How To Make Hard Things A Little Easier

A few days ago, I was speaking with a newly minted entrepreneur, someone who left his full-time corporate job to found a start-up last February. The first words he said on our call were, “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” And a few minutes later, “I had no idea how hard it would be.”

It made me wish I had a quarter for every time someone has told me “it’s so hard” to do something. Ka-ching, ka-ching. It also made me realize there’s widespread cultural acceptance — bravado, even — around saying how hard things are. It’s the quickest way to get people to nod their heads in agreement and commiseration. Entrepreneur-turned-VC Ben Horowitz even wrote a book called The Hard Thing About Hard Things.

And yet, regardless of the objective degree of difficulty — of getting funding, quitting smoking, being less anxious or doing pull-ups — repeatedly saying how hard it is pretty much guarantees you’re going to experience it that way. Your brain doesn’t like to be wrong, you know. So if you believe it’s going to be hard, your brain will be sure to filter for the information that reinforces that belief.

I’m not saying everything can be magically easy, by the way. But there’s a difference between feeling the struggle and resistance of how “hard” things are — and focused, intense effort. A sprinter going full out in a race is not thinking, “This is so hard.”

For all my pontificating, I fall into this trap too (do I have to give myself a quarter?). Last week, when I was scrambling to get my passport renewed on an expedited basis before my overseas trip in 10 days, I found myself thinking, “Why does this have to be so hard?” Sure enough, I have a belief that dealing with government agencies and bureaucracy is frustrating and difficult. So I decided to change that. “Let’s make this easy,” I told myself as I headed into the US passport office. To my amazement, my application was submitted and I was heading out in less than 10 minutes.

“Whoa,” you may be thinking, “I’m not ready for things to be that easy.” Okay, then, baby steps: Start by substituting “not easy” for “hard.” When you say “things are not easy,” your brain doesn’t register the word “not” and the filter for “hard” now looks for “easy.” And that means you’ll experience more ease in your life.

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