Uncertain Effort (and 5 Ways to be More Certain)

Jan. 1st, 2018

As 2017 draws to a close, I begin the yearly shift from “now” toward “then”. What things do I want to change in 2018? What things do I most want to accomplish? How am I going to make this coming year the best yet?

There is something, a thought, that rises up and strikes fear and trepidation into my heart every time I contemplate creating change in my life. How will I know what to put effort into? Because nothing is ever simple, is it? At least in my experience. It never finishes with “to accomplish A, do B”. It’s more like “to have a hope of accomplishing A, you must try B, totally mess up C, dabble in and then abandon D, and finally trip over E” assuming you ever get to E. With so many “solutions” to any given problem, how do you know what to invest energy and time in?

It seems like a lot of the past 5 or 6 years of my life has been spent stubbornly sticking to things. This is not always true. Even when it is, however, I can pretty much separate the times into “it didn’t work, and I wish I’d let go sooner” and “it worked and I’m glad I stuck to it”. How to tell the difference beforehand, though?

To start with no one can with any certainty say what is worth investing energy and time in. There are a few factors to consider when estimating the potential value of a new endeavor, however, and they are these:

1. Knowing what you want

This is the difference between paying for a gym membership and noticing that something particularly enjoyable is dance and scheduling lessons with a friend. Passive versus active. Putting effort into something specific and moreover specifically what we really like. Just paying for a service won’t change our health. Investing in exercise we are already motivated to do, because we love it, might.

2. What’s different?

If we sink effort into something, and it doesn’t produce results, we need to make sure the next time we work toward those same results that something is different. This is a trap ADHD individuals fall into all the time. We somehow think that because we really want things to change, that this time will be different. I’m here to tell you that thinking and hoping are not enough. Knowing what is different this time is necessary, otherwise you will get the same results, no matter how firm your resolve on January 1st.

3. Expert input

Consulting experts can give us a jump start on what deserves our attention to improve life. Someone who sees the problem we have every day knows what the pitfalls are likely to be and can advise us on a shorter route.

There are also no better experts than those who have failed and persevered at what we are trying to do. A great hack I learned is to Google “things I wish I’d known before I started ____”. This will help us avoid these helpful peoples’ mistakes.

4. Where experts are wrong

No matter how smart or well-informed someone is, they are not the expert on our lives. We are. Basic and fundamental points in moving toward a life we really want might be totally different from what experts say. Particularly with ADHD or other mental health challenges.

I recently moved half my evening routine to 3PM. No one I mentioned this to could really understand why, and I couldn’t explain it. I just had this feeling it was the right thing to do. And when I implemented this change, I discovered the different time of day allowed me more access to full brain power than at 6PM. It was transformative and would probably not have been recommended by an expert.

5. Tracking

Like I was saying earlier, no one can know for sure what will happen in the future. However, if we track progress toward a specific aim, we can get objective information on where we are. This can give us a clue as to how impactful the effort we’re making is. This way, if what we’re doing isn’t working, at least we have a chance to course correct sooner.

What effort has been most impactful in your life?