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Finding ‘The Balance’: The difference between effort and caring

There is a huge difference between effort and caring. Sometimes we might need to put in 100% effort, but this doesn’t mean that we have to care 100%.

For example, if you are helping your child prepare for an exam that is important to their future career, if your child is drowning and you need to save them, or if you need to write a ‘selection criteria’ for a job — these tasks might require for you to give 100% effort to do the activity as they are very important. Right? Of course. But if, however, you care 100% about those tasks… then you are ‘over-caring’.

Caring too much (over-caring) means you won’t be able to concentrate on the task at hand, feel sick in the stomach or you can’t perform effectively because you are too anxious, depressed, burnt out etc.

Many people mistakenly believe that we have to give 100% effort all the time (or even 110%!) yet this level of effort is not sustainable. It is not humanly possible to give 100% effort all the time and in every situation. Those who try to, usually end up stinging themselves or others, like a scorpion, engaging in self-harm, substance abuse, addictions, become aggressive etc.

Those of us who are high achievers, who try to give 100% effort and 100% caring all the time, usually end up sick (either mentally, physically or both) over the long-term. We would be more productive, long-term, if we learnt to ‘pace ourselves’. This is particularly true in parenting.

You will often see parents who stress over every little thing when their kids are very young. By the time the kids are teenagers the parents are worn-out, exhausted and cranky. Rearing a child is a twenty-year marathon. All of us parents need to understand that we are in it for the long haul, and have to learn how to pace ourselves! Life, in many ways, is also a marathon.

Caring 100% all the time, caring about everything and giving 100% effort to every aspect of parenting or any area, is not possible long-term without some really serious consequences!

Being able to decide when is the time to give 100% effort and when we need to ‘pull back’ and give 80% (keeping 20% in reserve for ourselves) takes practice. In the long-run, however, learning to find ‘The Balance of 80’ (giving 80% effort in some situations and caring 80% in all situations) is a far more sustainable and desirable level.

For someone who has been over-caring for a long time (ie a perfectionistic parent putting 100% effort into making sure that everything is “exactly right”) it may be very difficult to learn when to give 100% effort and when to ‘pull back’, yet it is necessary for their survival.

Learning to find ‘The Balance’ might be a lifelong challenge! If you or others can see the advantage of learning to find ‘The Balance’ though, then you’re already halfway there.

There are three challenges for our over-caring (Fearful Frog) parents:

  1. Learning when it is necessary to give 100% effort vs when to give 80% effort

  2. Learning how to pull back to 80% effort at certain times

  3. Learning how to care 80% all of the time

So what is the difference between effort and caring?

Effort is “What you do” – ie doing the best that you can (giving 80-100% effort) to get the job done.

Caring is “How you feel” – ie trusting in yourself, that you can do it and being positive about what you are doing. Trusting in yourself, and being positive, means you keep 20% to look after yourself – your body and your mind – so that you can keep going.

If you are sprinting in a race, you might give 100% effort so that you can keep putting one foot ahead of the other. You put in 100% effort – for a short time. But you care 80%. You keep 20% in reserve by telling yourself you can do it, that you will win the race and that you are the fastest. You don’t let self-doubt and fear creep in – which happens when you care 100% or over-care. Over-caring leads to feelings of being ‘out of balance’, feeling out of control and unable to maintain our body and our thoughts.

‘The Balance of 80’ means you take control of your thoughts and your mind – to find ‘The Balance’. Find ‘The Balance’ and you will win the race. Don’t find ‘The Balance’ and you will crash and burn – LITERALLY!

If you are running a marathon, do you give 100% effort all the time? No. In a marathon you will become exhausted quickly, at the beginning of the race, and won’t be able to keep going. The same is true in most areas of life.

Any marathon runner will tell you that at the beginning of a marathon, you hold yourself back. You ‘pull back’ and then give 100% effort towards the end of the race – because YOU HAVE 20% IN RESERVE. Without the reserve, you have nothing left to give.

During a marathon you keep 20% for yourself. You have to run faster at times and slower at other times – for yourself. You have had sips of water along the way – for yourself. You have rested at times – for yourself. You will make it to the end of the marathon BECAUSE you had 20% in reserve. Without the reserve, you wouldn’t have made it.

In a nutshell: Aim for 80% effort some of the time (and 100% some of the time), and aim for 80% caring all of the time. Remember the 80/20 rule – care 80% and keep 20% for yourself. It’s a good code to live by and will enable you to ‘last the distance’.


Toula Gordillo holds degrees in arts, education and psychology and a Masters in Clinical Psychology. She has extensive professional experience as a clinical psychologist, teacher and guidance officer.

Toula has worked in private practice and schools for twenty years, delivering important social, psychological, historical and cultural information to assist students with a range of short-term interventions and therapies. For more information visit Talk to Teens.


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