Working Smarter, Not Harder

One day, two men were hired to clear a field of trees. The contract stipulated that each man would be paid according to how many trees he cleared. The first man was eager to start. His goal was to cut down as many trees as he could. So he grunted and sweated, as he relentlessly swung his ax into tree trunk after tree trunk. The second man, on the other hand, took his time clearing the trees. He even took rest breaks throughout the day.

Man #1 kept chopping away feverishly until his muscles were totally fatigued and his body exhausted. He was incredibly sore, while Man #2 felt more energized and upbeat at the end of the day. Surprisingly, too, Man #2 had cut down more trees than his competitor.

Almost at a loss for words, Man #1 asked Man #2, “How did you outwork me? You sat. You took breaks while I worked all day.” Man #2 responded, “Did you notice that each time I sat down, I was sharpening my ax?”

How frequently do you identify with Man #1? Working relentlessly to improve your game, but seldom taking the time to “sharpen the ax.” After a while, sports training can become routine that we slip into a false sense of complacency. Then, at the end of the day, we’re frustrated that we have flat-lined or simply plateaued. We’re no further ahead than when we started.


Everyone knows that it takes hard work to accomplish a goal, but sometimes that’s not enough. We can work ourselves to the bone repeatedly, and still watch others finish ahead of us.

What are ways that we can work smarter? One is to develop our mental skills by incorporating relaxation into our workout. Another is goal setting, while a third is focusing our mind on what we’re doing. How many times have you gone out to practice and done the same routine day in and day out? It’s much easier to work on things that we’re good at, because these are the things make us feel good. But they give us the false sense that we’re accomplishing something.

When was the last time you intentionally challenged yourself to work on the weaker parts of your game? Those parts that are holding you back. These are a few ways you can sharpen your ax. These are your mental skills. So make sure that you’re swinging a sharpened ax.

About the author: Will Drumright is a graduate assistant in Sport Psychology and associate of DRB. He provides athletes with the mental skills that can help them improve their performance both on and off the field. Will’s expertise is with swimming and diving, bringing a combined 15 years of experience in the sport. You can reach him at Twitter : @wcdrummy15

Join me

Dr. Rob Bell

Ahoy! I'm Dr. Rob Bell. Your Mental Toughness coach. Be The BEST at Getting BETTER. Will your Hinge connect?
Join me

Latest posts by Dr. Rob Bell (see all)

Leave a Reply

Anti-Spam Quiz: