“We live in the kind of society where, in almost all cases, hard work is rewarded.” Neil deGrasse Tyson
This year you are going to have to do some hard things. Some things that you don’t want to do. I hope this little guide helps you stay the course.
We like to avoid hard things because, well, they are hard.
However, we end up doing them eventually because:
1. We are forced to. (Circumstances, a boss, a deadline)
2. We want to.
Not that these are mutually exclusive.
When I started writing my daily email I wanted to do it and it was quite easy. But then, over time it became much harder because it required me to show up everyday and write. It required me to show up every day and somehow summon creativity on-demand. At the same time, my readership had grown to the thousands. I was doing the hard things because I had to. There were people that I did not want to let down.
These days it fluctuates between some days wanting to write and some days being forced to write.
The result of doing the hard things for me has not been the 550+ emails that I have written by now but the lives that it has changed, the coaching and speaking career that was born from it, and a deeper understanding of who I am and what I want to do.
The rewards for hard things far outweigh the rewards for easy things.
Lifting heavy weights give you a stronger body than lifting light weights.
Spending day in and day out on perfecting your craft steers you away from the mediocrity of doing only that which is convenient.
Tackling hard tasks and obstacles builds a resilience and level of competence that could never be accomplished by sticking to the easy stuff.
So, we know that we should do hard things.
How then do we do it?
I have 2 ideas I want you to consider.
It is what it is
“Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goals: my strength lies solely in my tenacity.” Louis Pasteur
You cannot escape the fact that hard things need to be done.
You will not enjoy everything that you do. There are always going to be certain aspects of your daily routine that you wish you could do without.
It is what it is.
So, just do it.
This is not an empty platitude but rather a call to action away from excuses and a victim-mentality.
But if you want something more substantial I got you covered…
The Hard Things Quadrant Model
Quickly plotting this conundrum of doing hard things we don’t like looks something like this.
We have four quadrants.
1. Easy things that you want to do.
2. Easy things that you don’t want to do.
3. Hard things that you want to do.
4. Hard things that you don’t want to do.
I am not going to spend much time on the two quadrants that deal with easy things.
Easy things that you want to do
Just do them. They are easy after all. However, a word of caution. Do not let it slip simply because it is easy.
Easy things that you don’t want to do
Evaluate whether you need to be doing these at all. If they are easy to you then they likely do not require your specialised skill and valued time. They can be delegated, or scheduled when they will least detract from your attention, focus, and energy.
Hard things that you want to do
To answer the question of how to do the hard things that we don’t like it is worth asking how we deal with the hard things that we do like to do.
Although there are many reasons for doing hard work I believe that three of them include:
- It’s tied to an outcome you want.
- It’s tied to a process you enjoy.
- It awakens some other intrinsic motivation
1. Tied to an outcome you want
Quite obvious but we are more prone to do hard things if we are emotionally invested in the outcome. History is littered with people who endured incredibly hard things because of an outcome they envisioned. They believed in it so fervently that some were even willing to give their lives for it.
Of course, most of us won’t have to give our lives for the things we believe in. Simply our time, determination and relentless effort.
2. Tied to a process you enjoy
Sometimes we fall in love with a hard activity. We enjoy it irrespective of, or because of, the heightened degree of difficulty. The outcome becomes a by-product of the process.
The truth is that you could find something in the process to focus on for most hard activities. Somewhere in the process exists the space for gratitude, learning, and improvement. On their own, these make hard things bearable. Combined they make us fall in love.
3. Some other intrinsic motivation
There are many deeper forces that also drive us to persevere with the hard things.
How about the need for acceptance? Or the need to prove them wrong? Or the need to escape from the life you had when growing up?
These aren’t inherently healthy but we cannot deny their impact.
In addition there are also other forces at play such as caring for your family, creating a legacy, or achieving certain spiritual enlightenment.
Hard things that you don’t want to do
So, flipping the above reasons on to their respective heads, hard things that you don’t want to do:
- Is not tied to an outcome that you want.
- Is not tied to a process you enjoy.
- Does not awaken a deep intrinsic motivation.
I am sure you can see where I am going with this.
Here are your options for motivating yourself to do hard things:
Approach it with a focus on the outcome
- If you are part of a team sit down with them to understand the context and outcome of the work you are doing. Having a clear understanding of your role in creating a specific outcome might help you to become more emotionally invested.
- If you are building your own business, revise the outcome you set out with initially. There was a reason you started down this road. Revisit it. Change it if needed.
- See what you are doing as an important cog in a complicated machine and know that your effort keeps the machine running.
Approach it with a focus on the process
- Look for learnings. Every situation can teach you something. In doing so you position and equip yourself for a future in which you can focus on the hard things that you actually want to do.
- Aim for improvement. Be creative and look for ways to improve the process. It reframes the hard thing that you have to do as a problem that needs to be solved.
- Approach with gratitude. You are doing hard things because you are capable. Because you have certain skills and strengths. Be grateful for the fact that you get to exercise those skills.
Approach it with a focus on the internal drivers
- This is not as straightforward. It requires you to do some digging into your psyche and heart. All of us have things and people that matter to us. How can what you are doing serve them in the long run as well?
There are many hacks that will allow you to do hard things. But it’s worth understanding the need for the things that challenge us and, how then to control our attitude towards them. Life is never easy. Everyone has to at some point tackle the things that they don’t want to do.
Some do it and succeed.
Others complain about it and reach nothing.
The choice is yours.
Acta non verba,