In favor of easy

Self-improvement advice in three words: do difficult stuff.

By learning a language, you’re also learning discipline (showing up), humility (I don’t know this), and sacrifice (I could be watching Netflix). It takes a lot of saying no to anything that isn’t studying, and a lot of feeling stupid because learning a language is like…learning a language. Learning a language is hard. That’s why it’s rewarding.

But what about easy stuff? Stuff that comes naturally to us? Stuff we have a knack for? Is easy stuff unrewarding? Unfulfilling? Should we only do hard stuff?

No, we shouldn’t. We can apply the meta-skills (discipline) needed for doing hard stuff to easy stuff.

  1. Pick something that comes easy to you. Something you could do in your sleep.
  2. Do that thing. A lot. (Translation: apply discipline.)

By doing it a lot, you’ll end up doing it better.

And once you start doing it better, people will notice. People will notice, and they’ll wonder how you make it look easy. But what they see on the surface is your talent. What they don’t see – what they couldn’t have seen – are the thousands of hours you spent showing up to practice.

Selfish and I know it

I see something grotesque every time I open WordPress:

It’s poppin’ at 8 in the morning

Now, it’s not the stats that I see. It’s my addiction to numbers.

This next paragraph was going to be about how I don’t care about the numbers. That I’ve entered Nirvana. That I’ve transcended my desire to raise these bars higher than the bars I set for my content.

But then I’d be lying.

I’m selfish. I like seeing the numbers go up. High numbers means I’m a better blogger, right? A more powerful, influential, smarter, sexier blogger. 100 views in a day is more prestigious than 75. But 175 is more prestigious than 100. And so on and so on.

I’ve tried creating a desktop link to WordPress’s editor. So far that hasn’t worked. But I have another solution, one that I’m applying to other areas of my life.

I know that I like seeing the numbers go up. And that means I can work around my own vice.

Knowing that I like seeing the numbers go up is like a cognitive rehab against my addiction to stats, bar graphs, and metrics.

So, the lesson I have for you today is this:

Knowing about your vices is one of the best ways to work around them.

The literature on self-control suggests as much. Hagger and colleagues write:

From “Trait Self-Control and Self-Discipline: Structure, Validity, and Invariance Across
2 National Groups”

In other words, design your environment around your vices.


P.S – I’m still addicted to Mammal Hands. Here’s a tune I had on loop while writing this.

Easy, difficult

These things are easy:

  • Doing homework
  • Studying for an exam
  • Lifting weights
  • Running
  • Recording a podcast
  • Writing a blog

Everyone knows how to run (it’s like walking, but faster). Everyone can look at a book. Everyone can pick up some weights. If you can talk, you can host a podcast. And if you know how to type, you know how to start a blog.

These things are hard:

  • Discipline
  • Resilience
  • Patience
  • Attention management
  • Saying no
  • Choosing what to work on
  • Humility
  • Perseverance

Homework is easy. You sit down with a book and a piece of paper, and you do the homework.

Discipline is hard. By ‘doing’ discipline, you fight back against your primal desires to watch television instead of practicing long division. And fair enough; there’s no such thing as a long division problem more exciting than an episode of Breaking Bad.

We can choose to embody these qualities. We can be the kind of person who says no to a night out at the bar when they’ve got a newsletter to ship the next morning. We can be the kind of person who has the discipline to do their homework. But instead, we choose not to. We choose to say yes to stuff we don’t want to do, to please people we don’t like. And we do that because it’s easier than running laps around the park.

Someone with all the above qualities is a rare sight to behold. But when we see someone embodying these qualities, we take their hard work for granted. We become like the guy at the museum, staring at a Mondrian, saying, “I could have painted this.”

Well, you didn’t paint this. Pier Mondrian painted this. And if it looks so easy, so simple, so rudimentary that you could have done it in your sleep, then why didn’t you paint this?

They had the discipline to get better everyday. They had the resilience to deal with rejection. They had the patience to deal with setbacks. ‘No’ became their favorite word. They had the humility to improve. And they had the perseverance to show up everyday despite how nice it would feel to stay in bed.