How to know when you’re trying too hard: the Law of Reversed Effort

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The law of reversed-effort implies that the harder we try to “get” something, the less likely we are to succeed. Each of us has experienced this phenomenon, especially in dating/relationships, where the more you want something and more effort and stress you put into getting it, the more it seems to run away. In this video, we explore what it means to “try too hard”, how to know when you’re doing it, and how to pursue a goal while not really trying… as impossible as that sounds.

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Dan has 3 bestselling non-fiction books available in both written and audio form:

  • The Naked Truth, his latest release, shows you how radical honesty builds self-confidence and relationships
  • Nothing to Lose explores how to build confidence from the inside by correcting the programming in your brain
  • The Legendary Life is a very practical, action-focused guide on how to plan and execute a life plan that brings you your ideal lifestyle

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Full transcript (unedited)

Today we’re going to talk about a mysterious concept called trying too hard, which is seem to be the answer to every time I’ve asked the question, Why didn’t that work as an I was trying too hard, even though it’s really hard to define what that even means. So throughout the video, I’ll try to use socializing as the main examples. I’m trying too hard in the social setting. But the principles I’ll be talking about, I think, apply to all areas of life and all examples of what trying too hard really means. So the author Aldous Huxley, referred to this as the law of reversed effort. And that is kind of the harder you try, the worse your results get, you start to undo success. The way I think about it as trying too hard to find any amount of effort in which you make yourself less likely to succeed, or more likely to be harmed. So we’re, say, your natural baseline setting or the peak of what you’re capable of starts to go downhill because of the effort you’re putting in. That’s what I would call trying too hard. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to know when this is happening. Most of the time, you’ll feel like you’re trying the right amount. Actually, no, most of the time, you’re gonna feel like you’re not trying hard enough. But that’s because that’s how you’ve been programmed. All throughout school, one of the worst systems we could possibly put a child through, you were taught that great results come from trying very hard, you have to study long hours, you have to pay attention to very difficult subjects in school. And you have to be very serious all the time. And the idea, especially in sports, as well, during school, this idea that the more effort you put in, the better your results, the the more stressed and agitated and serious you are, when working on something, the more likely you are to succeed, you’ll probably find it quite interesting that you believe this throughout your school years, despite actually seeing a lot of counter evidence to this. For example, if you saw kids who weren’t particularly academically gifted, they struggled really, really hard to study and still failed the exams. So we get this idea that we’re supposed to try really hard to succeed at things. And yet the evidence for that isn’t astonishingly good. Added to this, a lot of successful people kind of brag about how hard they try. They’ll say Hard work beats talent, and it’s all about the hustle and the grind. But there’s a bias that successful people have, which is they want to believe their reasons for success. So what they think they are, but often, it’s something completely different. Somebody who did the grind for 18 hours a day and worked harder than anybody else might have actually been successful because of a few lucky relationships that they had. And actually, the grind was a waste of time, if they just focused on those relationships, they would have had the same level of success. Now, that’s not what they’re gonna tell you. They’re gonna tell you, it’s because they worked hard. But actually what a lot of their hard work was a waste of time. But they don’t know what you usually only find out that you’ve been trying too hard when you fail miserably after a huge investment of effort, which is a pretty fucking awful time to find out. And even when you realize that trying too hard, is the reason why it didn’t work out, you still really have no idea what that means. And so you’re doomed to repeat it. Some classic examples of these are all relevant from my own life, trying really hard at work so that you’ll get a promotion burning yourself out, and then just some decade gets the promotion instead of you. This is very much from my recent life, trying to get a baby to sleep, lots of sleep, training and effort and lots of different ideas and stuff. And all that does is make an already hard situation. 10 times more stressful, and still, the baby doesn’t sleep, or dieting, like crazy and trying all these different ideas all the time. And you just end up binging and gaining weight as you get older, for me most obviously was in my social life and in the lives of my clients that I work with. The idea that somebody tries hard socially tends to be the least popular, the least successful with the people they’re attracted to. So at least successful in dating. They struggled to maintain and keep friendships, they often struggle to maintain healthy relationships with their family, their work colleagues and relationships. They’re often very tenuous. And yet nobody’s putting more effort into making this work than these people. There’s something almost undeniable most law of physics like in that people who tried too hard, socially fail. And you would have noticed this in high school, the so called Cool Kids, well, maybe not the coolest group, they’re often quite trihard. But it’s in a system where it actually works. But the next level down the ones who kind of everyone likes, and nobody gives any hassle to how effortless it was for them how they just are cool, and they don’t have to try and they sit trends rather than try to follow them. And what do these people know that all the tryhards don’t because in high school, nearly everyone’s trying hard. See for this usually there’s little bands near the top of the hierarchy, not the very top just near the top, who are just lovable and cool and do well and have relationships and sort of transition through the social elements of high school development. Very cool. quickly and successfully. But they’re not trying. The key here especially applies to socializing, but I think it applies to anything is that it’s the effort itself, that’s off putting. Right in socializing, it’s kind of obvious the person who is obviously trying hard, there’s something off putting, no, sometimes it’s creepiness. Sometimes it’s just kind of exhaustion. Like, if they’re trying to put on a show too much, you just want to get away from them, you can’t relax around them. You just you know, when someone’s trying hard, and it makes you want to go away from them. Even if you know, sort of, they’re a good person underneath this effort. I’ve had so many clients where I’m like, I can’t understand why your dating life isn’t working out. Because I think you’re a good dude, I would recommend you to people. But of course, I know that I’m not seeing what they’re like on a date when they start trying hard. And that’s a person that I would not recommend to people. So quite often, the extra effort itself is off putting, it’s very similar to dieting, you know, I have some nutritionist friends, and so on. And eating healthy is actually very, very simple. Basically, it’s a Mediterranean diet, you just have a certain list of ingredients. And if you stick to that you’re guaranteed to be healthy. That’s basically it. So these crazy diets where you have to like track every calorie and plan all your meals and all that, that you had to try so hard, that actually fucking puts your body off, maintaining a steady metabolism, like I’m not the expert in this area, you can look it up yourself. But the very effort into trying really hard with health is often the thing that sets your body in a kind of momentum of staying unhealthy. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in life, still learning, still trying to get it is that success in life, whatever your definition of it is, is surprisingly effortless. And in fact, most of the reasons that most people aren’t successful and whatever their goals are, is because the effortless option seems too unrealistic to even bother trying, it seems like it couldn’t possibly work to almost do nothing at all. So people dismiss that option, either consciously or subconsciously, in go to these hard effort options, and steed. And even like the sales and marketing for that quick fix when somebody’s going for the easy option. It’s usually a very complex, difficult and often just unworkable system and need the easy way of doing it. I mean, you couldn’t even sell it. That’s why it’s not marketed. The effortless way of doing it doesn’t require a course and doesn’t require all these efforts. But school taught us the opposite taught us the harder you work, the more you succeed. So I want to just open your mind now as we go into solutions. What if school was wrong? What if most people come out of school and have a mediocre Korea? If that’s true, and you know, it is the may be school wasn’t teaching us the most successful way to approach things. Maybe the trihard method sucks. And maybe you actually already fucking know there, because you’ve done it so many times. And it’s always sucked. And for those of you tried really hard and succeeded, ask yourself was it the train hard, that was really the secret to my success, or did something else happen within trying hard, that did all the work and the rest was a waste of time. And I just don’t want to admit it to myself. I know some property investors, for example, when they work about four to five hours a week to make a very high six figure a year income. Now there are also entrepreneurs I know who grind for 16 hours a day, six days a week and make the same level of income. But maybe only four or five hours of the week is actually creating that income and the rest is just noise that they don’t need to be doing. I mean, if property investors can do in four to five hours, then it can be done in that time. So what are these entrepreneurs doing that takes 16 hours a day? Unfortunately, this has all leaves us with the impossible question. How do I try without trying? But you must not look at this as an impossible question. You must look at it as a practical question. This is not a hypothetical, you need to answer this, how do I try without trying? How do I move forward and make progress on improving my life without a strenuous effort? It’s a very realistic question to answer. And there are answers to this question if you’re willing to look for them. But you first have to let go the idea that success is hard. What if it’s not? And now you look for the answer. So let’s get practical on the solution. First and foremost, you got to watch out for the warning signs that you’re trying to hurt. We’re gonna start with an assumption. Trying too hard doesn’t work. If it has worked for you, then you wouldn’t even be watching this video. So let’s assume trying too hard doesn’t work. And therefore if you see the warning signs of trying too hard, it means you’re doing it wrong, or at least you’re not doing it the best way. Warning Signs include desperation, frustration, stress and burnout, guilt and anxiety, the kind of emotions you have about your effort, especially thing it’s not enough that you’ve always got to do more that you just too stupid and that you don’t know what you’re doing and therefore, you got to put more hours and more effort in any kind of feelings under that umbrella. A huge red flag. You’re trying too hard, therefore you’re doing it wrong. Stop, reassess. Now I’m lucky. I’ve been given a gift. It’s a genetic gift. I think. Judge bro, my parents, and that is I’m fucking lazy. School told me that lazy was a bad thing. And I believe them. So I overcorrected. I went from lazy to high achiever. Now I have to absolutely work against my nature to be a high achiever, I have to push hard. Now I got used to doing that. But the laziness always snuck in whenever I got a free moment, I just do nothing, you know, or I’d pick things that were really easy for me to do, and so on so forth. I started to notice something that eventually was validated by other people I admire. When you’re lazy, you have an ability to find solutions that get the job done really easily. Because that’s what you’re really interested in. You don’t want to work hard. And I found that the people I knew who do like to work hard, or at least believe in the myth that you have to work hard, they don’t look for those solutions, and they don’t find them. I remember working at a picking and packing warehouse, and I can’t remember the details. But people were doing it this one way. And they’ve been doing it that way. For 15 years. I show up. I’m only 13 years old. And I’m looking at that way and I go fuck that that’s way too hard. And within five minutes, I came up with a way that did it and 20% of the time for the same output. And I couldn’t believe it. Like, how do all these adults not know this? How could they not see this very obvious solution? And the answer was, they simply weren’t looking for it. Laziness really is an urge to find the least amount of effort to get the most amount of results. Okay, laziness is really about leverage. It’s how do I do fuck all to get fuck and heaps done. So one of the ways you can apply laziness in a practical healthy way, is you start with the lowest possible effort and very slowly dial up. Rather than starting with the highest possible effort and dialing down what you’re looking for, not only when you get into something, but as you’re researching how to do it better is always how can I do this with less effort? What’s an easier way, what’s a quicker way what’s a smarter way particularly say for example, I want to go and meet new people, I want to bring more friends into my life, the high effort way is to go out clubbing every three and four nights a week and try and interact with these people approach all these strangers bla, bla, bla, bla, bla, go to all the parties, you know, go to all these meetups and stuff like that, do all those very social stuff. That’s the high effort way straight out of the gate, I’m exhausted just thinking about it. low effort way, start saying hi to people at my hobbies. That’s it. It’s a minimum, right, I’m already doing these hobbies. I already liked this activity. So the other people doing it, uh, probably a bit like me, much more like me than some stranger at a club. But I haven’t said hi to anybody yet, or I’ve only said hi to the people I was kind of forced to be with in some way. So I will just start a conversation with people like the diamonds in my backyard, the people are right there already. And very highly likely to be a good fit. That’s minimum possible effort. That’s the laziest I can be socially. And then if I need more, I can just dial it up 1% at a time, but make sure I never go higher than I need to never do more than what gets the job done. That’s laziness. Now this can apply socially in how you show up as well. Now, many of you will have heard the term big dick energy is this kind of mysterious charisma that people who don’t try hard at all have socially, they just show up and they just call immediately and nobody can really pinpoint exactly why. Except, you know, they call it big deck energy. It’s like the guy’s got such a big deck. He just has no cares in the world, right? We can show up with that energy, which is actually very simply just low energy. It’s just not trying See, most people have what I call bristle energy and social situations. If they’re not comfortable with everybody around them, they have this kind of forced persona, this act sometimes even the ACT appears to be low energy, but you can feel the act the brittleness of it. So hey, how’s it going? Oh, god, that’s not how people talk. You can feel that brittleness. Whereas the big dick energy is the person who has no extra to themselves. If they’re tired, they’re just tired. If they’re interested, they’re interested. If they’re not, they’re not. I remember the first time I ever occurred to me to try this. I went to an event and somebody said, How’s it going? I was I feel a bit antisocial right now. The person I said that to is still my friend. Right? That was decade plus more two decades ago, almost. Right. That’s how easy it was to make a new friend just talk like that. And all it was is I didn’t add anything to what I was. You know, he’s just thinking like, subdued. When you meet someone just this. I’ll say the most minimum to participate, but I’m not going to add anything. That doesn’t mean I’m going to pretend to be low energy if I’m not, but I’m not going to add energy to what I have. Right? I had a friend, we went night clubbing once. And he made an amazing girl and you know, went home with her and all that stuff. And he couldn’t get over it. Because the next day he was like, Man, that’s the first time I’ve gone out without shaving or showering or giving a fuck, I was just tired after work as I just have a beard, I don’t even care anymore. And usually he goes on to try and get girls things or desperate and so on. And the best girl he’s ever met happened when he was like that. And that’s the secret, he was finally going out without trying. And it was super attractive, because everybody else around them was trying. So he stood out like a diamond amongst us roughness. Another key effort to not trying too hard as the 8020 principle, which if you don’t know much about get into it, there’s a book called like the law of 8020 rule, the Pareto Principle, there’s 1000s of fucking pieces of content about it, but it’s good stuff. It’s not strictly scientific, but it’s pretty fucking close. And it’s very simple. There is only about 20% or less of your effort that gets 80% or more of your results. And vice versa, a percent of your efforts only get about 20% of your results, they’re a waste of time. Like I said, if I go to hobbies to meet people, they’re very likely to be a good fit for me. So the time I spent in there was really high quality for me, like, I have still to this day, a huge percentage of my coaching clients were people I originally met through dancing, because a lot of personal development booziest get into dancing. So going to a dance class was like, the best thing I could do for my social life and my business. And yet, we’re looking at what, an hour, two hours a week, it I’d spend like 10 hours a day doing marketing for my business. And, you know, then I spend every night of the weekend going out and trying to meet people and get fuck all in terms of both clients and friends, and so on. So finding these, like supernova activities is high leverage activities, we get huge results from doing absolutely nothing, you should always be on the lookout for those. And to find them, you go to your results that went well and your How did that happen. And you repeat that rather than doing everything that you’ve been doing. You take the effort away from something that didn’t work, and you double down on something that did and you keep doing that, until you’re only left doing very high leverage highly successful activities and not wasting any time. A key one that really helped me socially was how would you behave if you’re already successful. In fact, the way I was told exactly when it came to like meeting and attracting woman is treat them like they’re already your girlfriend. That was a absolute fucking game changer for me. And to treat somebody like they’re already a girlfriend means as if they’re already in your life, you’re already comfortable with them, you got nothing left to hide, nothing to prove, doesn’t matter what happens because they love you. Anyway, that kind of attitude. If you bring that to a complete stranger, you’d be amazed at how quickly they catch on, you know, I’d go up to a girl and just start talking to her like she’s my girlfriend, throw my arm around, and she’d be totally cool with it, it would be like she was my girlfriend. In fact, sometimes it’d be a fun little roleplay that we’d go through. When you treat someone like a stranger, then they’re going to act like a stranger. This applies to all areas of life, if you start behaving like a wealthy person, I don’t mean blowing heaps of money. But somebody who’s comfortable with money, you’ll find that clients have somehow more attracted to you. If you’re desperate for money, like a poor person, you put clients off. I noticed this in my coaching, if I was like God, I need to sign up the student I’m not going to eat next week. That guy didn’t sign up, right? Even if I coached them. Well, even if I changed his life for the positive, something about me put them off, and rightly so. But when I started just forcing myself to talk to every new client as if I already have a full caseload, and this person’s an optional extra if we both feel like it, and to talk in such a way to make it true. I’d say look, it’s up to you. If you want to join, I’m not going to putting pressure on you. And I eliminated all the sales techniques and I eliminated all the kind of money objection removals and all the stuff I learned to desperately get clients. Suddenly clients start flying in my head. It’s your choice, dude, you either like it or you don’t. I’m cool with the way I found that as I said it was true. You know, I felt relaxed I could enjoy myself and the coaching eat again. And they were more likely to sign up. And the key really to not trying to hurt is to focus more on the process than the outcome. Trying too hard is really about focusing on the outcome but trying to control your results. Ironically, letting go of your results. And focusing on just doing it in a way that makes you proud of yourself and feels like it aligns with your integrity gets the best results. So explore people rather than trying to make friends. Learn to be really good at your job rather than try to get a promotion. Focus on pushing your body to its limit for urine satisfaction rather than trying to lose weight. And you’ll find that you’ll get all those results but by the time you get them you won’t even care because the process is so enjoyable and then you’ll achieve a real state of not trying. Hope that was helpful. I know it’s hard topic to cover in a video but hopefully that gave you some tips. If you want more, get in touch And we’ll talk about some coaching or whatever it is that will help you cheers

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