In Western culture we tend to think anything worthwhile should be difficult. Along those lines, it’s easy to miss when a struggle is trying to tell you that it’s time for a change. Fixated on our goal, we soldier on, trying ever harder. Then, exhausted, we see in hindsight that the signs were reading, “I need a change” all along.
Thinking about you during times of struggle, let’s consider two scenarios, both with different outcomes.
Think back to a job or time when you were truly fulfilled with something you did: a problem you solved, a project, a company you ran, or even a game of golf or tennis you played. While doing it, time flew by, like you were “in the zone,” and when it was done you felt energized and maybe even proud.
If we could somehow go back and measure in real-time your experience of that event, we’d find that while you put a lot of work into the challenges, it wasn’t a struggle. You faced difficulties, yet ended up feeling fulfilled.
Now consider a job or experience when you worked really hard, yet at the time, were feeling drained, exhausted and/or frustrated. Perhaps the result fell short of your hopes / expectations, or maybe you held on too long, hoping that you could somehow make it better.
If we could measure your real-time experience of that event, we would find that you and/or some aspect of the situation was "off"— unlike the positive experience we looked at above, difficulty became struggle, and ultimately, you were left feeling depleted, disappointed and/or failure.
In reviewing these situations, whether the result was positive or negative, we can see that the amount of struggle was inversely related to the outcome.
When you’re in the flow of things, you know that you’re probably on the right track. If however, you have to force something to happen, don’t wait too long to notice that you’re far better off reconsidering the situation, seeking help, walking away and coming back, deferring or changing your approach, or, if you can, trying it another day.
It’s as true of work as it is in life, that changing the conditions, rather than repeating the same level of effort and hoping for a different result, can be liberating. I’d suggest trying this in next time you’re faced with difficult situations that appear to have diminishing returns. You’ll discover that detecting and correcting your pattern of trying too hard is energizing and rewarding — ultimately leading to more fulfilling outcomes.