Why hard work shouldn’t feel hard! Bruce Lee’s idea of the ‘Economy of motion’

It is good that you are a hard-working person. But you see, Working 20 hours a day thoughtlessly isn’t hard work. It is just labor work. If you feel that you are working too hard, you are so busy that you are not finding time to do anything else in life, then read on.

Have you ever learned how to work hard? 

We are smart beings. Although we work instinctively, we can only improve if we use our intellect to minimize the effort and time for the same results. If you are never thinking about improving your productivity, then you are in the wrong mindset. In this mindset, when more work comes to you, you will simply increase the time to do that work and clearly you will lack time to do anything else in life.

It is good that you are willing to work 20 hours a day for what you want. But at the same time it is foolish that you think that you need to be working 20 hours a day.

Economy of motion

Some time ago I read this book “Tao of Jeet Kune Do”. It is a compilation of Bruce lee’s words, essentiatlly about the martial arts method called ‘Jeet Kune Do”. I am not interested in martial arts, but I wanted to see how Bruce Lee approached his art, how he thought and what went through his mind while developing such a great form of art.

One of the most beautiful concepts in this book is the ‘Economy of motion’. It is essentially about these questions:

  • How can you use minimum effort and time to hit the target?
  • How can you minimize the resistance, both from your mind and your body to improve your speed and maximize the effort of your stroke?

It is no rocket science. JKD focuses on the most direct and straightforward ways to achieve results. After all, you are trying to achieve best results aren’t you? You are not working hard just because you like to do so. So the economy of motion is essentially about achieving the best way of doing any task. Eliminate the wastage, get maximum out of minimum efforts and time. It is common sense, but have you ever learned how to do this?

It is simplicity that is often the most effective. But simplicity is not that easy to achieve. Everyone knows Bruce Lee and his ‘be like water’ quote. But how do you really get there? It is not easy to be like water because our mind is always resisting. Even while we are working, it wants to do something else. We always want to be somewhere else. Water doesn’t resist. But we humans resist. To go from resistance to non-resistance is our greatest struggle.

Back to the economy of motion: Take this example below:

  • What is a great business? A great business is not one that makes profit. A lot of businesses make profits. How do you distinguish between good and great? Look at its input and the output. Great business is the one which optimizes its efforts and costs for maximum or desired profits. It is one which is working at its optimum capacity and always focused on improving the optimization. It has become popular today that a great business needs a unique idea. NO. A great business needs to find a mastery on how to maximize the potential of a common, ordinary idea.

Let me give you the same concept in a completely different context:

If you really want to judge the character of a man, look not at his great performances. Every fool may become a hero at one time or another. Watch a man do his most common actions; those are indeed the things which will tell you the real character of a great man.” – Swami Vivekananda

What you need to focus on is how to do the smallest work in the most efficient way, to save energy and time in your most ordinary tasks.

Practical hints at achieving the economy of motion

“One of the greatest adjustments the novice athlete must make in competition is to overcome the natural tendency to try too hard- to hurry, strain, press and try to blast the whole fight at once. As the athlete forces himself to give everything he has to the performance, his mental demands exceed his physical capacities. The result may be described as generalized rather than specific effort. Overall tension and unnecessary muscular contractions act as brakes, reducing speed and dissipating energy. The body performs better when the athlete lets it go than when he tries to drive it. When the athlete is running as fast as he can, he should not feel as though he ought to be running faster” -Bruce Lee

Here are a few points to consider in achieving more economy in your performance: Consider below points for whatever work you are involved in.

Improving speed.

Bruce Lee is known for his almost superhuman speed. Clearly, if you take 20 hours to complete a task, which I can do in 10, I am better performer. So how can you increase your speed? I don’t want to give you tips for increasing speed. Rather I want to give you a hint on how great people think. Then, you can apply that thinking in your own work. Notice to what detail Bruce Lee thought about speed.

Types of speed,

  1. Perceptual speed: Quickness of eye to see openings and to discourage the opponent, confusing him and slowing him down.
  2. Mental speed: Quickness of mind to select the right move to frustrate and counter the opponent.
  3. Initiation speed: Economical starting from the right posture and with the correct mental attitude
  4. Performance speed: Quickness of movement in carrying the chosen move into effect.
  5. Alteration speed: The ability to change direction midstream. Involves control of balance and inertia.

In your work,

  • How can you increase your speed of finding more opportunities? Where should you look? Where should you stop looking?
  • How can you increase your speed of making decisions, and choosing the right alternate?
  • What kind of a mindset should you be in before starting your work so that you are ready to perform it quickly?
  • How quickly and with minimum efforts can you change the direction if you have to?

Reducing effort

“Continuous curved motions require less effort than straight line in motions involving sudden, sharp changes in direction” – Bruce Lee

If you were running on the path and if you had to make a U-turn, the most effective way would be to make a curved U-turn while keep running. It would take tremendous energy to stop your current motion and start running in the opposite direction.

How effectively can you apply this to your work? How can you start reducing the energy which is being wasted because of repetitive thoughts or sudden changes in directions or many other reasons?

Getting really into the details of how it works.

You have to get into the roots of the task. Notice that improving speed doesn’t end at “I will try to do it faster next time” Think really fundamentally about what can make you faster? Improving performance is knowing the best of how it works.

Get over the basics.

You want to bring something unique into your work. But when can you do that?

“When you have developed hitting(and kicking) into something automatic, it will become instantaneous and your mind will be free to plan your battle as the fight progresses and new situations arise. You can only reach this point of development if you have been willing to do the necessary training” Bruce Lee

This is really important concept for today. Most people try to build a master-piece on their first day, but they are struggling even with the basics. Your basics have to be trained so well that you never have to pay any attention to them while performing. When that becomes completely intuitive, working becomes effortless and it frees your mind to make more detailed decisions.

Conclusion

Whole point of this post was to make you think about ‘improving how to work’. Because if you are like most people, you only work instinctively, never paying attention to the details of how you approach your tasks. It took me a lot of time (out of my precious Sunday) to write this so I hope this was useful to you and it will help you in life.

I would like to end this post by giving some beautiful lines from the same book:

“A golden rule is never to use more complex movements than necessary to achieve the desired results. Start with simple movements and only introduce compound ones when you cannot otherwise succeed. To hit a worthy opponent with a complex movement is satisfying and shows one’s mastery of technique. To hit the same opponent by a simple movement is a sign of greatness”

“That we pursue something passionately does not always mean that we really want it or have a special aptitude for it. Often, the thing we pursue most  passionately is but a substitute for the one thing we really want and cannot have. It is usually safe to predict that the fulfilment of an excessively cherished desire is not likely to still our nagging anxiety. In every pursuit, the pursuit counts more than the object pursued.”

Thank you for reading. I will get back to this man because there is a lot more to learn from him. Look at his life. His life itself is the example of economy of motion: He lived only for 32 years and yet he mastered his art like none else ever could!

If you enjoyed reading this, check out the section Learn from the masters of this blog. It is an ongoing collection of my learnings from great masters.

4 thoughts on “Why hard work shouldn’t feel hard! Bruce Lee’s idea of the ‘Economy of motion’

Add yours

  1. I love how you shared your own pursuit of knowledge, and these Bruce Lee philosophies made for an interesting read indeed. The last part really got me, in that your body will be able to use the tools it’s practised, but only if you’re willing to train in the first place. Great post. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

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