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Work Smarter Not Harder | Psychology Today

From Failure to Success

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A definition of insanity popularly credited to Albert Einstein is: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  It is certainly true that if you want a different outcome you must find ways to do things differently. This seems obvious but many people do try to solve challenges not by doing things differently but by working harder in the same way.  “How are you going to have success this time, Johnnie, when you have failed other times?” “I’m going to work harder” is a frequent answer. But if that’s what he’s tried before, what makes Johnnie think it’s going to work this time?

Left to themselves, most people don’t change their habits and don’t fundamentally alter how they react to situations.  Albert Einstein wrote: “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”  Einstein was referring to us as a society, but his warning holds equally true for individuals: Nobody can overcome challenges they have created themselves or the challenges they have faced repeatedly before, without achieving a new level of thinking.   A very practical follow-up question is: How does one achieve a new level of thinking? How exactly does one change from a person who works harder into a person who works smarter?

One major step we recommend is that you find a coach.  We don’t necessarily mean a “coach” in sweatpants with a whistle around his neck who makes you run laps every morning.  We mean a “coach” in the broader sense of some objective person who can evaluate what you’re doing and give you useful feedback.  In other words, someone who can help you see another way to approach the challenges you face in life. A good coach provides an objective, outside perspective about where to make the most productive changes in your routine.  A good coach is someone you trust and respect; someone you can listen to and upon whose advice you are willing to act. A good coach also knows how to make you feel confident about reaching a goal. Here’s how:

Setting appropriate goals is a key to self-esteem because self-esteem increases when you accomplish the goals you have set.  But it’s common to make mistakes at the first step in this process: setting an appropriate goal. You may be setting goals without a target date, goals that are too lofty, or goals that can’t be measured or are simply too vague.  Such goals are difficult to achieve – yet when you don’t achieve a goal, you often don’t realize that the goal itself was the issue. Failure to reach a goal usually feels like failure of effort or worse – it feels like failure as a person:  “Why can’t I ever do anything right?” “What’s wrong with me?” After enough failed attempts at reaching a goal, you may not bother to set goals any more. People who view themselves as failures have no reason to set goals.

A good coach can help you set an appropriate goal and also show you a realistic path to achieve that goal.  Once you do reach that goal, a good coach will help you celebrate to boost your self-esteem. This is a self-reinforcing cycle: People with good self-esteem are confident enough to ask for help and benefit from it.  People with good self-esteem can more easily take constructive criticism and follow advice. People with good self-esteem are more able to work hard to improve, seeking rewards they know are out there based on past experience.  Going after an achievable measurable goal with an implementable plan leads to success, reward, and better self-esteem; this sets the stage to repeat this positive cycle.

1543729527_822_Work-Smarter-Not-Harder-Psychology-Today Work Smarter Not Harder | Psychology Today

Dial up Self Confidence

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Contrast this cycle to the cycle of the person – Johnnie – we mentioned at the beginning of this blog who “just tries harder” – repeating what they have tried (and failed at) the last time.  This person often fails for the same reason they failed before —whatever led them to fail the first time usually comes up to bite them again. Repeated failure lowers self-esteem: “I must be a screw-up.”  Low self-esteem makes it hard to take advice—where constructive criticism is intended, a person with low self-esteem can only hear a put-down. This leads to stagnation: the person with low self-esteem who can’t take advice and is unwilling to change stays stuck in a situation.  Since they never change their strategy, they rarely succeed. And when they do try and fail for the ump-teenth time, what they learn is that it’s better to give up sooner rather than later. They have been down this path before, so they know it’s likely to be futile – but still they can’t see any other solution.  This generates failure again and again and again – a futile repetition of a cycle of failure that leads inevitably to hopelessness.

When you and your coach set measurable achievable goals, make a realistic plan to achieve those goals, and experience success together, it strengthens the bond between the two of you.  This makes it easier for you to ask for help and accept and act upon useful feedback, contributing to continued success in the future.

A great coach helps you get over a negative focus on your challenges, and move to a positive focus on your potential.  Stay tuned for the next blog on what else to look for in a great coach!


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Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !

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