Denis the Menace once said, “How come dumb stuff seems so smart when you’re doing it?” A typical sentiment of the young given voice by a comic strip star, it is also something many adults ask themselves.
As we grow from childhood into adults, we learn that we must work hard if we want to succeed. We learn to equate hard work with sweat and concentrated effort. Hard work means sore muscles, right?
Wrong. This perspective is as silly as insisting to the used car salesman that you will pay him $2,000.00 more than he has already quoted you. It’s as inane as you declaring that you will “give 110%”.
You cannot give more than you have. And you would not spend a dollar more than a car is worth. Why, then, do you insist on spending more energy than is necessary to accomplish your goals?
Anybody with any business sense knows that one must find the least expensive way to get the most of want he wants. Otherwise, bankruptcy is in the near future.
This blog isn’t about wasted effort, though. Not really. It is rather about resetting norms.
A “norm” (at least in the context I will use it) is a “normal state or set of behavior patterns that a person relies on automatically”. Success = hard work = sore muscles is a normal pattern that most of us fall in to easily.
I have a fiddle student who, for the past two years, has been struggling to reset this norm. He wants to succeed at being a fiddler, so he works hard. He sweats. He exerts enormous amounts of energy and muscle power. He spends hours practicing, and he is physically tired when he is done. What does he get for all this effort? Sore muscles and enduring frustration.
As I said, we have worked for the past two years at resetting this norm. It is a very difficult thing to do. Think about it: How do you “work” at being relaxed? Nevertheless, this student has made tremendous progress and is now able to actually observe and correct when he is working too hard. He is able to play tunes after a week of practicing the smart and easy way, rather than the usual months of hard “work” he used to put into a tune. And yet, just the mere fact that he still has to think about it means that he has more “work” to do in order for this norm to be reset permanently.
So how do you reset a norm?
First, you have to realize that your norm isn’t working for you. It is not accomplishing for you what you wish it to. In fact, you should realize that your norm is actually sabotaging your efforts to achieve your goals. For example: Most people tell lies (or untruths) in order to get or avoid something. A person who is a habitual liar, however, tells lies even when those lies have the opposite result. They don’t even think about it; it is normal for them to lie. If you are a habitual liar, the first thing you need to do is realize that lying isn’t working for you. In other words, it’s wasted effort.
Second, you need to be constantly vigilant. In the case of my fiddle student, I had him stop every now and then to observe how his body was feeling. Is it tense? Relaxed? Where am I feeling the most tension. Asking questions like these and taking inventory of his behavior at that moment got him in the habit of knowing when he was expending too much effort.
Third, you need to replace your norm with a different state or set of behaviors that WILL get you what you want. This seems harder than it is most times. Take my erstwhile student: Just how does one work hard at not working hard? In addition to vigilance, you need diligence. Stick to it. Stay focused on the goal rather than the behavior.
And finally, you must check in from time to time to see how you are doing. Until you have internalized this new behavior set or state so well that you no longer even think about it, you will need to assure yourself that you are not backsliding into old habits.
Resetting a norm that isn’t working for you isn’t easy. Why? Well, for one thing, you tend to be fighting yourself. Ask yourself, “If I am fighting myself, who wins?” Self-help is always the hardest thing to do, because what is required is a leap of faith … a letting go. You have probably used that norm like a crutch for most of your life. It’s going to be scary to throw it away and trust yourself when you say, “Arise, take up thy bed, and walk” (John 5:8, King James Bible).
It doesn’t take a miracle to reset a norm, just a lot of “hard” work.