Workout of the Day

The Real Reason Effort Scares Us


Let’s just come right out and say it: effort can be scary.

In my time as a teacher and middle/high school coach, I remember noticing patterns in the types of students and athletes that I encountered in every class/team. One of these archetypes was the “capable, but never giving full effort” student/athlete. These individuals were generally rather academically talented (or strong, fast, skilled, etc., in the case of the athlete), but made it a point to not give full effort. They overtly and intentionally refrained from putting their full energy into an assignment, test, practice, training, etc., and they would find subtle ways to make it known that they were working below capacity -- that they had something left in the tank. In practice they would make a point to not be seen breathing very hard or showing signs of strain, on the field of play they refrained from emotional investment or physical struggle, and in class they would give nonchalant gestures of apathy, intentionally make small and subtle mistakes on their work, and occasionally make mention of their submaximal effort on assignments. In a word, everything was casual -- it was whatever.

At the time, I simply thought these students were lazy -- that they found it easier to rest on their talents and not their effort, and they got by with it. But as I’ve thought more about these kids and noticed the exact same pattern in adults and kids alike, I’ve realized it’s really a matter of fear more than laziness. Yes, it’s easier just to skate by and be lazy, but at the heart of this apparent laziness is a fear of what effort can do to the ego.

If you try and fail and you haven’t given your full effort, your ego has the safeguard of knowing that you could have done better. You can pass it off as not really being a failure, because you still had more left to give.
Sure, I didn’t do great, but I probably would have if I really tried.
If, on the other hand, you put your heart into something, give it your best effort, and you fail, you’re faced with a loud and painful truth: you did fail.

Now here’s the real crux of this: if I were a betting man, I would venture to guess that somewhere in these kids’ background -- from their parents, friends, other family members, a teacher, a coach -- they got the message that it wasn’t okay to fail. Somewhere along the way, they got into their heads that failure was not a part of the process, not a lesson, not a valuable exposure that could guide one to further improvement, but a reflection of the person and their value. They were comfortable saying that they failed because of their submaximal effort, because it wasn’t truly them. They could pass it off, because they didn’t really own it. But they were terrified of seeing what they were actually capable or incapable of.

Effort is perhaps the most powerful tool available to test and grow our character. It is an exercise in vulnerability, When you take on ownership of your effort, when you truly invest yourself, you put yourself out there with no safeguard from the honest feedback that life is going to send back.
And you know what? It’s terrifying. It’s exposing, it’s brave, and it can be crushing if we’ve wrapped our identity and ego up in our successes and failures. But a failure is not who you are. A failure is a lesson, a valuable piece of feedback, a step along the way. And a failure that comes from an effort that you owned is the most valuable and honest feedback of all.

I’d like to propose that your effort reflects who you are more than any individual outcome. You are not your successes or failures, you are how you handle them.

- PS


  • Sandbag front squat - 12,12,12

  • 17 min AMRAP

    • 400m run

    • 12 front rack reverse lunges (95/65)

    • 12 pull-ups