Simple Does Not Mean Easy

One of the first things I wanted to point out about this blog and life in general is that the terms simple and easy are often interchanged.

However in the world of self improvement and change, they are very different things.

You’ll find almost all self-improvement changes are fundamentally simple:

  • Focus on one thing at a time, don’t multitask
  • Eat healthier to be healthier
  • Do the most important thing first to be more productive
  • Exercise to improve your mind and body
  • Focus on what is truly important and ignore what is irrelevant

These aren’t hard concepts to understand. In fact they can be stated in sentence. Sure, there are details e.g. what is meant by “exercise” that
take more explanation, but the details don’t change the fundamental principles of each one of these concepts.

The problem lies in the fact that people confuse simple with easy. In many cases this couldn’t be further from the truth.

If it were easy to do all these simple things, there wouldn’t be a mass-market for self improvement media.

This is one of the core themes of this blog. Most of the principles you’ll come across are simple, or often just common sense. That’s not the
issue, just because you understand something doesn’t mean you do it (otherwise why would people choose to continue smoking for example?)

Take Control of your Time

A key principle in productivity is that if you don’t take control of your time, someone else will take control of it for you.

Every endeavour in self improvement requires establishing a habit, and a key part of that habit is allocating time to focus on that habit above all else. Considering a regular workout routine, or a habit of reading daily. To get these habits to stick, you first have to be the master of your time, and master is the correct word here. You need to be ruthless, and make sure everyone around you understands it is your time, and it is more valuable. Don’t let them make you feel guilty for it. When its all said done, what are the chances you’ll regret not clocking in more time for someone else? Remember, its an investment in your life, and interestingly, by ruthless in your time, you can come out of it all, more able to help those around you, because you put yourself first.

I find one way to make this stick is to remember the safety advice when you get on a flight:

“Fit your oxygen mask before helping others.”

Look after yourself first, so you can help others later.

Mindless is Pointless

Doing things mindlessly means the things you are doing are pointless. Whatever value you may gain for any endeavour has to happen while you are in the right state of mind.

If there’s a cornerstone to self improvement and productivity, its mindfulness. It allows your mind to reach a state, where other improvements can finally be brought into focus. Without addressing it, you’ll always feel like there’s something missing. You might be consistent in your habits, and reach some of your goals, but the overall structure of your day, your life, won’t quite seem to be in harmony. Mindfulness practice addresses that, by first making you see the fog of busyness, and distraction which permeates our lives. Everyone wants to have more time to get more things done, but productivity alone isn’t the answer you seek. Its not about getting more done, its about getting what’s important done.

Like all things, it takes time to undo the effects and you’ll have to work at.

If you don’t know where to start with mindfulness practice, try something like Calm

Consistent Like the Tortoise

Remember the story, the tortoise and the hare — slow and steady wins the race? My logically inclined brain spent far longer than anyone should on wondering what that story was trying to say, I mean, how could that really happen? The hare is so much faster than the tortoise it makes no sense.

In hindsight, the story is actually delving into behavioural psychology, that is, humans don’t behave the way you generally expect. It is a story about consistency, and it brings up an very important core concept. You see, when it comes to achieving anything, most people are by definition average, and most people are like the hare. They start with a spike of motivation, and get miles ahead of the tortoise. They then slow down, due to any number of factors, overconfidence, drop in motivation, external events, excuses, other bright shiny objects etc. So yes, in theory, if you kept up that pace, you would well and truly win the race. In reality (and hence the message of the story) you don’t keep up that pace, and you are kidding yourself if you think you will for anything non-trivial, and eventually you will be overtaken by the tortoise. Because that tortoise will have a higher average speed.

Worse yet though you probably won’t even finish the race. This isn’t covered by the story but it is the more important point. If you are like the hare, you probably won’t finish at all. Don’t worry about beating the tortoise, just worry about finishing!

The take home? When you start, go slow, slower than you want to. Because you need to build consistency into any new system (remember systems/habits are far better than goals). Some examples:

  • Learning a language? Start with just one word a day.
  • Trying to get fit? Start with a 5 minute walk a day.
  • Trying to lose weight? Eat one healthy item a day.

Too easy? Yes! That’s the point, it is meant to be so easy you can’t not do it. Then once you get going you can build momentum, but even if you don’t, you’ll still be moving like the tortoise. Slowly? Sure but still moving.

Negativity creeps up on you

One thing I’ve learned (particularly from my career) is that negativity creeps up on you. For a while you’re happy with what you are doing, then you start noticing things that are annoying but bearable, and before long, you seem to be against everything and irritated by everyone around you. 

I compare it to putting on weight. If you aren’t regularly checking your weight (and doing something to manage it), then before you know it, you’ve put on 10kg. You can’t quite pin exactly how it happened (it was a combination of factors), and now you have a real problem/challenge on your hands.

I feel the solution to countering this negativity cycle is similar to managing weight (and many other things that can creep up on you like debt, and not pursing your goals).

  • Step 1: implement a habit to measure it honestly. This is to make you aware of patterns that may indicate a problem.
  • Step 2: implement habit(s) to change course on a daily basis. Figure out what you need to do to counteract the situation and, well, do it. Also, make sure you aren’t sabotaging your efforts by ensuring your proposed changes are in alignment with the rest of your life.

The steps themselves are easy understand. Finding out what you need to do is also generally straightforward. The hard part is consistency. That’s why both steps are habits. You need to ingrain them into your life, so they have the opportunity to make a fundamental change.

Easy to say, hard to do, harder still to keep doing.