Why working hard can get you nowhere

Why working hard can get you nowhere

We’ve been taught that hard work, not intelligence, is the key to success, but that couldn’t be true.  If it were then why are millions of very hard-working people experiencing stress, regret, disappointment and fear?

Millions of people live in a perpetual cycle of (1) work hard, (2) worry and (3) repeat.   At the end of the year despite much effort, they feel like they haven’t closed any gaps.

Therapists, coaches, and self-help teachers make billions peddling analysis, time-management, goal setting, productivity, N.L.P. etc. but for many the results don’t seem to last.

Where to look?

Why does hard work generate disappointment for so many?   Here are some places to look:

Are we not working hard enough?

Possible, but not likely.  For many working harder will just burn them out.

Are we working ineffectively? 

Well, that’s clearly the case because they’re not getting the results they want.  But how exactly?  The knee-jerk reactions are to take productivity and time-management courses, and while this helps, they often result in a new and more profound level of stress and disappointment.

Are we working on the wrong things? 

This is a definite possibility.  It’s often the case that you can’t see the forest for the trees and so you can’t see the path that will get you out of that forest.  Choosing to spend time on the wrong activities is a common cause of failure and definitely a place to look.  If this might be you, seek a good coach.

Are they working with the wrong beliefs? 

Bingo!  From a spiritual, cosmic, karma perspective, this is the real cause of most failure.

Handicapped by your beliefs

disappointment photoThere is no amount of work you can do to achieve your goals when fundamentally you’re handicapped with a belief that you can’t win, you’re not worthy, not good enough/smart enough etc., and it’s amazing how many of us come from good educational backgrounds and loving homes with this very real and profound handicap.

We don’t believe we can have what we want.

So we either avoid trying altogether and “get a job” or we go for what we want by stepping on the accelerator (working really hard) while also stepping on the brakes (by doubting our success).

What we get is the black smoke of wasted effort, not meaningful progress which of course reinforces our doubt until we give up.

Working moods

Our beliefs—operating contextual narratives—generate moods and these moods either open us up to possibility—to act for the sake of our ambitions—or they close us down to opportunity and success.

The reason hard work fails for many is because it’s done in moods that close them down to opportunity and success; moods of resignation, anxiety, unhappiness, anger, fear etc.

Nothing good can happen when you’re in these moods.  It’s like trying to win a 100-metre dash wearing high heels.  (Now there’s an idea.)

success is 99% inspiration
Success is more inspiration than perspiration

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in sports.  Imagine a football team that takes the field thinking that they can’t win; that they can’t compare to the other team.  Regardless of resident talent, an operating mood of doubt and resignation heralds defeat.

This is why in the movies the turnaround starts with a captain who, with an inspiring speech, transforms the team mood from despair to hope, from doubt to belief, from resignation to determination.

It’s not hollywood bull.

Lincoln did it with the Gettysburg address and Martin Luther King did it with his “I have a dream” speech.

The key to getting better results

Success comes from believing in your ability to have that success.  Many spiritual people claim that when you have faith in your desires—that it will happen or indeed has already happened—that no amount of work seems hard, but in fact becomes effortless.

As a writer and speaker, I know how difficult this can be.  Like all performing artists, doubt and fear are the enemy we battle every day; they, not hard work, are the cause of weariness, disappointment, and stress.

Work on your beliefs

If your hard work keeps resulting in disappointment, then work less on your to-do list and more on your beliefs.   If there is anything to work hard at is your beliefs.  If you’re failing at anything persistently I guarantee there is a negative belief that is at the root of it.

Here are some things you can do


Keep a personal journal to uncover your beliefs and notice how much you beat yourself up for those beliefs.

Work with a coach/therapist

Work with a coach or therapist to transform those beliefs into positive ones.

Persistent, negative, recurring beliefs may be a brain infestation requiring professional help.  Don’t be shy to get it, just be clear that your objective is not to nurture the old beliefs but to replace them with new positive ones.

Remember your ambition.

Too often we forget what we’re working towards. For what purpose do we work so hard?  Take on a practice of reading your ambition every morning before you begin work and before you go to bed.

Practice gratitude.

Every day give thanks for at least three things that occurred.  Take this on with someone you see every day if you notice you’re not doing this.

Give what you want.

I heard the great Deepak Chopra say this recently and I think it’s a clever way of encapsulating what the prayer of St. Francis does so well.  If you believe you lack then you’ll experience lack, but if you practice giving or being what you say is lacking, then your experience also follows: hate transforms to love, doubt to faith, despair to hope.  Freaky quantum physics type stuff.  I know.

gandhi photo
Photo by dougbelshaw

Here’s my secular version of the prayer of Saint Francis:

“Lord, let me be an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred let me sow love, where there is injury pardon, where there is doubt faith, where there is despair hope, darkness light.  Let me not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be loved as to love, to be understood as to understand.  For it is in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned and in surrendering that we allow peace and joy into our life.”



Photo by zoom_artbrush

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.