The Hammer Effect

If you want to hit a nail, you use a hammer. You don’t use your fist, but a good old hammer. As simple as that.

Tens of thousands of years of human evolution brought us to this point. We created, refined and now we’re constantly using one of the most ubiquitous tool of all times: the hammer.

If you want to hit the nail harder, you swing more. As simple as that. The farther your hand from the hammer’s top, the harder you’ll hit. Put your hand closer to the hammer’s top and your power will drastically decline. The force is applied by the top of the hammer, of course, but the force momentum is generated by the handle. The longer the handle, or, in other words, the bigger the distance between the impulse and the actual point of interaction, the bigger the power. I think this is also called “leverage’.

I know, I know. It’s strange. Not the usual stuff you’d expect to read on a self improvement blog. This hammer thing, you know, it’s just common sense. We just know it. Each and every one of us used a hammer at least once in our life. We instinctively learned this positioning thing: the farther our hand is from the top of the hammer, the more effective the tools becomes. It’s just common sense.

Well, it might be common sense. But we kinda forgot about it entirely.

And yes, I’m not talking about the hammer anymore. At least not about that simple tool we all picture in our heads when we read the word “hammer”.

I’m talking about how we influence things around us, how we leverage, how we position ourselves towards the events, the persons or the contexts of our lives. Most of the time, we want to be the top of the hammer and the handle. At the same time. But we forgot that this will not generate any momentum at all. We won’t leverage much by always trying to be in the front line or by micro-managing every single aspect of our life. Our “hand” will be too close to the top of the “hammer”.

Truth is that if you want to get a bigger impact, you have to take some distance. You have to accumulate before you explode, you have to take some steps back and then push forward with a vengeance. That’s how physics works and much of our life is still modeled after these physics principles.

In relationships, for instance, you need some space. Maybe you want to experience that magical unity, the oneness that will make you blend into the universal fountain of life, but you get that only if you took enough of a distance before the actual blending. Only if you created enough of a contrast in order to see the other color. Only if your hand is at the bottom of the handle, and you applied enough of a force in order to hit that nail for good. Otherwise, nothing will happen. There will be no impact. The relationship will stagnate, in the best case, and in the worst case it will implode. Since it’s not sustained by any real tension, sooner or later it will collapse.

In my experience, the same thing happens in business. If you want to generate a bigger impact, you always have to take a bigger distance. If you want people in your team to perform at their best, then just step back and let them do their thing. Don’t be the head of the hammer and the handle. The more you delegate, the bigger your impact will be.

But why are we not doing this? Since “the hammer effect” is so deeply wired in our heads and it’s becoming just common sense, why won’t we do it all the time?

I don’t have an answer, but I suspect it’s fear. Fear of losing control. Which, of course, it’s the biggest lie our minds is telling us all the time.

“Be there, micro-manage everything, act, prevent, do whatever it takes to control stuff”. Well, it doesn’t work like that. As strange as it may seem, in order to control things, we have to loosen control first. In order to move stuff forward, we first have to take some steps back.

Sometimes, the best thing we can do is to just stop, relax, take a deep breath and grab that hammer handle.

Get a good grip of it and wait.

6 thoughts on “The Hammer Effect”

  1. This is really a comment on your year in review–didn’t see the comment link on that post. Anyway, just wanted to say that the coolest thing to me was making up a language with your daughter. That was enchanting. I like to do a variation of the year in review. I write a letter to the year ending, thanking it for the blessings and the memories it has brought. Then I write a letter to the new year, welcoming it and saying what I’m looking forward to. How did we get to the end of this year so fast??

    • Hey Galen,

      I think you missed the comments link because it wrote “Facebook comments”. Nevertheless, thanks for the nice words. Also, fascinating to hear about your letter to the last and next year. I use to say that: “may you have a new year much better than that one that just passed and much worse than the one after that” 🙂


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