At the beginning of a talk, Seth Godin often asks the audience to do something very simple:
“Please raise your hands,” he says.
Everyone dutifully raises their hands.
Then he says: “Raise your hands higher.”
And everyone responds by reaching their hands a bit higher.
He then points out that no one gave the task their maximum effort on their first try – everyone raised their hands a bit higher when he asked – and the audience, laughing at themselves a bit, slowly lowers their hands having been caught doing something they’ve never noticed before.
Seth says that we are constantly trained to hold back and not give our maximum effort at first.
And I think that much of our reason for holding back is a fundamental self-protection mechanism.
If we don’t give our maximum effort, then we have an excuse – we can blame our failure on the fact that we didn’t give it our all (implying that it’s not a matter of whether we have it or not, but whether or not we chose to give it).
If we don’t give our maximum effort, then we may also think we have a reserve of effort that we can tap back into if more is needed. We get scared about putting all of our effort out there at once because if it doesn’t work, then what will we do? There won’t be anything left.
The problem is that you can’t bank effort. You can’t store it away like doomsday preppers store canned goods and beef jerky. At least not for long periods of time. You can pace yourself (the way that a marathon runner might) to make sure that you don’t burn out before you’re done, but that’s different than giving maximum effort. The person who wins a marathon likely still gave their maximum effort even if they weren’t sprinting the whole time.
If you don’t give your maximum effort on a particular task, that effort won’t be waiting there for you to use on the next one.
And when we don’t push ourselves to put in the most effort we can, we sell ourselves short. We come to believe that we are only capable of raising our hands to that first height, and we don’t give ourselves the chance to see how far we can really go.