Do something tangible. It is better to do what you can, even if it falls far short of ideal, than to let the opportunity to make a difference pass you by. Get into the game and improve as you go. You could start growing into acting from a whole different level of performance. But at the least, a start has been made. That’s no small thing.
Do not give yourself a way out or a handy excuse. It’s way too easy to sit on the sidelines and wait until conditions are ideal. Or your goals have jelled and there’s a roaring passion that drives you. Or until you’re better at whatever. Or there are sufficient resources or others to help.
Start bailing the boat, or what needs doing in your current circumstances – even if you do it poorly. Who knows?! That might be all that is needed. Or possibly, by you doing what you can, fate might lend a hand.
The important thing is that even a half-assed effort could be enough to change the dynamics. You might even find that you’re able to accomplish much more than you ever would have expected. And as you do so, your life purpose and direction start to reveal themselves.
I posted the above words a year ago on Reddit
I usually write about achieving your best, pushing your limits, and aiming high. So it was a bit out of character for me to speak up for half-assed efforts as the way to go. But apparently the value of the “middle way” – between doing a great job and doing nothing – needed to be stood up for.
I was not prepared for the reaction that post received (my highest to that point): 600 up-votes and 66 comments. The thread is archived here.
What I had failed to notice before that post is how badly usually-diligent people are to know that doing less than their best still has value. Is still worth doing. The comments reflected how much guilt a person can feel when there’s no gas in the tank to do a really good job. Or when they’re unsure about what all needs to be done. Do what you can and show up. That’s a start.
Doing something when it’s all uphill, or you’re already dragging requires much more determination than when it comes easily. Those are test of your will, of your desire to perform or stay on-task, rather than a measure of optimum performance. DON’T DISCOUNT THEM. They DO make a difference – even if it is just to keep you engaged and committed. But it’s also building character.
Some of the Comments
Comment – Have TWO tiers of your habit, the one you are shooting for, and a bare-minimum for low-motivation days. This way the bare minimum one (like putting on your gym clothes and/or heading to the gym) helps you build your habit even if you don’t actually work out.
– Another comment – I like this approach of a “bare minimum” a lot! I’ve been procrastinating working out this week, and instead of focusing on necessarily improving my strength or looking better, I’m going to focus on making fitness a habit itself.
MY INPUT – At the risk of a groaner: Your reference to a “Bare Minimum” makes me want to say, At least do a bare-assed, half-assed minimum.
– Another comment – Great comment! You manage to set out a strategy that avoids the usual choice between Work Your Plan and Do Nothing. Now a person can have a low-speed and high-speed option, either of which is acceptable. And it eliminates a lot of inner dialog about what to do when you’re not so motivated. I’ll be using this, thanks.
MY INPUT – Three days a week is still praise-worthy. And it’s probably giving your body about as much physical development as it can usefully integrate. One reason I am behind the Half-assed approach is that More is not always more. The results we want can often be accomplished with other, less, or a balance of efforts.
Your line about one out of 3 days not being worth it is an important insight. You still show up knowing that – no small thing. And you don’t let those not-much-good days convince you that it’s not worth doing. That is building another form of stamina. Besides, I’m inclined to believe that those efforts still are advancing your game because it’s keeping you from drifting into less productive efforts. A lot of efforts don’t show up as making a dent in what we’re trying to gain/overcome until there’s a critical mass of them. Those days are still you voting for your gym days being worthwhile.
– Another comment – Needed to hear this on my home feed today, thank you. I keep drifting further into ‘no ass’ territory and it makes me even more depressed. And I’m already depressed because of my stagnation and they’re both cyclical and, I don’t know…symbiotic. Then you live like that long enough to feel like it’s all you’ve ever known. I just gotta remember that even if today’s baby steps are frustratingly baby-stepped, they’re at least progressing and more common than the days when nothing got done.
MY INPUT – I appreciate your candor. We all have days when there’s not enough gas in the tank. And so when we’re not living up to our expectations, we tend to criticize ourselves. Not nice. So by being able to make a Half-assed effort we don’t start on the negative self-worth self talk.
I have to keep reminding myself that “some days you can and some days you cannot.” Then not to judge myself harshly on the less productive days.
– Another comment – Perfect is the enemy of good.
MY INPUT – That is the essence of it. So let me restate my post – Half-assed is good. Especially on those days when perfect doesn’t seem to be in the cards. I don’t want to be on the record of saying, don’t do your best. But there are plenty of times when half-assed is the best you can do. Don’t fault yourself.
MY INPUT – In response to a comment about procrastination –
I have abolished the word “procrastinate” from my vocabulary. In my experience its use is a key justification for self-criticism. We do not procrastinate on tasks that bring us joy or get us enthusiastic. It’s unthinkable.
So if you find yourself not taking something on, or do so with great resistance or reluctance, that is not about procrastination. It is part of yourself expressing the idea that it is not a high enough priority for you.
Pay attention to why, and you might be able to ascertain if the activity is, or is not, worth your time and energy. Use that as a time for soul searching or re-negotiation. Something different or better might be in store for you.
– Another comment – The key is to set achievable goals. Make the goals easy to reach in the beginning.
I learned this in rehab for alcoholism. Lots of people go in there and say “I’m going to quit drinking, quit smoking, and within 3 months I’m going get out of debt and get better job!”…..of course, BOOM when the addict smokes a cigarette 2 days after this big proclamation, they feel like a failure. Now, if the alcoholic would have set his goal more reasonably: “I will not drink alcohol today”, they would go to bed feeling like a winner, feeling like they did achieve something and CAN achieve more.
Keep your goals reasonable and manageable at the start. When you start gaining steam, unleash the harder and more difficult goals.
MY INPUT – Good input. I’m sure it was gleaned from dealing with getting your expectations in touch with reality. Ambition is wonderful when setting out. But the side of who I am that makes the commitment is usually not the side that shows up in the humdrum efforts to stay on track. Yet our ambition tends to be merciless when we stumble. Manageable goals coupled with not beating yourself up for falling short makes more sense in the long run.
MY INPUT – in response to a comment from someone struggling as a writer –
As a writer, boy do I know that feeling. When the Muses are with you, writing is a breeze. And who can’t be a great writer?! It’s those other days, when getting any words on paper is a tough slog that you have to prove your mettle as a writer. More to yourself than to anybody else. And it is the sticking with what you’re working on despite its flatness or dullness that builds our creative muscles.
– Another comment – Release and iterate. All of the best software you use today was developed this way.
MY INPUT – That’s insightful. And all too true. Maybe we could sat that: Half-assed is the path to inspiration – and maybe creative output.
I am totally confident that those who are willing to go this route are more likely to create something, since they’re out there where inspiration strikes. It also echoes the saying, Luck favors the prepared mind.
– Another comment – I actually read a book just recently, and one of the lessons that was ingrained to my mind was that a “mediocre effort” was still an effort – a step in the right direction. While the author went to explain that the etymology for mediocre means “middle of the mountain”, it made me realize that I should not diminish a mediocre effort because it is still an effort. A mediocre effort from me required to push myself from the comfort zone. That’s still an effort. I’m halfway there!
MY INPUT – I love it! Mediocre still requires you to show up, put in the time, and put an idea into action. There’s also an economy to it since you don’t have to gear up for a do-or-die, push-your limits effort every time. So you can take on more tasks, and worthy activities since you’re not fully consumed with just a few.
Because of what you said here, I will no longer treat “mediocre” as a dirty word. That degree of engagement is exactly right for some activities.
I feel that doing one’s best is the ideal. And what that might be is constantly changing. The Half-assed method works well for bridging from being idle, doing nothing, or merely wanting to accomplish something and taking the early steps. For many people, taking the first step is the hardest step; then others follow with increasing confidence and fluidity. (Whereas, for some other people, the opposite is true. Beginning steps come easily, but the last steps – completion or closure – are nearly impossible.)
This Half-assed approach is a life-saver when there’s not enough gas/energy in the tank, so making any effort at all is much too hard. This is not an argument to disregard excellence or improving upon what you can do.
The Half-assed approach is simply another tool for your motivation toolbox. There when it’s needed, but as you point out, risky to treat it as the primary strategy. It also is not a con or grading on the curve. It simply is a way to develop the confidence or mental habits that can build to a higher quality of performance at another time.
– Another comment – “Half measures have availed us nothing.”
MY INPUT – Doing nothing avails you nothing. But a half-step is still a step. It is an initiation, away from the pull of stuckness. While it is a small step, and probably not a very powerful one, it marks a direction that could be taken with additional effort. While I personally prefer big, bold, heroic efforts, those require a much larger investment of planning and energy. And there is significantly more risk. Think of Half-assed steps as practice for the big ones to come.
— As a senior citizen who was a high-octane, climb-every-mountain type much of my adult life, I’m finding this Half-assed strategy matches my energy level much more effectively these days.
[end of comments]