We hear the phrase “hard work” everywhere. Phrases such as “so and so is putting in the hard work” and “anything can be accomplished with enough hard work” are so commonplace in society today that the phrase itself has become almost cliché.
After hearing it for so many years in school, in athletics, and from my parents, I think get it. It takes a lot of hard work to accomplish our goals and realize our dreams. Put in the time and the effort and mix that with a passion for what I do, and I can accomplish almost anything I set my minds to. Right?
To answer that question, I like to differentiate between what I consider to be the deciding factor in realizing success: the difference between “hard work” and “working hard with intention”. The dichotomization of these two types of “work” is apparent when we consider “intention”.
We all know how to work hard, right? Wake up and put in the long hours, the “grind” as it is often referred to. If we simply show up and punch the clock, hour after hour, day after day, we should see success. Whether studying for a degree, training for an upcoming competition, or putting in the time to start up a business, it all comes down to time and effort, where time + effort = success.
I would argue that this is not necessarily true. At a certain point in one’s journey, working hard with intention becomes critical for success. To master a craft or perfect a skill, significant amounts of mentally and physically demanding work is required, and that work requires intention, not simply hammering away mindlessly at something for hours, days, and weeks on end.
Being a triathlete, I like to refer to triathlon as my example. Sure, I could go out everyday and put up some massive number of training hours each week. I could spend an endless amount of time swimming up and down a lap pool, spend hours and hours pedaling away on my bike, and run until my legs give out. Will I see some progress? Yes, initially. But this approach won’t help me reach my ultimate goals in the sport of triathlon. At a certain point, my body will physically plateau as I continue to do the same thing day after day after day…
This is where working hard with intention comes into play. When I decide to work hard with intention, I choose to examine my areas for improvement and structure my training approach around addressing those areas. I decide to infuse intention into everything I do, emphasizing quality training over sheer quantity and volume. I have a purpose for anything and everything I do, whether it be working on specific drill sets to improve a hitch in my swim stroke or incorporating easy recovery sessions after blocks of hard, intense training days. I never wander aimlessly about in the pool and on the tarmac hoping that my body will somehow miraculously figure out how to excel at such a demanding sport as triathlon.
This is simply an example that applies to myself and other triathletes, but the message can be applied to just about anything. We can choose to aimlessly work hard and hope that we see results, or we can approach our work more methodically, break down our dreams into manageable goals, identify the areas we need to work on to achieve those dreams, and get to business. Come up with a well thought out plan, seek out help from a coach or mentor, and never simply “go through the motions”. Forget about working hard. Work hard with intention and see success that many others will never see!