Are you afraid to do hard things?

“Doing something that’s hard is a lot more fun than doing something that’s easy.”

So says Dr. Zschau, in an interview on the Tim Ferriss show.

What a fascinating outlook, so different from the one I’ve had most of my life. When I heard him say these words, my first thoughts were: Seriously?? What?? 

And then my second thought was: How might a person adopt this outlook, if it’s not currently the default? And what would adopting that outlook do for us?

What makes hard things fun?

You don’t know what’s going to happen. Since the thing is hard, you don’t know if you’ll succeed or fail, you don’t know what path the challenge will take you down, and that could be very exciting.

It’s an unknown future, full of mystery and promise.

Whereas doing something that’s easy may yield you a check-mark in the box, so to speak, (there, I completed that thing, add it to my list of accomplishments) it could be boring and hollow. On some level we may know that we are not actually plumbing the depths of our capabilities, which may leave us frustrated by unrealized potential.

Why we stick with the easy path

Often our playing it safe is really about what people think of us, and how we’re using that to measure what we think of ourselves.

It’s about self-image and control.

If I don’t like hard things its because I’m not sure if I will win. And winning is very important, if that’s how I measure my worth. Perhaps it’s how others around me have also measured me, and taught me to measure myself. Doing hard things can be risky because they might cost me the approval of others. And I might have to admit that I don’t know what I’m doing, and that I need help.

The safe side of doing something easy is that I get to check the box and say there’s another thing I won at even if it’s simple. I can use the win as another brick in the wall of safety that I construct around myself, protection from criticism.

There’s a perverse satisfaction in maintaining the status quo, which we may have worked hard to establish, again, self-protection.

You’re so smart!

When you were a kid, did people tell you that you’re so smart?

Sometimes adults do this with children, and the children learn to associate being smart with the basis of their being loved. I love you so much because you’re so smart, they hear. While that may feel good, it also produces a nefarious backside effect, which is fear of being proven NOT smart, and losing that love and approval.

This is why sometimes people are scared to take risks, try hard, and fail. It can also be a reason to resist learning. Because in learning anything new, we must face our level of ignorance. If ignorance makes us feel ashamed or afraid, we will not go to that place. We will not learn.

This goes for learning to read, learning to ride a bicycle, learning algebra, and learning how to be a good friend or partner to another human being. Effectiveness at these things ALL require learning, which means we must start at the beginning.

And what a gift it is to have the opportunity. Indeed the opportunity to learn may be the most precious we could ever receive.

When we push through the fear to do hard things, give our best effort, and take the risk of failing, we will not only learn things that we never could have if we just played it safe, but will also gain confidence in our abilities such it becomes easier and easier to pursue the hard things.

And in doing so, along the way, they really can become fun.


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