The Illusion of Hard Work
Putting in hard work and being a hard worker is something that comes up often in the context of success in business and sports. Many times entrepreneurs and athletes claim they gonna win or won because they are hard workers. Which is never true. Hard work doesn’t matter has much as most think or want to believe. If hard work would equal success the most successful man in business would be workers in hard manual labor jobs such as mining or construction workers, not people that sit behind a desk all day. And in sports the most successful athletes would be wrestlers, weightlifters and triathletes, not the more play-oriented team sports athletes or precision-oriented track & field sprinters. Yet, we all know the later are much more successful. And the same counts for athletes within the same sport. Michael Jordan and Jeff Bezos didn’t become the most successful in their job by just putting in hard work and more hard work than everyone else. The most successful don’t just put in hard work.
The most successful do two things better than everyone else:
1. Making good decisions – in sports thats primarily the mental part
2. Executing good decisions – in sports thats primarily the physical part
For example, in football you are about to shoot a penalty and you make the decision to shot in the right bottom corner of the goal, followed by executing the shot towards that right bottom corner. If you make and execute this decision well, you will most likely score. Obviously in this scenario executing the shot exactly like you image is the hardest part. Everyone that has ever shot a penalty in a football game knows. Or as a Personaltrainer, you explain a client how to properly deadlift. You do so with a 60kg barbell. The client learns to do the deadlift. Yet, once you load up the weight to the circa-maximal range, the clients technique breaks down. The client knows how to execute the deadlift, yet he is not able to execute the deadlift. The reason for this is most likely because the client lacks muscular balance which doesn’t allow him to maintain proper posture. Or in fighting, you see an opening to throw a punch, if you then execute the punch properly you opponent will be knocked out. If you can execute the punch like you planned. This counts for all sports and for business.
In sports, one usually learns first how to make a good decision. And after you learn how to make the decision, you learn how to execute a decision. Boxers train punches for years to refine technique and precision. Footballers train kicks for years to refine technique and precision. Speedskaters work on skating technique for year to refine technique and speed. And this is where hard work is important.
Repetition is the mother of skill.
Its like Mr Miyagi and the „wax on, wax off“ scheme. Or Brazilian kids playing futsal in the streets of Rio de Janeiro for hours every day. Or Kenyan kids running 20km to school every day. Or a Jiu Jitsu player training three times a day on seven days per week. Or the Bulgarian Weightlifters which put in up to 70 training sessions per week. Repetition is the mother of skill. Continuous repetition is hard work. Hard work is work that is physically and mentally demanding. Hard work counts.
Yet, if that hard work is not aimed towards making and executing good decisions its fairly useless.
Mineworkers are not the most successful workers. Jeff Bezos is. Why? Because 25 years ago he made the decision that e-commerce is his future. And since then he executed many good decisions such as the amazon marketplace, amazon prime and amazon’s own fulfillment centers that moved him towards his goal of making amazon the dominating force in e-commerce.
Sprinters that run the most kilometers are not the most successful sprinters. Usain Bolt is. Why? Because he is more consistent in making and executing good decisions to run faster than his competition.
Football players that train the hardest are not the most successful. Cristiano Ronaldo is. Why? Because he is more consistent in making and executing good decisions than anyone else on the football field.
And the person who trains the hardest in the gym is necessarily not the one with the greatest success. Every gym has at least member thats there 6 days a week training 1 to 3 hours a day not looking like any training at all. Its the person that makes and executes good decisions inside and outside of the gym primarily in program design, training, food, sleep and lifestyle that will loose the most body fat and gain the most muscle and strength.
And to conclude this article and get this first possible misconception out of the way: I am not an opponent of hard work. I am a big believer in hard work. With hard work being defined as a high volume of physically and mentally demanding work. In the last years I have worked 40 to 44 seven day workweeks. Basically consulting and training clients during the week and teaching seminars on the weekend. Yet, hard work isn’t the main reason that made me a successful coach. Consistently making and executing good decisions in writing trainings programs, nutrition plans and supplements protocols that clients make progress with is.
So don’t believe in the illusion that hard work makes the difference. It doesn’t. What makes the difference is consistently making and executing good decisions.
Picture: Peter Sobotta is one of the athletes I have enjoyed working with the most over the last years. He competes in the sport of mixed martial arts, short MMA, a sport were many athletes still believe that its hard work that makes them win. And Peter is a hard worker. He trains 10 to 14 times per week leading up to fights. Including multiple sparring sessions where his training partner is trying to take him out, a scenario that creates tremendous physical and mental pressure. Yet, hard work isn’t what makes him win. Making and executing good decisions is. Go and get the free trial of UFC Fight Pass and watch his last fights against Steve Kennedy, Nicolas Dalby and Ben Saunders. Three completely different fights. Three completely different dominating wins for him. And all were achieved by repeatedly making and executing good decisions.