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Feb 17

Jiggling an Imaginary Rope Helps You Re-Evaluate Your Life

[Warning: contains mild physics.]

Imagine a short piece of rope. We’ll call him Ropert.

Let’s imagine that Ropert represents our lives.

(Ideally without overthinking why a rope represents anything. It just does.)

There are a number of things you could do with Ropert. Let’s start with the simplest: absolutely nothing. If you simply let Ropert dangle, then absolutely nothing happens.

If you do nothing, nothing happens.

This is a fairly obvious life truth. What’s next?

Well, what if I started doing the littlest amount possible?

Well, imagine I hold Ropert and move him back and forth VERY SLOWLY. What happens?

The rope just moves along with my hand.

Inner critic: What’s with the unreasonably long arms?! And… is that meant to be a rope moving slowly back and forth? Have you not heard of ANIMATION?

Can you imagine how bad my animation would be, if this is my doodle?

Inner critic: Fair point.

Anyway. Moving Ropert back and forth slowly just… moves him back and forth slowly.

Tiny amounts of effort lead to tiny results

So maybe if I use more effort, I’ll get more results? Let me turn the dial up to MAXIMUM EFFORT and see what happens to Ropert. Imagine holding a rope, and moving your hands back and forth as fast as possible.

In this case, a strange thing happens. Shaking AS FAST AS POSSIBLE makes the tip of the rope remain stationary.

(Don’t believe me? Get a piece of string or similar and try it yourself.)

Inner critic: …

Inner critic: I expected nothing, and I am still disappointed.

The art doesn’t matter. The point is that: MAXIMUM ATTEMPTED EFFORT leads to thrashing around and zero results

The sweet spot, then, is somewhere in the middle.

Imagine holding Ropert and starting out slowly moving him back and forth, and then gradually speeding up.

At some point something strange happens. The rope starts swinging MUCH further than I am moving it. Eventually I find a pace where I barely have to move my hand at all, and the whole rope is swinging back-and-forth at maximum length.

This is the resonant frequency.

When we swing Ropert at the resonant frequency, we hardly have to move our hands at all, but he swings around like a madman. Or mad rope. Or whatever.

The exact right amount of effort creates results much larger than the amount of effort we put in.

Physically speaking, pretty much everything has a resonant frequency. (It’s not always a good thing. This is why sometimes bridges have to be redesigned, because they accidentally vibrate at their resonant frequency in the wind and shake themselves to bits.)

And it can feel as if our lives have a resonant frequency too. Putting in the right amount of effort into everything we do so that it resonates is the real sweet spot.

As we’ve seen, not trying at all leads to nothing, trying too hard leads to nothing and trying just a bit leads to small results.

But finding the exact right amount of effort, applied in the right way, leads to the best results.

What do I do about it?

What we need to change depends on what we’re currently doing.

Are you currently flailing around desperately trying everything you can think of? Maybe you’re in the MAXIMUM EFFORT failure zone, and slowing it down a bit will help you out.

Or are you hardly putting in any effort at all? (This one’s easier to understand – generally we know when we could be trying harder and a gentle nudge would be helpful.)

The key point is that it’s not always true that more effort equals more results. We have to figure out for ourselves how to find our resonance in our own lives.

Does this post resonate with you? (Sorry.) Let me know in the comments!


No cartoon ropes were harmed during the production of this post.

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Read the whole series on Anxiety here.

8 comments

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  1. Maria Markland

    Love this Neil! It resonated with me. It’s like finding what you are called to do in life is resonant frequency. You have to be your authentic self to find flow. Be apathetic and nothing will happen. Try hard to be someone you’re not and nothing will happen. Be the best version of you and find your resonant frequency! X

  2. Neil Hughes

    Yay, thanks Maria 😀 That’s exactly it! So glad it made sense, and hope you’re finding flow right now in your own life 🙂 x

  3. shiwangi agarwal

    It certainly resonates.. 🙂

    But I do have a question- How do we realise the right amount of effort that is required?

  4. Neil Hughes

    Great question. I deliberately didn’t answer it because I don’t think there’s a universal answer. I think we have to look at the amount of effort we are putting into something and the amount of ‘result’ we are getting out, and judge for ourselves.

    Do we feel exhausted, like we’re trying too hard, and nothing is happening? Then maybe we’re doing the “thrashing around” thing. (Of course, the difficulty is that sometimes the results are just around the corner: another thing we have to judge for ourselves. This is why there’s no universal answer.)

    Similarly, do we feel like we could be trying harder? Maybe we could try harder and see if the results start flowing.

    It’s all about having a lens for self-analysis. There’s nothing in this post that isn’t obvious, it’s just that we often get so caught up in what we’re doing that we don’t take a step back and re-analyse it. So my hope is that this post might help to re-assess… unfortunately, that’s work we have to do for ourselves and using our own wisdom!

  5. Shuv

    Neil this is exactly the nudge I needed right today. I am putting max effort into every little area and running myself into the ground as a result. I am getting no returns on any if it at all and feeling like rubbish about that. This is just what I needed, a different way of looking at what I need to be doing and what will help me to get the results I need and hope for. Time revaluate absolutely everything!! Cheers dude

  6. Rowena

    Genius! I love it. But I don’t actually know how much i am jiggling my rope right now. Too much, too little or just right? I’m not sure I have the self-analysis right, let alone the rope jiggling. Does the fact that I don’t know mean that I AM jiggling it right?! Hmmmmm.

  7. Rolf

    Thanks Neil for putting meaningful things so simple and clear. I love that.
    Wanted to share it on FB but couldn’t be done for technical reasons.

  8. Neil Hughes

    Thanks Rolf, this comment really made my morning! Sorry you couldn’t share it, hope you figure out the technical issues 🙂 Hope you’re well and using your energy just the right way for you 🙂

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