Unhappiness is a sign we need to change. And the constant companion of change is choice. You see, we can’t change until we choose to do so. Life is an endless stream of choices. Our primary choice is to accept things as they are or to accept the responsibility for changing them. Often, it’s a choice between freedom and enslavement, a choice between living our dream or having a nightmare. If we’re unsatisfied with the conditions we find ourselves in, how do we change them? We do so by changing ourselves.
Let’s say I’m unhappy with my present income, if that’s the case, instead of complaining about my boss and company in the hope that they will change, I need to change myself. I need to make myself more valuable, worthy of a greater income. Maybe I need to go to night school and study the new technology, or how to become more productive, or how to become part of the solution for my boss’ problems. We all want to increase our earnings, but too often we forget we have to earn the earnings we desire. We want the prize without the work.
Now we have come to one of the main reasons why some people are not experiencing the life of their dreams. They want the gain without the pain or strain. They want to eliminate their debt, but without the sweat. They refuse to accept a basic law of life: there is a price to pay for anything worth-while. The price comes in the form of effort, struggle, and sacrifice. The greater the prize, the greater the required effort. But the prize is always worth the struggle. Those who make the effort to follow their dream, whatever it is, never regret it. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of those unwilling to make the necessary effort.
Perhaps even worse than doing nothing is searching for a magic bullet, quick fix, or miracle cure. Take the case of Harry, for instance. He has emotional problems that have put is life on hold. His counsellor has told him he needs to change his way of thinking.
“Just seeing me, Harry, isn’t enough. You need to change your patterns of thought. Here, take this Cognitive Therapy workbook and do the exercises daily. Spend between 30 minutes and an hour on the workbook every day. If you do so, within three weeks you’ll begin to feel better. After three months, you’ll be well on the road to a bright new life. But the only person who can help you is yourself. You’ve got to make a commitment and be willing to make the small effort that is necessary for success.”
The trouble is, rather than making an effort, Harry makes excuses. When we speak to him he says, “I feel miserable and want my life to change.” Notice that he didn’t say, “I want to change my life.” After all, for that to happen he would have to make an effort. None of that for him. He prefers to remain passive and dream of someone or something fixing his problems for him. He’s on a quest for the magic bullet. Ironically, he does make an effort. But the effort he makes is to avoid doing the exercises in his workbook.
Harry spends time, energy, and money on his search for a ‘miracle cure.’ He goes from seminar to seminar, from one herbal remedy to another, from one New Age ‘healer’ to another, from one religious cult to another.
Harry not only hasn’t gotten better, but like many of us, has forgotten how quickly time flies. It’s too early to say how long Harry will steadfastly pursue his futile search for an effortless cure. But others have been doing so for years. What a waste of time, energy, and money! Meanwhile, the counsellor’s words continue to be ignored by Harry, and he irrationally refuses to improve his life. Yet, the tasks that his counsellor has given him require far less effort than the fruitless activity he is engaged in. Let’s hope we learn from his example and come to understand that there are no shortcuts on the path to success and happiness. Don’t complain about being in a rut if you’re not willing to make the effort to crawl out.
Another cause for people failing to follow their dreams is their fear of giving up the known for the unknown. We are inclined to avoid taking risks. For example, when I was a university student in Japan, I supported myself by teaching English as a second language. Later, I started doing some translations on the side to earn extra income. However, going to the university, teaching, translating, and studying was stretching things too far. I couldn’t do everything, so I had to decide whether to continue teaching or quit it and build a translation business. I announced my decision to my wife. I was going to quit teaching and use the time to start a new business.
Her mouth dropped. She was in a panic. I can understand how she felt because besides ourselves, we had two small children to worry about. If I were to make the change, there were costs involved. I would have to give up the security of a high paying job with a fixed income, not to mention the comfort of an enjoyable job. But the lure of a new adventure was too much to resist. I was determined. Though fearful, my wife supported my decision, so I leapt into the unknown. A year later, I was still leaping, but this time leaping for joy.
Little did we realize I would multiply my income fivefold. And I would do this while cutting the number of hours I worked by half. So, my hourly income grew by 10X. Because I was willing to give up security and comfort, I gained far more of the same. I multiplied the very things I risked losing. Yes, there was a price to pay to make the change, but there would have been a greater price to pay if I had not made the change.
Refusing to risk what we have is a risk in itself. It is risking the loss of an opportunity to have much more. And I’m not just referring to income. The same is true for happiness, peace of mind, and freedom. We gain more by risking the little we already have. Harry, whom we spoke about earlier, wants to be comfortable, so he avoids making the effort to change. Little does he realize that if he were willing to sacrifice that small amount of comfort he clenches so tightly, he would gain much, much more. Let’s avoid his mistakes. Our dreams are worth fighting for. Let the struggles begin!
Imagine cavemen sitting in comfort before a fire in a communal cave being urged by their mates to go hunting for food on a cold, rainy, winter day. They are being called on to make a sacrifice. They are being asked to give up the comfort of their cave temporarily for greater rewards. Of course, there is initial resistance. But by accepting the task, they discover their rewards far outweigh the comfort they temporarily set aside. For they will come to experience the joy of victory over the foul weather, the exhilaration that follows a successful hunt, the praise of their mates and offspring, the sharpening of their survival skills, the camaraderie of working as a team, and the intense pleasure of returning to the cave.
Life has changed in many ways since the cave dwellers. Yet, in many ways it remains the same. After all, we are bound by an immutable law of the universe that states all achievements require sacrifices. Those who refuse to make sacrifices refuse to grow. They refuse to succeed. They refuse to discover the joy of accomplishment. They refuse to establish meaning and purpose in their lives. And when they do so, they pay a heavy price. For the pain of future failure will be far greater than any discomfort a sacrifice would have required. Don’t join the ranks of those who have yet to learn that it’s not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us successful.
We are social creatures. We depend on one another. We cannot achieve our goals without the help of others. Yet, others have their own agendas, goals, and interests. So, how can we work together without compromising? To succeed, we need to learn that we have to let go of one thing to gain another. We have to understand that sacrifice, or doing what we don’t want to get what we do want, is inexorably enmeshed in life. The extent to which we are willing to sacrifice controls the extent to which we will be successful. Or, as James Allen wrote, “He who would accomplish little must sacrifice little; he who would achieve much must sacrifice much; he who would attain highly must sacrifice greatly.”
Most of us realize this, but before we can make a sacrifice, we have to overcome the resistance to doing so. How can we make our task easier? How can we reduce the sting? The greatest favor we can do for ourselves is change our perspective. That is, change the way we look at things. The problem is the word sacrifice has a negative nuance. It implies making an effort, doing what we don’t want to, and undergoing pain. Why not put a positive spin on it. Why not focus on the beautiful things suggested by the word?
For example, Ralph Waldo Emerson had this to say, “Self-sacrifice is the real miracle out of which all the reported miracles grow.” So, instead of calling something a sacrifice, why don’t we call it a miracle? Think about it for a moment. We are the only animals that can willingly do what we don’t want to do. That is a miraculous power. Sacrifice is the miracle that makes great things possible.
The word sacrifice is made up of sacri and ficio, which means to make holy. So, when we make sacrifices, we are sanctifying our actions, for whenever we raise ourselves to a higher level, we are bringing ourselves closer to our Creator. Rather than looking at sacrifice as something negative, look at it as a miracle, a holy act, a heroic act, a joyous, creative act, the means to our goal, an investment in the future, and a step toward greatness. Look at it as a commitment and determination to succeed. When we look at it in these ways, it becomes much more palatable. When seen in this light, we realize that sacrifice is not about loss but about gain.
Another way of looking at sacrifice is as a source of happiness. And the greater the struggle that sacrifice entails, the greater the happiness that follows. Consider the words of the American Women’s Suffrage Leader, Olympia Brown, who said, “He who never sacrificed a present to a future good or a personal to a general one can speak of happiness only as the blind do of colors.” Yes, those who refuse to let go of their present, transient comfort or pleasure are blind, and don’t know happiness. Their refusal to sacrifice defeats the very purpose of their being. For we are here to experience endless growth, joy, and freedom, all of which are realized by acts of sacrifice.
Yet another way to look at sacrifice is as service. Personal sacrifice for our own improvement is a holy act, but sacrificing for others, for their enrichment, as a parent does for a child, is the holiest of acts. Such sacrifices breed loyalty from those we serve and crown us with abundant blessings. To the enlightened soul, serving others isn’t seen as a sacrifice. Rather, it is viewed as joyful giving.
Those who reject sacrifices, remain enslaved by their own weaknesses. American author Bruce Barton wrote, “What a curious phenomenon it is that you can get men to die for the liberty of the world who will not make the little sacrifice that is needed to free themselves from their own individual bondage.” It is bizarre, isn’t it, that some young men and women are willing to make the supreme sacrifice for their country, yet hesitate to sacrifice small things for their own welfare and happiness.
Everyone would like to achieve great things, but the ordinary person sees only the sacrifices that must be made and gives up the struggle. The rash person sees just the prize and jumps into the fray without enough preparation and loses the fight. But the wise see both the difficulties, which they carefully overcome, and the prize, which they win. Once you know what needs to be done, don’t delay, as many prizes have been lost not because of the inability to act, but the failure to act quickly enough.
Willingness to sacrifice is a sign of a strong character and is to be encouraged. A German saying makes this same point, “When wealth is lost, nothing is lost; when health is lost, something is lost; when character is lost, everything is lost.” While we can rightfully be proud of our many accomplish-ments because of the sacrifices we have made, let’s not forget the sacrifices made for us by others. So, let our achievements be marked by a feeling of gratitude and not one of smugness.
Sometimes, despite the sacrifices we make, we do not reach our goal. If we are stuck in a quagmire, making no progress, it may be time to change direction. After all, persistently pursuing something that was not meant to be merely stands in the way of going after another, even more valuable, dream.
Besides, sometimes the best win is to lose. How many times have your past ‘failures’ turned out to be blessings? It has happened in the past and will continue to happen. So be prepared for it and remain upbeat, changing course whenever necessary. And when you do ‘fail,’ use the accompanying feelings of disappointment and pain to empathize with others and offer them encouragement. By approaching life with open eyes and an open mind and heart, we can change ‘negative’ events into positive occurrences. Don’t think ‘sacrifice;’ think joy, growth, and freedom.
They say that hard work won’t kill you, but why take a chance? Well, there’s good reason to work hard because effort is the golden key that unlocks our potential. Or, as Erich Fromm put it, “Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is. The most important product of his effort is his own personality.”
What can we gain by doing nothing? For as the Chinese say, “Ripe fruit falls by itself, but it doesn’t fall into your mouth. Sophocles agrees for he taught, “Success is dependent on effort.”
Besides, effort is how we experience life. When we’re not expending energy, we’re not living; we’re sleeping. Also, working hard now makes it easier for us later. And the harder we work the more skillful we become. That’s why Lucille Ball said, “If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.”
Hard work is well worth the effort because of the achievements and exhilaration that follow. After all, “Happiness includes chiefly the idea of satisfaction after full honest effort. No one can possibly be satisfied and no one can be happy who feels that in some paramount affairs he failed to take up the challenge of life.” (Arnold Bennett) Also, “Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It’s not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it’s when you’ve had everything to do, and you’ve done it.” (Margaret Thatcher)
And hard work is the only way to get what we want, as Peter McWilliams explains, “In reality, serendipity accounts for one percent of the blessings we receive in life, work and love. The other 99 percent is due to our efforts.”
Here in the words of wise men and women are other reasons for making a great effort in all we do:
“Character is what emerges from all the little things you were too busy to do yesterday, but did anyway. (Mignon McLaughlin) “Good character is not formed in a week or a month. It is created little by little, day by day. Protracted and patient effort is needed to develop good character.” (Sri Swami Sivananda)
“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” (Abraham Lincoln)
“Much effort, much prosperity.” (Euripides)
How Should We Direct Our Effort?
Now let’s turn to the wise for ideas on how to direct our efforts.
“The man who can drive himself further once the effort gets painful is the man who will win.” (Roger Bannister)
“Some men give up their designs when they have almost reached the goal while others, on the contrary, obtain a victory by exerting, at the last moment, more vigorous efforts than ever before.” (Herodotus)
“If you’re not gonna go all the way, why go at all?” (Joe Namath)
“Do a little bit more than average and from that point on our progress multiplies itself out of all proportion to the effort put in.” (Paul J. Meyer)
“When you reach for the stars, you are reaching for the farthest thing out there. When you reach deep into yourself, it is the same thing, but in the opposite direction. If you reach in both directions, you will have spanned the universe.” (Vera Nazarian)
“To get the most out of the world one must conscientiously strive to put the most into it.” (B.C. Forbes)
“If one has not given everything, one has given nothing.” (Georges Guynemer)
“To learn, you have to listen. To improve, you have to try.” (Thomas Jefferson)
“When we have our body and mind in order, everything else will exist in the right place, in the right way. But usually, without being aware of it, we try to change something other than ourselves, we try to order things outside us. But it is impossible to organize things if you yourself are not in order. When you do things in the right way, at the right time, everything else will be organized.” (Shunryu Suzuki)
10 “P”s to Strengthen Our Efforts
The 10 “P”s to strengthen our efforts are: Persistence, Perseverance, Pride, Preparation, Patience, Possibilities, Progress, Passion, Plan, and Positive attitude.
1. Persistence. “To fail is a natural consequence of trying, To succeed takes time and prolonged effort in the face of unfriendly odds. To think it will be any other way, no matter what you do, is to invite yourself to be hurt and to limit your enthusiasm for trying again.” (David Viscott) “Effort only fully releases its reward after a person refuses to quit.” (Napoleon Hill)
2. Perseverance. “It’s the constant and determined effort that breaks down resistance, sweeps away all obstacles.” (Claude M. Bristol)
3. Pride. Have enough pride to always do your best, and remember, “…what thwarts us and demands of us the greatest effort is also what can teach us most.” (Matthew Arnold)
4. Preparation. “The person who is waiting for something to turn up might start with their shirt sleeves.” (Garth Henrichs)
5. Patience. “Be not afraid of going slowly; be afraid only of standing still.” (Chinese Proverb)
6. Possibilities. “It is surprising what a man can do when he has to, and how little most men will do when they don’t have to.” (Walter Linn)
7. Progress. How can we make progress without first making an effort? “Hard work spotlights the character of people: some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses, and some don’t turn up at all. (Sam Ewing)
8. Passion. “Put your heart, mind, intellect and soul even to your smallest acts. This is the secret of success.” (Swami Sivananda) “Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) “Give your dreams all you’ve got and you’ll be amazed at the energy that comes out of you.” (William James)
9. Plan. How can you get what you want from life if you don’t know what it is and plan for it? “I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can’t find anybody who can tell me what they want.” (Mark Twain)
10. Positive attitude. You can tell when you have a positive attitude, for that’s when you stop trying and start doing. “Warning: Authorities warn that ‘try’ is a dangerous expression that has enormous power to influence your behavior. It’s toxic. Use it very carefully. When ‘try’ creeps into your language or into your thoughts, pluck it out quickly.” (Walter Anderson) “The difference between try and triumph is a little umph. (Marvin Phillips)
Tips on Using Effort Wisely
“There are hundreds of tasks we feel we must accomplish in the day, but if we do not take them one at a time… we are bound to break our own physical or mental structure.” (Ted Bengermino)
Learn how to work smarter, not harder. Learn how to organize and manage your time to avoid burnout.
“Abundant effort compensates for sparse talent.” (Larry Hehn)
“To be number one, you have to train like you are number two.” (Maurice Greene)
“All the so-called ‘secrets of success’ will not work unless you do. (Unknown)
“You cannot plough a field by turning it over in your mind.” (Unknown)
“Hard work doesn’t guarantee success, but improves its chances.” (B. J. Gupta) And it guarantees experience from which you can learn.
Focus on what needs to be done each day and tomorrow will take care of itself.
Don’t overlook the power of delegation. “I made up my mind long ago that life was too short to do anything for myself that I could pay others to do for me.” (W. Somerset Maugham) “I would rather earn 1% of a 100 people’s efforts than 100% of my own efforts.” (John D. Rockefeller)
For the best results, do your best. “Whenever a man does the best he can, then that is all he can do.” (Harry S. Truman)
“The smallest effort is not lost. Each wavelet on the ocean tost (tossed) aids in the ebb-tide or the flow; each rain-drop makes some floweret blow; each struggle lessens human woe.” (Charles MacKay, Scottish poet, song writer)
Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions by Gerd Gigerenzer
Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious by Gerd Gigerenzer
JUMP: Don’t Let The Fear Of The Fall Keep You From Landing by Alfredo D. Balarin
The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success by Albert-László Barabási
Elon Musk: How To Achieve 10x More Than Your Peers
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