Never give up! With joyful effort we can achieve any goal

Jan 4, 2014

In the Buddhist teachings they talk about developing “enthusiastic perseverance” or “joyful effort”. It’s said that without it we simply won’t succeed in our spiritual path. Well, we won’t succeed at anything without it!

It’s obvious: anything we want to achieve, simply because we haven’t accomplished yet, will necessarily take effort; we’ll have to exert ourselves, push ourselves beyond the status quo.

So how do we achieve this enthusiastic perseverance, this joyful effort? It sounds wonderful! And we’re so inspired by people who’ve got it, by people who have achieved their goals.

Actually, it’s not complicated, it’s not in itself difficult. But the obstacles to it aren’t easy to overcome; old habits die hard, and these habits are in our own mind, our attitude.

It’s surprising to hear that the opposite of this enthusiasm, this ability to persevere, is called “laziness.” But once we think it through, it’s a revelation, and it tells us exactly what the solution is.

In the teachings this laziness is described in three levels. The first is the obvious one: “I can’t be bothered”. We’ve decided to do yoga or learn meditation – or become a cook or a doctor; whatever. In the beginning, we have plenty of enthusiasm: we imagine the end result, and feel inspired. But after a week or so, say, we haven’t seen much improvement, we come home from work, think about going to the class – but it’s cold and dark: “Oh, can’t be bothered” and we sink into the comfort of our cozy couch.

The next level of laziness is tricky, and doesn’t sound even remotely like laziness at all. Almost the opposite. You’ve decided to meditate before you go to work, say. You’re going nicely, but one morning you wake up late, remember your commitment, but within a second you’re saying to yourself, “I’m too busy, I’ll do it later.” Procrastination, in other words And what is the thing we’re too busy to do? The thing that takes too much effort. It’s the worst crime against ourselves.

In fact, it usually follows in the wake of “I can’t be bothered”. We feel guilty and justify our decision by saying, “Oh, I’ll do it later”, instantly feeling better. It sounds so convincing. And we believe our ego’s propaganda every time. We almost think it’s virtuous!

The trouble is, we’re addicted to our comfort zone, the status quo. We have endless fantasies of what we’d like to achieve or should achieve, yearning to develop ourselves, but there’s this awful disconnect between the vision of the end result and the disciplined hard work that the achievement of it demands.

The subtlest, most pervasive level of laziness and the one that truly prevents us from achieving our dreams – and this is even harder to see how it’s called that – is the belief that I can’t do it. “No, that’s not possible. I can’t do that.”

And that comes when we can’t see the results yet. You’re excited about going to the gym, going on a diet, seeing yourself as fit and healthy, but you come home after the first session – or the tenth! – feeling worse than you did before. It’s so hard to change!

That’s when we panic and become convinced that it’s just not possible, that I can’t achieve this, and we give up. In fact, it’s often what prevents us from even starting in the first place.

The fact is, we can achieve it. We are capable. We need to keep the vision of our goal firmly in the front of our mind. We need to remember daily the benefits of the goal, the joy of the result. We need to stretch ourselves incrementally, go one step at a time, rejoicing daily in our efforts. We must catch ourselves before we procrastinate, and go against it. And we must believe in ourselves: that’s the key to success.

The minute we give in to our fears, our laziness, we put off the feeling of satisfaction that comes from making effort, from tasting our own potential. Effort gives us such courage, and it eventually manifests as enthusiasm and joy – and the achievement of our goals.

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