How to live without too much effort


For the harassed, the weary, the dispirited and the burnt-out, here’s an encouraging headline, courtesy of Spa! (June 29): “Ganbaranai de ikiru” (“Living without trying.”) Effort is so much wasted effort. Relax! It’ll all come right in the end, and if it doesn’t, simply defeat adversity by learning to live with it. Really, life is simpler than conventional wisdom would have us believe.

Go on striving if you insist, but look around you, Spa! says. Depression, family breakdown, forced early retirement are all rising. COVID-19 is an accelerator but not a cause. This was all underway pre-pandemic.

Things were, if not better, at least stabler a generation ago, industrial psychologist and consultant Ayano Funaki tells the magazine. The company you joined after college harbored you for life, promoted you, raised your salary. It demanded much in return – long hours, unstinting commitment – but the goals were clear and attainable. None of this, for most people, still applies. The ground is perpetually shifting under our feet. Skills acquired yesterday, respected today, may be outmoded tomorrow, and if so what’ll you do?


It defies all conventional wisdom. Few Japanese verbs recur more frequently than ganbaru (try hard). Traditionally, it’s the virtue of virtues. Beyond certain limits, however, it becomes a vice. Too much of a good thing does more harm than good. The brain itself rebels against excessive effort, says learning consultant Masami Utode.

The most active region of the brain in ordinary workaday operations, he explains, is that governing short-term memory. It stores the information your immediate task requires, then in effect deletes it. It works in brief spurts – an hour or so at a time – and then demands refreshment. Deny it that and it pays you back with fatigue and forgetfulness. Defy it if you want to show the boss how committed you are – but not if you want to be productive.

Be realistic, says Utode. Take stock, he advises. What are you striving for? What’s your personal goal? To be a department head? Very good. Why? (It may help to put this in writing.) Is it higher income you’re after? If so, maybe a side job would serve your purpose better. It’ll raise your earnings and cost you less in terms of time and stress. Or is it the title itself that is important to you? In that case, Utode continues, consider transferring to a smaller, less demanding company, where promotion comes easier. Unless, of course, you find the relentless pace of things as they are stimulating and fulfilling – but in that case you wouldn’t be consulting a consultant.

Hiroyuki Nishimura (or simply “Hiroyuki,” as he styles himself), runs the online bulletin board 4chan. He’s 44. What’s the most important thing in life, in his opinion? “Sleep,” he says. He has a point. Without enough of it, the body breaks down. The mind does too, as any insomniac who has ever tried to think straight knows. Too much work, too much stress, are corrosive to sleep. Hiroyuki will have none of it. He hasn’t exceeded his natural (and by his own account very moderate) capacity for sustained effort since studying for college entrance exams, he tells Spa!. He’s done well for himself all the same. Online entrepreneurship aside, he’s the author of a bestselling books titled, fittingly enough, “One Percent Effort.” “I figure I’m happier than most people my age,” he says.

Now we know how he does it.

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I would also put sleep way up there. That and long-term, smart investing. So invest more, sleep more and work less.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

Hiroyuki is asleep. Post sinks.

-9 ( +2 / -11 )

Great article! We will all be dead and forgotten within 100 years max, keep that in mind and sleep well.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

I've been doing that for 50 years. 30 years in Japan and I have worked a total of 3 hours, one afternoon making a broadcast in Tokyo. And that was more than 20 years ago. I have survived by doing what I want to do not what others want me to do.

It's not what you are not doing, it's what you do when you are doing.

In other words. Achieve 80% effect with 20% energy.

When I set out on my journey, 50 years ago, I decided the most valuable I could own was "time" which slips through the hand like water.

I have no regrets over my decisions.

I sleep 10 hours a day. It's where I get my best ideas.

10 ( +13 / -3 )

I never believed in hard work, I always preferred to work smart. A lot lass stressful.

I agree with Reckless above, nothing you do will be of any importance in a hundred years or remembered in an an even shorter period. So why kill your self doing it?

Work pays the bills, it doesn’t define who you are (unless you are an artist like Zichi but creatives are a special case!) you only pass this way once so enjoy it the best you can.

9 ( +10 / -1 )

How to live without too much effort

This article took too much effort to read.

zichiJune 25  02:13 pm JST

I sleep 10 hours a day. It's where I get my best ideas.


1 ( +5 / -4 )

zichiJune 25  02:13 pm JST

I've been doing that for 50 years. 30 years in Japan and I have worked a total of 3 hours, one afternoon making a broadcast in Tokyo. And that was more than 20 years ago. 

So, how in the hell do you make any money?

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Hard for the people that have to put their outmost effort just to get by to get anything useful from the article, at the end it can be shortened to "you don't have to improve", which is true, but not relatable for all the people that are running their business in the red or living out from temporary contracts one payday away from bankruptcy.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

This article might as well be titled, how to have a boring, unambitious life without ever challenging yourself or growing as a person. The author is totally disregarding the middle-ground approach, which is put effort into things that matter to you. You don't need to sell your soul to a company, and as many commenters have rightly pointed out, in 100 years no one will remember you and nothing you do will matter to the company. So, that's why you should figure out what is important to you (making art, raising a family, seeing nature, etc.) and put your efforts into the people and activities that you love. People who put 1% effort into raising their kids are the worst. Also, by challenging yourself, you learn and grow as a person and become more satisfied with what you have done with your life.

There's a middle, where you aren't stressed out every day and never sleep but you also aren't lazy and boring.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

There will be an eternity for sleep in the grave.

Slackers end up sponging off of workers, always have, always will.

No need to glamorize sloth.

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

When you stop growing, you start dying. So do things that lead to growth - personally, professionally, financially, and spiritually. 1% effort? Sounds like dying, not growing.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Sounds like a poor title for the book, not reflecting what he probably wants to say. For example, you can direct a lot of effort at growing a potted plant on your balcony. It might not make world headlines, but it might have a surprising impact on your happiness. I'm guessing that's the kind of hing he's on about.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

For adults, the less money you spend, the less you have to work to earn. So the easiest way to live with less effort is to reject materialism. It is also much easier to switch careers or try starting a business if you do not need lots of money coming in to cover big expenses every month.

The article suggests striving for promotion is an example of someone overdoing it, and presents it as self-driven, but many people in Japan overdoing it do not have the option of easing off. Kids in sports clubs or being sent to juku by their parents for example. Most people doing overtime aren't there because they like it.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

ToraJune 25 07:48 am JST

I would also put sleep way up there. That and long-term, smart investing. So invest more, sleep more and work less.

Yes, well said. I will add, let your money make money for you, too. That is what smart investing is all about. Also, one needs to do what one needs to do, for him/herself and family. Family is so very important. One of my favorite quotes is : "No one on their deathbed said, I wish I spent more time at the office."

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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