Most of us love to brag and let the world know just how hard we’re working. Athletes tell us they’re giving it 110 percent, and businesspeople inform us they work 80 hours a week. We’re supposed to be impressed, but I’m not. I feel sorry for them. Although your best effort is important, it isn’t the most important thing.
Your performance results are what is ultimately recorded, and those results become the metric you will be measured by. You don’t get any extra points for grunting and groaning.
While there is a correlation between effort and performance, it’s not always positive. Working too hard or putting forth too much effort can actually decrease performance. I know many overtrained athletes and overworked managers who fail to perform well because they are simply exhausted. Their effort is high, but their performance is low. That’s why “110 percent” is nothing to brag about.
It is imperative that everyone finds their ideal effort level— the level that leads to optimal performance. I can’t tell you what yours is, but I guarantee you it’s not 110 percent.
When we talk about performing at a high level, there are three considerations:
- The effort or energy exerted
- The condition of the physical body (Are you tired or injured, for example?)
- Your mental state (Are you calm, focused, agitated, or upset?)
The problem with 110 percent
In our culture, we focus on giving 110 percent effort, but that’s more than you actually have. People who have performed at a very high level often say it felt easy and at times, effortless. They weren’t thinking about putting forth more effort—their mind was focused on one thing. They were “in the zone.” Yes, they were trying, but they weren’t fighting against themselves to perform better—it naturally happened or it didn’t.
Often, when your effort level is at 80 to 90 percent, your body is at 90 percent, and your mind is quiet—you may even feel it’s at zero. That’s what leads to high performance.
In competition, you are already making a greater effort because the sympathetic nervous system is aroused. Adrenaline is now in your blood, and your body is working harder, putting forth more effort without your consciously trying harder. It’s a wonderful thing, but not when you add even more effort to the equation.
The better mental strategy for a competitive environment is to remain relaxed by making a moderate to high effort in the beginning and then increasing your effort if you need to. Research has shown that successful people are both conscientious and possess a moderate level of anxiety about their performance. If you’re already successful and trying to get to the next level, adding more effort or stress will not likely help.
Whether you like it or not, you are an expert at self-deception. We all are. Most people lie about their level of effort and performance, and their superiors unfortunately play along with the lie in an attempt to be nice. All you’ve got is 100 percent—it’s your absolute best effort, and it’s all you’re capable of. But rarely do human beings invest 100 percent of themselves into any activity, and rarely is their performance optimal if they do.
My estimate is that when most people are really trying, they are giving an effort of between 70 and 80 percent.So we have come to believe that 80 percent is our full exertion. On the rare occasion that someone really exerts themselves for an extended period of time and moves the needle up to 90 percent, they have the sensation of realizing their best effort. This is when you might hear them say, “I gave it 110 percent.”
Most great athletes and successful businesspeople hit the 100 percent mark only once every few weeks. If you can sustain an 80 percent level of effort on a regular basis, you will be extremely successful.
Can you think of a time you felt like you were working at 110%? Share your stories in the comments below.