Carl Lewis is one of the greatest sprinters in history. He is part of a select club of athletes who have won gold medals in the same competition at four consecutive Olympic Games. But what is fascinating is his unique approach to racing. He rarely led a race from the start, and some people thought he was just a slow starter. But he wasn’t. Lewis always ran in the same consistent way. The lesson: work smarter, not harder.
Consistency beats speed
While others slowed down in the second half of the race because they were tired, Lewis kept up his pace. His idea was to give t85% of his effort consistently, rather than pushing for 100% all the time. As a result, he avoided exhaustion or overtraining and was able to give 100% when needed.
His strategy suggests that not always giving your best can help you achieve your best. Exhaustion, burnout, and stress prevent focus, thought development, and the flexibility to overcome obstacles and adapt to change.
It’s also humanly impossible to give 100% all the time, which can lead to frustration, dissatisfaction, and discouragement.
Lewis was right. There is a connection between consistency and productivity. Some research shows that people display better performance and well-being when the level of challenging tasks they work on is stable over time. When the work fluctuates, the performance is poorer.
The fallacy of overachievement
Overachievers are individuals who perform better or achieve more than expected. However, people with overachieving tendencies may be motivated by a desire to show that they are worthy. This has a lot to do with an underlying fear of failure and a need to be approved.
There are three basic approaches to goal-setting. Mastery goals focus on self-improvement and learning. Performance-approach goals focus on competition and strong performance. And performance-avoidance goals focus on preventing poor outcomes. High achievers are likely to adopt competitive performance approaches or performance-avoidance goals because the underlying motivation is to be better than others to avoid rejection.
This negative twist can cause stress and frustration, along with the need to always give 100%.
Working smarter means calibrating our effort based on our goals, context, and circumstances. Having high standards is good until those standards get in the way, and it becomes impossible to get things done without becoming exhausted.
To calibrate our effort, we need to prioritize and be aware of where our 85% is. What’s the maximum pace we can maintain without burnout and without compromising our well-being? This is working smarter, not harder.