How to Achieve the Maximum Possible, while Making a Minimum Effort

Business journal Director, June 2015

Fatigue. Insomnia. Continuous stress. Faltering health. Relations being messed up, due to continually living on the edge. Ingvar Villido, the teacher of practical awareness, helps to shed some light to the causes of this condition from a slightly different angle than that of the traditional approach and to find possibilities for avoiding burnout and overcoming stress.

Actually, stress means a situation where your muscles are permanently tense because your body is in the state of being at all times ready to fight the difficulties that you believe you are about to encounter. Psychic tensions behind this situation consist of two components. First, disturbing thoughts, memories, and imaginations. Plus, the negative emotions resulting from them which make everything that you do seem pointless.

Everyone uses the same ‘tools’ for the work we do. We use the physical body, even when just sitting behind the table for all day long. We also use emotions, which are the main triggers of our actions. And also thoughts, and smartness for certain… So your state of being does not depend on the tools that you use, but on the way, you are using them.

Two contradictory triggers

In case you have a negative attitude towards what is going on with you, you think your work to be pointless and trigger a lack of motivation in yourself. At the same time, you know that you have the work-related responsibilities to carry out: you must do this, you must discuss it with them, you must listen to what he has to say. All the time you must do something.  Others are waiting for you to propose solutions, everybody wants something, but what you want yourself is the success and all those other things. When struggling between the two impulses – lack of motivation and your obligations –, you will discover that several hours have gone by, but the necessary things are still left undone. Tension starts to build up. By desiring to achieve certain results that seem meaningful to you, you uphold this tension by spinning your thoughts – and this is how stress will come.

With those two contradictory keywords (I must and pointlessness) you force yourself to such an energy level where you must be very active all the time, while not appreciating what you do. The energy that you are using to get so many things done is highly intense and very active. It could even be called high-frequency energy. The feeling of pointlessness, on the contrary, creates a slow energy which makes the impulses triggering your action succumb.

To find the golden mean between the muffling pointlessness and the impelling drive with which you urge yourself to move on would seem to be the best solution. Your normal way of acting should remain somewhere between the two, where you are neither lazy nor super-active.

High-frequency alternating current

Being very active in the things you do certainly helps to get many things done. But when you live permanently in such a high-frequency zone, you are likely to wear yourself out. In case you are not active enough, the things left to be done pile up, creating an even stronger feeling of pointlessness. It might also be that sometimes when the number of things to do reaches a critical level, your activeness may rise. You suddenly become decisive and get all those things done very fast, and then rest until the things left to be done again piles up to critical heights. A long period of rest is needed in case you live this way because it is essential to restore your inner resources after intense rushing and prepare for the next ’horrendous’ effort.

In nature, sometimes similar extreme situations can be found. Usually, the earth is quiet, peaceful and just lays there. But when the earthquake comes, it is destructive; it shakes and blasts mountains to fall over. This is the period of activeness, where something new seems to be created on earth. Likewise, hurricanes or tsunamis are very active forces of nature. But when you look at how they interfere in nature, you can notice that actually they create numerous problems.

At the same time, passiveness represents a problem as well. If the water is passive and stands still, it always goes stale. If there is no wind, the air will become stagnant.

In fact, your impression that you can get many things done only by making an extreme effort and that there is no other way of doing the same number of things is erroneous. Actually, there is another way. If you started doing things in an optimal way, it would enable you to achieve the same or even better results while acting much more calmly and without such alternating periods of rest and exhausting hurry.

Contrasting sleep disorders

It is evident that when you are using very active energy, you must also be able to stop using it, if necessary. You go home and want to have a rest, but cannot, because your energy is still very active. In order to sleep and rest well, you need energies that are as passive as possible, as the tensions need to subside. After a strenuous working day, you fall on your bed, but instead of falling asleep you start spinning your thoughts. You don’t even realize that you are thinking and that your thoughts are discontent with the fact that you are thinking, because you cannot fall asleep that way. You don’t notice that it is your own thinking process that prevents you from falling asleep. Instead of tossing and turning sleeplessly or taking pills, you should realize that it is not the topics you are thinking of, but the thinking process itself, which, being an active phenomenon, does not let you fall asleep peacefully. By influencing your thinking, not changing the topic, the activity of thinking also starts to subside and slow down.

When you are physically exhausted or your emotions are passive, or when you are in a lazy mood, thinking is quite unimportant to you. On the contrary, when you are very active, it would seem that you have many more thoughts. But the truth is that you have the same amount of thoughts during the passive and active period. The difference is that when you are lazy, your thoughts are less to the point and vaguer. When being active, anxious or worried, thoughts become highly contrast, clear and sharp. The contrasts show that you have excessive tension. When you need to go and rest in order to recover your inner resources, but cannot step out of those tense contrasts, it causes the development of sleep disorders. The more intensely you are thinking, the higher the tension is, and it is not possible to fall asleep nor rest this way. By mastering your thoughts - and this is something that can be learned – you can ease the tension. All other means only have a temporary effect.

The fuel of motivation

An optimal balance can be maintained when you recognize an excessive activation or deactivation in your inner world. Laziness is an excessive deactivation. When you feel that anxiety or fear comes up, then this is overactivation. Anyone can observe those simple symptoms in themselves. When you are overly excited, you can just let some of that excitedness go. Managers are much better at mastering self-motivation than liberating themselves of unnecessary tensions. Consciously increasing intensity does not, in any case, mean that you need to raise it to the maximum. You only raise it as much as needed for carrying out the activities at hand, and then stop. In order to lower the excessive tension, you would need to learn to manage your mentality and emotions in the same way as you manage other exterior processes in your life.

What is most important in this self-regulation process is not your mind, but emotions. The feeling of pointlessness creates a lack of motivation. Although every one of us uses the mind in order to motivate ourselves, creating motivation is always an emotional process. All motives for taking action need some fuel, a certain force, for activation. Nothing starts to move unless there is some force behind it. In order to make things move, energy needs to be employed. In a human being, emotions are such energy. Ideally, the mind is like a GPS which gives the direction when you enter the coordinates. But if the car has no fuel that would make it move, that is, in case there are no emotions, there would no driving anywhere. In case there is an active emotion, the drive starts. In case the emotion is passive, there is no way to start the car. You will just tumble around in the same place.

Each emotion has its specific level of activeness. When you can consciously perceive emotions and direct them towards taking action that waits to be carried out, you can get everything done. You would just need to bring out one active emotion that is suitable for performing this action. When you find the right impulse, you step on the gas and will arrive at the destination.

Riding a rocket towards mistakes

But when you are riding a rocket, that is to say, extremely active, because you must do lots of things at the same time, you are likely to make more mistakes than usual, isn’t it so? When doing things very actively you have the impression that you are doing a lot. Nevertheless, the quality suffers due to the quantity, because there are many things you just fail to notice when riding a rocket. You are speeding past lots of significant details. You can even see or hear them momentarily, but after flashing past, you just forget them. Therefore, later, in some occasions, you need to turn the rocket around and rush back in search of some forgotten detail. Using simple math, you would understand that such rushing back and forth, making mistakes and correcting them takes much more time than doing the same things calmly.

When being in a hurry, you focus only on the certain part of an activity but leave unnoticed other things around it. You don’t keep the whole picture in mind. This is also the reason for making mistakes.

It is not possible to avoid mistakes only by thinking about them. A much more efficient way of avoiding mistakes is by lowering your intensity. Through regulating it to the normal speed of activity, you will be able to notice many more details. Noticing details, in turn, enables you to take them into account, to organize and use them. You can use the entire set of details. To keep an eye on all steps of the activity. To act as a professional. As a bonus, it also brings along humanity, that is, a human attitude towards other people involved in the same process.

With the energy of optimal activity, your ability to be aware is really good. When acting with awareness, you can become more professional in what you do, as the risk of making mistakes decreases. Acting this way, you set the system to work perfectly, and can then easily allow yourself to rest. With no need to strenuously recheck something or redo something just in case. Having a certainty that you have got your work well done, you can go home with a peaceful heart and are thus unlikely to have any problems with falling asleep.

Often employers or managers who cannot manage their own optimality make their subordinates to be in stress and overloaded with work as well. So that there is always a feeling that the work is going on. They trust neither themselves nor their employees and need to check everything all the time, creating additional pressure both for themselves and others.

Optimal smartness

When you are very efficient, your co-workers may get the impression that you do not work so much at all; you just perform all tasks quickly and can then just go to be with your family or do your hobby, while they are still strenuously rushing about. But seeing that you are competent in your actions, your skill to do more with less effort will be highly appreciated.

This is precisely what optimality is about – to achieve as much as possible while doing as few as possible. Optimality always requires smartness. You cannot use it without using awareness. Smartness involves getting acquainted with all details, with all information related to the issue at hand. It involves the capacity to set relevant information apart from the irrelevant. When acting optimally, you use as few motions, actions, and resources as possible in order to achieve as effective a result as possible.

You won’t waste your time on things that are not needed in this process. In your work routines, there are certainly several activities that you can easily abandon without affecting the quality of your work. These may also include things that suddenly come up at the time when you are working, like laziness, desire for something or a wish to call a friend. In case you know how to manage your inner world, you can easily leave this interfering activity aside and continue with your chosen one instead. You can spend much more time when calling a friend after you have finished your work. By looking all your activities through from this perspective, you may notice that there is an abundance of things that could be optimized that way.

The main prerequisite for the optimization skill is the realization that all activities that are not necessary for the process take up the time you have allocated for the process. They are time-consuming. Even if these are small things, in case there is a large number of them, they still take a lot of time when summed up. By leaving them out, you will have more time. This is a free time that you could spend on yourself and fill with whatever you like. Optimising is important in all everyday activities. It is also the best medicine against stress and pressure at work.

Breaks of incomprehension

When being on your own, you could surely plan most of your activities in a way that suits you, and then carry them out accordingly. You would do that with the intensity which you are used to. However, clearly, most of us don’t live nor work alone. This means that you always need to take into consideration other people. At the workplace, other people are usually the main reason for tensions. But there are also other reasons, like our desire to stand out, to be appreciated by others.

Things get complicated when you cannot rely only on your own plans. Other people may introduce unknown factors into your well-organised plan. Cooperation with others goes smoothly when they are using methods more or less similar to yours. The result is efficient when each one of you shares the understanding of how work should be done. If this is not the case, you will encounter incomprehension and problems.

Incomprehension always acts like a break which does not allow processes run economically and smoothly. You tell the person what is the problem, and you get the impression that he has understood. However, when he starts performing the tasks, it seems as if he has forgotten so that you have to explain it all over again. When you explain it several times and he still does not get it, it may be quite annoying. The reasons for such situations occurring are quite simple. Awareness and getting insights is something that is not taught at school. That is why there are many people among us who, despite being highly educated, are sometimes not that smart. Their ignorance is not due to the lack of knowledge but to the lack of insight. Ignorance always creates incomprehension.

Master of autopilot

Another major problem is the ego or taking your actions personally. I don’t like to do this; why do I have to be the one who is doing this; I would do things altogether differently – as soon as the ego interferes, the activity gets entangled. Ego is the main source of problems in cooperation.

For some reason, some kind of complexes arise in people that impede them from simply getting things done. It is so wide-spread and is considered usual – everyone has their own specific traits of character. You may even believe that your ego is your character and fail to notice that because of those ’special traits of character’ we have a series of obstacles in what we are doing. It is also the reason why we are often extremely inefficient. We spend huge inner resources, including our nerves and the nerves of others, and by the way, also money, on imposing our ego. In everyday life, we concentrate more on our own person, our uniqueness and ego than the activity at hand.

Have a look at your work environment. If the people in this environment had no ego and were focussed on the activities at hand, what would be the results? How fast would the entire staff finish all their daily work? They would certainly do it much more efficiently than usual. In principle, this is feasible, but they would need to re-learn some things to be able to do that.

Suppose you are writing an important e-mail. But suddenly you get a feeling that you would like to have a cup of coffee. You will go and bring the coffee or spend some time to overcome this urge, for example by searching for a chewing-gum or something alike. As long as you fight, you are discontent. Your capacity to concentrate goes down. But from the perspective of writing an e-mail, drinking coffee is a totally irrelevant activity, isn’t it? Because of the ego, such other sort of activities that do not belong with the chosen activity, arise massively in everyday life. So it is no surprise that at the end of the day you feel unsatisfied because you got fewer things done than you planned or wanted. But what you fail to notice is that you were not doing the chosen activity all the time, but let ’the autopilot of the ego’ take over from time to time and carry you to altogether different activities.

Lack of time is never the reason of not having enough time. Take a closer look at the situation from the perspective of optimizing your actions, and you will notice that there is always enough time. We can all find enough time to start doing sports or being with our children if we just stopped doing things that are irrelevant when considered from the perspective of our lives.

Escape valve for burnout

Burnout is a moment where your inner world perceivably says ‘no’ to crossing a boundary within you which your subconscious regards life-threatening. Your overworked system just switches from work mode to the passivity mode, in order to protect you from your ego. In order to realize its ambitions, the ego has brought your body to the level of exhaustion by using inner resources non-rationally. This is when subconscious escape valves are triggered. These reprogram your whole system in the way that you that become passive towards all other activities.

Burnout is not a disease. It is a system that preserves your existence. To get out of it, rather extensive psychic help is needed. Such a lesson is very dangerous. Therefore, it would be better not to wait until you become a victim of burnout, but to notice what is going on within you, and try to prevent it. To learn to master the art of conscious change and acquire the knowledge for solving the conflicts in your inner world on your own. This way you would avoid overworking, as you will work just as much as needed. Burnout reveals the ignorance of the person who has overworked. The person rushing about is, of course, unaware that this is what is happening to him or her. It is very difficult to make the person who is forcefully pushing himself towards burnout to come to his senses. But hopefully, there are also people who are smart enough to learn from others’ mistakes and recognize something about themselves that can bring along a change. Hopefully, they will learn to use optimality by putting this knowledge into practice, to slow down the speed of their rocket, to use smartness and awareness in order to achieve the maximum possible, while making a minimum effort.