How to Stop Trying Harder and Actually Reach Your Goals

A few months ago, I heard something on a podcast that completely stopped me in my tracks.

(Literally; I was walking Bruno, I and stopped to grab my phone and rewind the episode!)

It was one of those lightning bolt moments where the words profoundly resonated with me.

In fact, they completely shifted how I think about approaching obstacles and challenges in my life.

They had me questioning my beliefs about what we must do to reach success.

And they gave me an entirely new approach to working toward my goals.

In episode 66 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast, I share what those words were and the three powerful ways I employ the concept in my life to continue growing, learning, and reaching my goals.

If you want to learn how to do the same, listen to episode 66 below or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

Listen To The Podcast Here!

In This Episode, You Will Discover… 

  • The powerful concept that helped me reduce my workload and get more done
  • Three simple questions that explore the concept further
  • How you can apply these tools to your life to reach your goals without working harder

Links From The Podcast

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Episode 66: How to Stop Trying Harder and Actually Reach Your Goals (Transcript) 

Hey, everybody. Welcome to the podcast. What’s happening with you today? 

I’ve got to tell you; I had such an amazing time this past week teaching the “how to make your ideas a reality training.” There were so many incredible people at the training, and I loved hearing about all of the big ideas and goals that they are working toward right now. 

In fact, we are doing a 7-Day challenge to help hold one another accountable and take some massive action toward their goals. And if you want to join in on that challenge, you’re welcome to join us. It does kick off today, but you can always join a couple of days late. No sweat.

All you have to do is join the I’m Busy Being Awesome Facebook group. Just search for I’m Busy Being Awesome on Facebook; you will have no problem finding us. Just request to join the group, and I’ll let you in. 

We will have prompts every day with places to check-in and share what you’re doing each day to move forward. So if you have a goal that you’re working toward but you’re feeling a little bit stuck, then this is the place to be. Head on over and join us.

The Inspiration

About a month or two ago I came across a statement that resonated so deeply with me that it completely shifted the way I approach the obstacles and challenges when they come up in my life. It was one of those lightning bolt moments where I heard the words and it transformed how I thought about things.

Has that ever happened to you before? Maybe you heard someone share an idea or you read a particular quote or passage and you thought, “oh my gosh – that was the missing link. Now it’s clear.” Or “wow, that describes my experience perfectly. I swear they’re in my head. That’s just what I needed to hear.”

I can remember a handful of moments like this – some of them during various conversations in my life. Some of them during coaching calls with my coach. And some of them happened when I was reading or listening to a podcast. 

In fact, the statement that hit me so hard a few months ago came from another podcast I was listening to called ADHD Rewired. The host, Eric Tivers, just mentioned the statement in passing, but the words stuck with me. And he said: “stop trying harder, start trying differently.”

I kid you not, this sentence stopped me in my tracks – literally, I was walking Bruno – and I had to rewind the podcast and listen again. Because these words were like a wake-up call to my overacting, constantly busy brain.

I’m Trying So Hard

And this is why I think these particular words really captured my attention. You see, the story that I’ve told myself for years and years – all through grad school, all through my postdoc work, and through the first few years of my career as a professor were this: “I am working so hard, and I still can’t keep up.” Or “I am trying so hard, but it’s never enough.”

And since I know you busy-awesome listeners are an amazing blend of fellow ADHDers and high achievers, goal-getters, and hard workers with a dash of perfectionism thrown in for fun, I have a sneaking suspicion that you can relate to those thoughts, too. Am I right? “I am trying so hard, but it’s never enough.” “I am working so hard, and I can’t keep up.”

Do Something Different

But here’s the crazy thing. I kept thinking to myself, “I am trying so hard, I am working so hard, and I can’t keep up.” but I never tried anything different.

For example, I can remember one of my first positions as an Adjunct professor. I was still in grad school, and one of the classes I was supposed to teach was a 4-hour seminar that went from 6 until 10 p.m. on a topic I had never taught before. 

Each week I would spend hours and hours researching and writing the lectures, finding clips, designing PowerPoints, preparing discussion questions, and often over-preparing at least twice as much material as I’d actually need during the class period. I’m sure I spent at least 8 hours preparing for every 4-hour class.

But because I wasn’t open to trying things differently. Because I was so worried about not having every minute planned and over-planned. And because I was convinced that this was the only way a person could prepare for and teach a 4-hour seminar, I just simply kept trying harder. I kept trying to create better and faster results with the same input and the same strategy. 

Getting the Same Results

And maybe you’ve heard the quote about doing the same thing over and over again. The quote is, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This was me.  I kept doing the same thing, telling myself I just need to work harder and expecting drastically different results each time. 

But after hearing this quote on the podcast, “don’t try harder, try differently,” and really thinking about where the concept applies in my life today, I started noticing how it appears in several different areas that I wasn’t really expecting. I noticed it in sections of my business. I noticed it in areas of my personal life in terms of doing things around the house, staying organized, managing my calendar, Etc.

Pause and Question

Frankly, anywhere I noticed myself thinking, “I’m working really hard here,” this quote gave me pause and had me re-examining whether it might be better to start trying differently. I started asking myself, is there a different way I can do this? Do I need to keep trying harder? Do I want to keep trying harder?

Again, it’s easy for me to overlook that this is what I’m doing. It’s easy for me to overlook that I am simply trying the same thing over and over. I slip into the thought that trying harder is the answer. 

Three Powerful Questions

But when I heard this concept so succinctly, it really raised my awareness. And now anytime I hear myself thinking, “I’m working so hard,” I turn to three powerful questions that help me examine whether I want to keep doing the same thing, or whether there might a different and more effective approach to try.

I wanted to share these three questions that I’ve been using to help me start thinking outside of the box and trying things differently, which have really helped me start creating new results in my life.

What If It Was Easy?

So the first question I’ve been exploring is “What if it was easy?” Now, I’ve talked about this question on a separate podcast – episode 44 – I believe, but I’ve found it especially useful in this context as well.

Working From Home

Maybe you’re working from home, you’re helping your kids learn remotely, you’re trying to manage the household, you’re trying to check in on your family and friends virtually to make sure everyone is doing okay, and you’re fried. You keep telling yourself, I can’t keep up. I am working so hard. I’m completely burnt out. 

In a situation like this, I love to grab a notebook and just ask myself, what would it look like if this were easy? Open up to the ideas that come. Your brain might immediately tell you that nothing is easier. Or it might think of some things but then shoot them down immediately. 

If that happens, I encourage you to open up to it. See what comes up. You don’t have to follow through on any one particular idea that you find, but I think you’d be surprised by the innovative ideas you create and how you might adjust or combine different approaches to find something that works better for you right now.

Blogging 5 Days a Week

For example, I was coaching a client who is a blogger, and she posts new content Monday through Friday. And her normal approach for the last year or so was to write each post the night before and then schedule the post to go live the next morning. 

But with this practice, she found herself staying up way too late. She was often stressed throughout the day trying to find pockets of time to write each post for the next day. And she kept thinking to herself, this is the only time I can make do this, and it’s so much work.

So I asked her, what if it was easy? What might it look like if it was easy?

What if It Was Easy?

And she said “Well, the easiest thing would be having them done ahead of time. The easiest thing would be getting all 5 posts written so I could schedule them out and not have to worry so much. But I just don’t know how I can do that. 

So then we took that idea, the goal of creating the work ahead of time, and we explored the question again. What would it look like if that was easy? What would it look like if it was easy to write the posts ahead of time? 

And she said the easiest thing would be spending a couple of hours on Saturday and Sunday morning. She would write the first draft of the posts on Saturday morning in a couple of hours while her partner hung out with the kids. And Sunday morning she would do a second round of edits and have the bulk of it completed. 

Then throughout the week during the usual post-writing time, that’s when she would spend a few minutes scheduling the post, putting in the images, and that’d be that. 

And by taking this step back and asking what would it look like if it was easy. And figuring out a simple strategy to make her solution work, she was able to start batching her work ahead of time and work more efficiently.

Could I create the same result in a different way?

The next question I’ve been exploring is, “could I create the same result in a different way?” Now as I mentioned, I tend to get stuck in the mindset of “there’s only one way to do things.” Or, “this is the way I’ve always done it, why fix what’s not broken?”

But when I get in this mindset, I don’t realize that just because I’ve been doing it this way, it doesn’t mean that it’s the best way. It doesn’t mean that it’s the most efficient or the most useful approach for me. 

Or alternatively, just because someone else said I should do it this way. Just because I learned from someone that this is the best approach, that doesn’t mean that it works best for my workflow and the way that I approach my projects and tasks. 

Business Owners

This is an area that comes up a lot for me and my business. For my fellow business owners, and side hustlers, and entrepreneurs out there, you might be able to relate to this. Maybe you buy a course on how to build your email list. Or maybe you purchase a course on how to write better copy. Maybe you hear about a tactic to increase engagement on Instagram. 

Because we are taught that this is the best way, or the most efficient way, or the only way to generate that end result – whether that’s the bigger email list, the better copy, the increased engagement, the successful online course. It’s easy for us to close down to the possibility that there might be another way. So we get stuck in this one approach. We keep trying harder. We keep trying to make that one tactic work.

And I’ve found that one of the most effective questions in a situation like this for me is “Could I create the same result in a different way?” “How could I do this differently?” “Can I take tactics or suggestions or concepts from this course and tweak it to fit my unique situation?” “How might I come at this from a different angle and still create the same end result that I want?”

Now, of course, I’m not saying that doing research and learning from other people how to do these things is a problem. I do that all the time; that’s how we learn and grow. We go out we learn from people we bring it back in we try it. 

And what’s more, I’m not saying that if you try it once and it doesn’t work that you should just write it off as a failure. That’s not what I’m saying either.

It’s possible

Instead, where I think a lot of us get stuck is if it’s not working for us after we genuinely give a try a few times, we close down to alternative possibilities or finding a way to adjust this proven tactic or strategy. Instead, we tell ourselves we just need to work harder at it. We need to try harder at it. We’re just not working hard enough. 

But what if that’s not true? What if you could create the same result in a different way or with just a few adjustments. What might you try then?

And this goes back to the idea of last week’s podcast about creating a schedule that works for you, right? This concept of iteration. You can go out and learn the “best scheduling strategy” or the best way to keep yourself organized. And you can implement those practices to the letter. You can follow it exactly. And sometimes that might be really effective for you. Sometimes it might be exactly what you need. 

But other times, it might require some adjustment. It might require trying something different to work with your unique schedule or the way that your brain works. You might need to make some adjustments to fit the times that you’re the most productive throughout the day. This is one of the things we do in coaching. We work together and brainstorm and troubleshoot to custom-fit solutions to each unique person and situation. You learn how to find and create your own ideal solution. 

So in other words, give the original concept an honest try. Implement the strategy as is, and make sure that you are following the steps and adhering to the approach so that you are gathering accurate data on whether or not it works for you. And if you find that that particular strategy or approach is not effective. If it’s not creating the result you want, then ask yourself – could I create the result in a different way? How can I take what I learned here and adjust a few things so it works better for my situation, and ultimately create the same result that I want?

What if this is enough?

The last question that I have found to be incredibly helpful when I hear myself thinking, “I am working so hard, I am trying so hard, but I’m not able to keep up” is: “what if this is enough?” 

And for my fellow perfectionist and recovering perfectionist out there, I know this concept is a tough pill to swallow. But what if it is already enough? What if you don’t have to keep working and trying so hard? What if letting things be enough is is actually more than enough?

This is a concept that my mentor Brooke Castillo talks about, which is the idea of putting out B- work. And again, I know for us overachiever A+, gold star chasers, the thought of B- work might make you cringe. So you can play with the concept a bit. Maybe we shoot for B+ work or A – work. But what if putting your work out there at B+ or A- work is enough?

I think about this question for that first college seminar I ever taught that I mentioned earlier. I was always over-preparing to ensure each class was perfect. And I had to make sure that the slides were perfect, that each clip was cut perfectly, that I had all of the discussion questions ready to go. And even though, time after time, I would get through – at most – 2/3 of the material that I created, I was convinced I had to have more than enough material so that everything would be perfect.

Perfectionism

And of course, trying to make something perfect is one of the most poisonous thoughts we can think to ourselves because nothing is ever perfect. And if you have a perfectionist brain, you will always find something wrong with what you have in front of you. Because perfection doesn’t exist. It’s a construct that you create in your mind. You get to decide what’s perfect. 

So if you have a brain that always thinks, “this needs to be perfect,” and you never decide what perfect actually means, you’re never going to produce a product that reaches the standard of perfection. Because there’s always something to improve. So instead, you keep tweaking, you keep adjusting, and you keep staying safe. And what’s more – in this situation, you keep working harder.

But what if you decide it’s enough? What if what you have – right now – is enough and you don’t have to keep working harder?

My Podcast and Perfectionism 

I’ve been exploring this concept in different areas of my business recently. In fact, I think about it with this podcast specifically. When I first started releasing episodes over a year ago now, I was so hyper-focused on creating something that was perfect. I was so nervous to put my voice out there and share my ideas and possibly be judged for having something be imperfect, that I would spend an inordinate and out of time on every single step. 

And frankly, I’m still iterating on my podcast process. I am still continually asking myself, how could I make this easier? Can I create the same result in a different way? What if it’s enough?

Shownotes

For example, for a long time, I spent hours going through and editing the podcast transcript. If you’ve ever gone to my show notes on the website, you know that I have the show notes with the key takeaways, I have all the links, and in addition to that, I have the actual transcript of the show notes. And I do this for every episode. So if you goto imbusybeingawesome.com/episode# you will find this.

And I do this for a couple of different reasons. First, I do it to help different learning styles. I know that some people learn better and find reading more convenient than listening. 

I also I know that some people also like to go back and refer to ideas in written form. They find it easier to do a quick word search on the transcript than it is to have to listen through the entire podcast again to find the one idea or concept. 

Additionally, I heard from some of you who print out the show notes and highlight or take notes with the key ideas.

Do I like my reasons

And I love that. And I like my reasons for including the show notes so that people can access the materials in all of these different ways. But what I didn’t like, is the fact that I was spending hours editing each transcript for every incorrect comma placement, for every incomplete sentence, and for every awkwardly worded statement.

Once I noticed myself thinking, “I’m trying so hard, but I can’t get any faster.” That’s when I asked myself: what if this is enough? 

I started thinking about letting that extra level of editing and perfectionist thinking go. What if simply providing the transcript as is – with incomplete sentences and all – is enough? People who are reading the transcripts can still understand the main concepts. And people who are referring to the transcript to find an idea or concept can still achieve that end result as well. They can still print things out. Do I need to spend all of this extra time going from an A- to an A+? Is that worth it to me?

It’s not always easy

And I’m not going to lie, I had to coach myself around this. I had to work through it because I had a lot of drama. I didn’t want people to think that I don’t know how to write sentences correctly. And I didn’t want people to think that I don’t know where to put a comma.

But I also knew that it was holding me back from doing the things that I really wanted to do – whether that was connecting and reaching out and helping more people, or simply taking time for myself to rest and hang out with my family. Frankly, I like both of those reasons a whole lot better than worrying about where I put a comma or whether I’m using passive or active voice in my sentence structure. And so I finally let it go. And I decided it’s good enough.

Recap

So if you are a person who often hears yourself thinking or saying things like “I am working so hard, but I can’t keep up.” Or “I am trying so hard, and it’s never enough. No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, I can’t get it all done.” If you can relate to any of these ideas, I highly recommend you start entertaining the concept: “stop trying harder, start trying differently.” 

This can be a gradual process. But I encourage you to start looking for those areas in your life where you’re thinking different versions of, “I’m trying so hard and it’s not working.” Whenever you notice it starts coming up, pause and explore these three questions: what would it look like if it were easy? Could I create the same result in a different way? And what if this is enough right now? 

And then get quiet. Allow your brain the space to explore and answer these questions. And open up to the possibility that trying something different will not only create the result you want, but it might do so with less effort and energy so you have more time in your life to step back, slow down, and rest.

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