best results, do your best. “Whenever a man does the best he can, then that is all he can do.” (Harry S. Truman)
“The smallest effort is not lost. Each wavelet on the ocean tost (tossed) aids in the ebb-tide or the flow; each rain-drop makes some floweret blow; each struggle lessens human woe.” (Charles MacKay, Scottish poet, song writer)
Breaking the Immediate Gratification Habit
One of the major impediments to success in life is the inability to delay gratification. That is, we give up on long term goals (such as losing weight) because we cannot resist the prospect of immediate pleasure (such as eating ice cream). Why do we do this despite our rational mind? The problem is we don’t stop and think often enough. Instead of behaving with thoughtful insight, we act automatically. We gravitate toward pleasure (such as partying) and avoid what we imagine to be painful or uncomfortable (work or study). How do we break the habits that are preventing us from moving on? You may find the following two-step plan effective.
1. Get a pencil and a pad of paper. Write down what will happen to you in six months, one year, five years, and ten years if you continue the bad habit (such as, partying). Carefully consider all the ways your bad habit will have a negative impact on your life; write everything down.
2. Now write down everything that will happen to you in six months, one year, five years, and ten years if you replace the bad habit with a good habit (for example working hard and studying). Write down as much detail as possible.
If you do this carefully, a remarkable thing happens. You will discover that what you first found attractive (partying) is now repulsive and what you first found undesirable (work and study) is now attractive. You see, the exercise forces you to shift your focus from short-term pleasures to the long-term consequences. The next time you are tempted to party, you will remember the negative long-term impact and want to change your behavior.
You will discover that some of the most powerful tools for change are pencil and paper and awareness of the results of your actions. Marilyn Ferguson summed it up nicely when she said, “Your past is not your potential. In any hour you can choose to liberate the future.”
“You can’t plant the seed and pick the fruit the next morning.” (Jesse Jackson) So, learn to be patient.
“Everyone confesses in the abstract that exertion which brings out all the powers of body and mind is the best thing for us all; but practically most people do all they can to get rid of it, and as a general rule, nobody does much more than circumstances drive them to do.” (Harriet Beecher Stowe)
“Approach the game with no pre-set agendas and you’ll probably come away surprised at your overall efforts.” (Phil Jackson)
“We forget that every good that is worth possessing must be paid for in strokes of daily effort. We postpone and postpone, until those smiling possibilities are dead.” (William James)
“What we hope ever to do with ease, we must learn first to do with diligence.” (Samuel Johnson)
“Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” (John F. Kennedy)
“Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect.” (Margaret Mitchell) So, be prepared for the unexpected; don’t assume things will go smoothly.
“Come, let us give a little time to folly... and even in a melancholy day let us find time for an hour of pleasure.” (St. Bonaventura) We will not be truly successful until we learn to balance work with pleasure. Remember, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
“We lack resolve and blame fate, mistaking the drift for the tides.” (Robert Brault) Avoid the blame game and accept responsibility for your own actions.
“Never neglect the little things. Never skimp on that extra effort, that additional few minutes, that soft word of praise or thanks, that delivery of the very best that you can do. It does not matter what others think, it is of prime importance, however, what you think about you. You can never do your best, which should always be your trademark, if you are cutting corners and shirking responsibilities. You are special. Act it. Never neglect the little things.” (Og Mandino)
“It is not the critic that counts not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or the doer of deeds could have them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the Arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood who strives valiantly who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming but he who does actually strive to do the deed who knows the great devotion who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails while daring greatly, knows that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls, who know neither victory nor defeat.” (Theodore Roosevelt)