One of the most useful concepts I’ve come across in recent times is the idea of effort shock. It’s in a great post by David Wong of Cracked, How ‘The Karate Kid’ Ruined The Modern World.
It seems so obvious that it actually feels insulting to point it out. But it’s not obvious. Every adult I know–or at least the ones who are depressed–continually suffers from something like sticker shock (that is, when you go shopping for something for the first time and are shocked to find it costs way, way more than you thought). Only it’s with effort. It’s Effort Shock.
We have a vague idea in our head of the “price” of certain accomplishments, how difficult it should be to get a degree, or succeed at a job, or stay in shape, or raise a kid, or build a house. And that vague idea is almost always catastrophically wrong.
Accomplishing worthwhile things isn’t just a little harder than people think; it’s 10 or 20 times harder. Like losing weight. You make yourself miserable for six months and find yourself down a whopping four pounds. Let yourself go at a single all-you-can-eat buffet and you’ve gained it all back.
Effort shock captures the nature of what I called the The Valley in Tempo, which roughly corresponds to the montage phase of many movies built around the character learning something. The insight Wong adds to the party is the tendency to actually think of the phase as a five-minute montage set to music, instead of the long, arduous phase with no music. Due to this tendency, we vastly underestimate the effort involved even in modest projects, to the point that when we actually understand what’s involved, we wonder whether the reward is worth it at all.
The good news is what I’ve started calling reward shock. In some (not all) domains, it is more than enough to offset effort shock.
When you overcome effort shock for a non-trivial learning project and get through it anyway, despite doubts about whether it is worth it, you can end up with very unexpected rewards that go far beyond what you initially thought you were earning. This is because so few people get through effort shock to somewhere worthwhile that when you do it, you end up in sparsely populated territory where further gains through continued application from the earned skill can be very high.
Programming, writing and math are among the skills where there you get both significant effort shock and significant reward shock.