Running 5km faster than you ever have.
Getting a promotion at work.
Being able to harvest veggies and herbs from your very own garden.
In life, any satisfying or worthwhile achievement, no matter how big or small, comes from both ‘doing the hard thing’ and doing it on an ongoing and consistent basis:
- Turning up for running training five times a week for eight consecutive weeks.
- Going beyond what’s expected of you at the office, month after month.
- Weeding, fertilising and watering your garden every day.
If you’re having trouble ‘doing the hard’ thing associated with the sense of satisfaction you’re aiming for, chances are you’ve decided you have a willpower problem.
Or that you’re hopeless.
The truth is, neither applies to you.
What does probably apply is this: you’re making life harder for yourself than it needs to be. Which means you’re making it harder for yourself to ‘do the hard thing’.
Here are seven things you could be doing that make it easier to do the hard thing:
1. Check your ‘why’
What’s the ‘why’ behind wanting to run your fastest ever 5km/ getting the promotion/ harvesting your own veggies?
If it’s because:
My mum/partner/friend/sister said I should do it, or
I think it’s something I should do …
Then it’s always going to be a struggle. When the word ‘should’ appears in your ‘why’, that’s a good indication you’re not personally invested in this thing. And if you’re not personally invested, when the going gets tough and you’re called upon to do the hard thing, the necessary drive isn’t going to be there.
So, if you’re trying to lose weight and you’re current ‘why is:
Because I know I’m overweight and anyone who’s overweight should be trying to lose the excess weight …
Reframe your why statement to remove the word ‘should’:
I want my kids to value good health and an active lifestyle and the best way to do that is model a healthy lifestyle to them now, rather than always intending to do it sometime in the future.
2. Check in with your future self
Your present self loves instant gratification. That’s why it’s easier for bad habits to take hold than good.
- When the 3pm hunger slump hits, there is great instant gratification to be found in a tasty cupcake.
- When you get out of bed in the morning to go for a run, the gratification of going for that run is less instant, and less obvious to boot.
If you’re ever looking for the willpower you need to make a good decision, your future self is where you’ll find it.
While your present self would always prefer to mess around on Facebook, your future self – the one who is earning more and ascending the career ladder – really appreciates you deciding to do the hard things and deliver that report to your boss a little ahead of schedule.
3. Reduce daily decisions
Research has shown that our ability to make good decisions, (the kind that benefit our future rather than present selves), diminishes over the course of a day. The main reason for this is that every decision we make depletes our energy levels. If you check in with how many decisions you’ve made before 9am, you might get a shock:
- Should I get out of bed now, or later?
- What should I wear today?
- What should I eat for breakfast?
- Should I walk the dog before I have a shower?
- Will I wash up from breakfast now, or leave it till I get home?
Every decision you make compromises your ability to make the next decision a good one. You can address this by removing as many decisions as you can.
- Have the same thing for breakfast every day.
- Wear the same thing.
- Create routines for everything you do daily.
The less you have to think about the repetitive and trivial aspects of your life, the better able you are to do the hard thing when it’s required of you.
4. Boost your energy levels
It’s amazing how willing we are as adults to sacrifice sleep. Just because you can survive on five hours a night doesn’t mean you should, however.
Getting good sleep is a ‘keystone habit’ – one that makes other habits easier to both form and maintain.
When you get better sleep, you’re better able to get up early in the morning and exercise. When you exercise, you’re more likely to eat well. If you’re sleeping, exercising and eating well, you’re more productive at work. If you’re productive at work, your stress levels are lower so you’re less likely to reach for a drink at the end of the day. The less alcohol you drink, the better you sleep … and round and round it goes.
It’s shocking to see how much easier it is to do the hard thing when your energy levels are high (thanks to sleeping and eating well, drinking less alcohol and getting regular exercise).
5. Create space
If you’re consistently trying to squeeze the things that are important to you into the margins of your life, you’re always going to struggle, and you’re always going to be grappling with thought of, ‘maybe this isn’t the right time’.
The truth is, there seldom is a ‘right time’. It’s pretty rare for someone to gift us the space and time we need to make something happen. It’s up to us to first create that time, then protect it.
How do we do that? By looking at the things we’ve mindlessly committed to doing because:
- It’s expected,
- We want someone to like us,
- We’re afraid of offending,
- We were too tired to say ‘no’.
This is where point number one above comes in handy. If you know the ‘why’ behind the thing you are trying to achieve, or the place you’re trying to get to, it makes it easier to say no to those things that, quite frankly, you just don’t need to be doing. And it stops you from giving up on goals and dreams because, ‘This isn’t the right time.’
6. Set up your environment for success
If you’re struggling to sleep well, is it because your partner wants to watch tv in the bedroom till late at night? If you want to go for a run in the morning and you can’t find any socks, doesn’t that make it a lot easier to go back to bed? Is it harder to write that report when you haven’t done your research or pulled together the stats you need ahead of time?
There are so many little ways our environment can make it more difficult to ‘do the hard thing’. The good news is, we have more control over most of those environmental factors than we think.
7. Surround yourself with the right kind of people
There are any number of reasons why people will sabotage your ability to do the hard thing:
- They might feel threatened by the prospect of your achievement.
- It might make them feel inferior to watch you go and do something they wanted to.
- The status quo might suit them just fine.
If you’ve ever tried to quit drinking or smoking, you’ll have experienced all of the above, along with the cajoling, (‘Oh come on, one won’t hurt’) that comes from people who’ve taken your decision to quit personally.
Conversely, if you’ve ever run a business, or trained for a triathlon or running event, you’ll know how much easier it was to do those things when you joined a business mastermind or trained with a group.
Surrounding yourself with like-minded people who are shooting for the same goals as you is easily one of the most effective ways to make ‘doing the hard thing’ just that bit easier.
Is there a ‘hard thing’ you’re struggling to do in your life at the moment? Feel free to share it below! Along with the tip from above that will make doing that hard thing a little easier.