How much effort is too much? When does our lack of effort doom us to second best or worse? And where is God in all these questions about effort? Who has the better take on life, the “let go and let God” types or the “God helps those who help themselves” types?
In our last post we took a deep dive into the problem: sometimes our intensified efforts to perform, achieve and improve do not produce results except that they leave us afraid and exhausted. In this post, we land on strategies to avoid the over and under extremes and get our “try level” just right. We call this the sweet spot.
The Sweet Spot Defined
We’ve been flirting with a definition of the sweet spot. We know it’s a way of working and being where we are exerting effort but not so much that the intentionality results in stressed-out fatigue. Two concepts will shape a simple and helpful definition: Flow and Divine-human partnership.
Flow. Flow is a state of full and creative engagement in one’s work. It is documented and taught by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
Csikszentmihalyi shows us that we need a mix of challenge and demands for our skills to be fully engaged and creative. Too much challenge, we get anxiety, too little need for skills, we get boredom!
If you want to stay in a state of flow, you will need to bring more and more skill capacity to meet more and more complex challenges, always matching the challenge level to your skill level.
The Divine Human Partnership
Every spiritual milestone involves some human role, even if that role is a complete surrender to the action of God on our behalf. We access the grace of God, driven by the grace of God to surrender, but we still do the surrendering.
So the Apostle Paul says, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling because it’s God who works in you to will and act in accordance with his purpose.” (Philippians 2:12-13)
And Jesus says, “If you are tired and weary, take my yoke upon you (i.e. get in the harness with me), because my yoke is easy and my burden is light, and you will find rest for yourselves (Matthew 11:18-30).
When we view our lives as a divine-human partnership, where God is both the managing and major partner (i.e. it depends more on him than on us), we are headed for a spiritual partnership.
As St. Augustine says:
Without God, we cannot. Without us, he will not.
The Sweet Spot is the mode of operating where I see God’s intervention as I increase my skills and push forward to meet increasingly complex challenges.
God is operating, I could not do this without him.
I am operating, I am growing and facing challenges.
The space around me is part of the equation, the climb is getting steeper.
So how do we find our sweet spot?
Finding and Staying in the Pocket
In music, we have a term, the pocket, it’s a place where the whole combo or band is feeling and resting in the groove together: working, but not working so hard it hurts. How do we find and stay in the pocket in work and life?
- Embrace the Irony of Challenge. You will not be in your sweet spot if you settle for easy. You will be bored. You will be underutilizing your skills and the lessons of your past.
- Know and Grow Your Skills. At what kinds of tasks do you naturally excel? What do you do consistently well? Look at your work and academic history. Ask for candid feedback from your colleagues. Move beyond what you like to objective data that informs your sense of competency.
- God-sized goals: God-sized goals form the spiritual dimension of the challenge. You are moving towards futures that are either 1) so easily disrupted or 2) so unconventional, that apart from divine intervention, it is unlikely you will get there. It could be the work, the growth, the market that defines these goals. It could also be something more qualitative: a kind of presence, ethical standard, or work-life balance you are committed to maintaining while winning at work. Either way, your life doesn’t work unless God works. It is hard to imagine a spiritual sweet spot that omits real-time dependence on God.
- Constantly Adjust: If ever you have experienced the sweet spot in sports, flow in your work, or a spiritual buzz from very obvious divine-human partnership, you know this: it is amazing and temporary. We have to constantly be adjusting the mix of effort and waiting, active growing, vs. trusting. There will come points in every day and on any given project pursuit, where we conclude that we’ve done all we can and should do. No results yet but we leave it there and come back to it later. In the meantime we rest, we retool, and then we come with adjustments and then try again. Constant adjustment keeps us current and fresh and alive.
How About You?
- How would you describe your sweet spot at work?
- How often do you hit? What can you attempt to work in that mode more frequently?
- How would you describe the divine partnership level in your life? Why? What do you hope for this dimension of partnership?
- What is the next challenge at work in or in life, that you’ll need to grow your skills into? What emotions and plans are stirred up inside you by identifying this challenge?