Scott H Young

Archive for March, 2009

The Effort Threshold

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Last week, I wrote about how a major cause of failure is simple: not working hard enough. If you’re only spending 30 minutes per week at the gym, your specific exercise plan doesn’t really matter. You aren’t reaching the minimum effort threshold needed for success.

The idea that all goals have a minimum effort threshold is a powerful one. If you know roughly what the effort threshold is for any particular goal, you can stop worrying about which tactics to use until you’ve committed at least that much effort.

Let’s say you knew, for example, that it takes roughly two years and 3,000 hours of productive work to create a successful online business. If that’s the case, you wouldn’t get discouraged when you aren’t successful after only six months.

Finding the Effort Threshold for Your Goals

My article last week focused on a common problem: people often underestimate the magnitude of the effort threshold. They assume something must be wrong with them. Either they aren’t smart enough or their approach is flawed. In reality, they may just be under the threshold.

What’s the best way to find the effort threshold for a goal: study people who’ve already achieved it. Don’t look for the miraculous cases, there will always be outliers. Look at the ordinary people, who through consistent effort managed to reach an attainable goal.

The bar is often set higher than you think:

  1. Exercise – Most of my friends that went from fat to fit took at least a year, with consistent effort. My friends in fantastic shape spend about 5-10 hours at the gym per week and have a healthy diet.
  2. Wealth - Zig Ziglar once remarked that when you examine the majority of millionaires, they are regular people, working at good careers, that have saved and invested wisely for most their lives. The rock star entrepreneurs that reach billions in their twenties are exceptions.
  3. Writing - If you want to become a not-bad writer, I’d write at least 500,000 words. If you want to become a good writer, I’d put in at least 5,000,000 words. I’ve written about 600,000 words for this blog, and I’m still far below the effort threshold needed for great writing.
  4. Learning - Holistic learning is a rule-breaking strategy for learning. But it works best when you’re already at the effort threshold for decent results and want to do even better.
  5. Online Business – Going from nothing to full-time income should take at least 2-3 years.

Malcolm Gladwell suggests that mastery of any skill takes at least 10,000 hours of practice. Personally, I think the number is a bit too rigid. Some goals may require only 100 hours of work. Others may require your entire life of dedicated work. But the principle is still the same: a minimum threshold needed to be successful.

Study Extraordinary Strategies, Use an Ordinary Effort Threshold

Before you start a goal, seek people who have already done it. When I started blogging, I reached out to people who had already achieved the specific milestone I wanted to reach. Even if you can’t talk to people who have reached your goal, you can still research it. Reading books on exercise helped me set realistic goals for how much effort I needed to apply.

The problem with extraordinary success is that it sets the effort bar too low. When someone manages to run a business with only four hours per week, graduate with a degree in only three semesters or pass exams without studying, those cases can provide insights into a unique strategy, but they distort the effort threshold.

There is a software mantra that says to find the length of time for a project, take your worst-case scenario, then double it. That’s your new best case scenario. The same logic applies with your effort threshold. Even if you’re studying the strategies of the best-case, you want to put the effort in for the worst case. Otherwise you may have a great strategy but still fall short.


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Posted by Scott Young on March 31st, 2009 in Personal Development | 13 Comments »