Challenge yourself. Get out of your comfort zone. Do Hard Things™.
Anyone else tired of hearing these mantras and ones like them? It’s not that they’re bad ideas, it’s just that I find the effect of hearing them all the time kind of paralyzing. Let me explain.
The mindset of “overcoming” is everywhere in our culture and economy—overcome prejudice, overcome limitations, overcome the competition. We constantly hear inspiring stories of people beating the odds to do something great. It’s so prevalent that whenever I don’t feel like doing something I could (and feel I should) do—whether that’s exercising, writing, learning something new—my mind shouts at me that I’m just lazy and useless because I could have it so much harder.
There are Paralympians, there are dyslexic actors, there are people with other learning disabilities who work hard and become successful. There are those who live on the streets with no support system, drop out of school, and hustle until they become leaders in their field by age 25.
I’m 24. I have all the advantages of security, support, and education. And where will I be at 25?
The perversity of the “others had it so much harder and look what they’ve done” mentality is such that it can have the opposite effect on our minds than what’s intended. Instead of inspiring us, making us grateful to take every advantage of the situation we find ourselves in through circumstances of birth or whatever, it can inspire the reverse—we almost wish for a visible, tangible, outwardly recognizable hardship that we can then prove ourselves by overcoming. I’m not saying that thinking this way is right, but it can be how our minds interpret these sentiments sometimes. Because struggling with finding meaning for your life, trying to get out of bed and do something even when you can’t see the point, being torn by people’s expectations of you versus what you want to pursue, plagued by uncertainty and “what if I’m doing it all wrong?” Those aren’t the visible struggles that are usually featured in stories of people who beat the odds.
It’s implied that what you do out of a position of physical, societal, economic “privilege” isn’t worth as much as the same thing done by someone who has it harder in those areas. You should be able to do so much more. So why try if you’re only going to accomplish what comes “easily” already? (Again, not considering what kind of mental state you may be in, or what kind of emotional pressure you may be under.)
And that becomes paralyzing. I feel guilty for squandering the advantages I have. I feel morally inferior for needing favourable conditions to do something. And if I do something, it’s no more than I should have done, according to this mentality, so I find it hard to feel accomplished or satisfied afterward.
Guilt is not a motivator. Neither is inferiority. Neither is futility. Again: paralyzing.
But what’s worse than doing what you feel like is “expected” is not doing anything. So I would rather make the conditions favourable to get at least those things done. I am no longer going to indulge the feeling that it’s a cop-out to need a decent, constantly available internet connection in order to write a respectable number of blog posts. Or the feeling that I’m less-than because I need certain conditions in my surroundings in order to write for any length of time—luxuries like a comfortable couch, a cup of tea, my own space. Because that’s how I get things done. Sure, theoretically, I can (and have) worked through less than ideal circumstances and mindsets, having told myself that it could be much worse, because of course it can. It can always be worse. That doesn’t mean it has to be.
It’s basic common sense to create favourable conditions in which to be productive. Any study guide will tell you that controlling the space around you—getting rid of distractions, putting on a fan or non-disruptive music for background noise—can actually improve your concentration and retention. I can’t study in a messy room—is stopping to clean it first procrastination, or is it optimizing performance? It should be the same with anything.
Sure, do hard things when they come along–they will come, you can count on that. Everyone has their challenges, whether we see them or not. But meanwhile, don’t buy into the lie that nothing worth doing is easy. Because, then you might just end up doing nothing. Don’t make things harder than they need to be in order to feel like you’re really doing something. Get it done, however you can get it done. Because you know what? Objects in motion tend to stay in motion–by doing “easy” things now, you’re building momentum that can then help you keep moving when you meet the obstacles that will come.
There’s a productivity concept I heard of recently called “No zero days”. That just means you don’t have to pressure yourself to do everything, constantly, all at once. That’s how you burn out and get discouraged because you can’t maintain the pace. You can, and will, accomplish things if you just do something each day. You’ll do more some days, less others, but if you make a move, however small, it’s a place from which to build. And in the end, you will have something.
So I’ve stopped thinking of my preferred circumstances as excuses for not doing things, to thinking about them as conditions for doing things. The negative perspective prevents action; the positive one gives me a plan of action: comfy couch, quiet mind, cup of coffee = writing productivity.
That’s how I work—people are all different, and you have to figure out how you work. Hack yourself, work to your strengths, and don’t let anyone make you feel inferior because you can’t operate at peak functionality in the same conditions as someone else. Stop comparing yourself to others. Don’t make excuses; create good conditions and get things done.