The aesthetics of effortlessness

In a momentum-driven world, grind is pain. People whose motivation requires seeing results (that is, most of us) look for ways to shorten the time required to reach escape velocity.

What is the quality of zero grind? Effortlessness.

Natural advantages are attractive

Some people are born at a natural advantage where it comes to strength, attractiveness, physical coordination (grace), or mental focus. Interest on these natural advantages can compound quickly. Early experience teaches that such people accomplish their tasks with ease, whereas those less advantaged - struggle.

Effortlessness makes a person attractive, because we all like to be friends with powerful people. Take these statements: "I woke up like that", "you make it look easy", "I didn't even study". Contrast them with "gold star for effort", an expression of contempt. These are the aesthetics of effortlessness.

However, you'll have observed that in real life these statements are not to be taken at face value. In most instances it isn't possible to escape the grind. Instead, we contrive to achieve tasks with effortlessness by moving the goalposts, or else simply pretending and faking it. And we do it out of fear.

To each according to their merit

It's actually what prompted me to write about effortlessness in the first place. The thinking goes like so:

Your behaviour should reveal your inborn abilities, true character, and intentions. These sum up to your true merit, which will then be justly rewarded by the world with status and possessions. Behavioural crutches and strategies attempting to overcome the limits imposed by your poor abilities or character flaws amount to cheating, and should be punished.

Yes, it's the just-world fallacy by another name, with a side order of predestination and caste system.

We admire and worship effortlessly competent people, since we believe it signals that they are actually, in essence, better people than us. However, when they disclose their struggles, they lose our respect. Observe Calvin's disappointment with Suzie, as she reveals that she has to work (just like he would) to understand a lesson:

'You do all that WORK?! I used to think you were smart'

Worse, people who view relationships as transactional get really angry when the mask comes off, and attempt to punish the other person for "cheating them".

Here are some examples of things which make people disappointed, uncomfortable, or angry to various degrees:

  • makeup and facetune
  • reminders to contact people, lists of interests for gift-buying
  • neurodivergent people explicitly naming, describing, and learning to imitate conversational conventions and patterns
  • productivity systems, lifehacking
  • study guides for certifications and job interviews

In short: if you can't do something "naturally", without a crutch, people think you don't deserve it, and will attempt to take it away from you.

Growth mindset

But wait, I have just described a fixed mindset. Doesn't growth mindset give better results? Why doesn't it factor into status calculations?

Sadly, there are doubts about whether it actually works. For now, it's safer to consider it a heartwarming meme, propagating on feelings of hope and aww. It is also a great way to save face when someone discovers how much effort you put into something. My growth mindset, your strong work ethic, their tryharding.

Low status of effort drives nuts everyone who wants to incentivise hard work irrespective of actual reward (managers, teachers, parents). They try to propagate different values by setting up artificial rewards, “gold stars”. The promotional campaign around growth mindset is not the first such intervention, but it will never fully work.

Gold stars are the opposite of status symbol. They are cringe symbols. Why?

  1. They’re paternalistic. They visibly mark the recipient as being subject to someone else's evaluation, approval, and ultimately control.
  2. Displaying a gold star suggests the recipient is desperate to gain this approval.

In short, only a hopelessly naive or socially desperate person is earnestly proud of their gold star.

Effortlessness failure modes

Impostor syndrome

This happens when you take other people’s projected effortlessness at face value. You know how much effort you actually put in, but you don't know how much they do. If you guess, you will likely be wrong, because humans are generally bad at reading each other.

So you end up feeling inferior.

The solution is to grok that others are always low-key lying, and stop comparing yourself entirely when it comes to skill. With the exception of clear champions, information about other people's skill is largely unavailable to you.

What you see is actually other people's image, and the process by which they build it. Use this as an opportunity to compare and improve how you market yourself.


If you suffer from low competence-based self-esteem, you might earnestly attempt to project effortlessness at yourself by procrastinating, and then just barely succeeding at your task. This then becomes a self-reinforcing loop of distraction, anxiety, success, accompanied by conviction that without procrastinating you'd have done even better.

If I had a quick solution for low self-esteem, I'd sell it and make bank, but I don't, so I write software instead. Sorry!

Categories: effortlessness · self-worth · momentum · social hierarchy