“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” – Bernice Johnson Reagon
At some point in your life, you may have internalized the idea that virtuous people fight through hard challenges. The harder the challenges people overcome, the more worthy they are.
You’re especially likely to think this way if you overcame some particular weakness through grit and determination. It’s natural to be more proud of the fact that you mastered the weakness than of the fact that you no longer have the weakness.
The problem with internalizing that mindset is that it’s far too easy to believe that only hard challenges are worth doing. If it’s not hard, you’re not really applying yourself; therefore, hard is good.
The Wall of Hard
I’ve seen this idea play out with Creative Giants so often that I’ve dubbed it the Wall of Hard. When they start thinking about their goals, they unconsciously start building up their own Wall of Hard. Sometimes the foundation of the Wall is perfectionism, sometimes it’s based upon their undervaluing themselves, and sometimes it’s just the root belief that something is worth doing only if it’s hard. Regardless of the foundation, the imposing Wall of Hard ends up discouraging people from starting because it’s just so damn overwhelming.
Their building the Wall of Hard also leads to procrastination. Pushing the Wall out into the future doesn’t make it seem so bad … until the future is today or tomorrow. The Wall of Hard follows the same pattern as delaying swallowing frogs: the Wall gets taller and harder because people add a few weeks’ or months’ worth of dread, fear, and shame about procrastinating to whatever was originally there. Which, of course, means that they’ll extend that deadline or start date into the future so they can “build up” to climbing the Wall. A rinse-and-repeat cycle starts, and it continues either until exasperation, frustration, or outside insight catalyzes an epiphany that it doesn’t have to be that hard or until self-defeat triumphs and people give up because it’s just too hard.
The Wall of Hard Presents a No-Win Scenario
If you climb the Wall of Hard, you only reinforce the mindset that you’re worthy because you overcame a hard challenge, so the next time you go about trying to do something that really matters to you, you’ll start building yet another Wall; you’re also prone to create a Jacob’s Ladder that’ll prevent you from celebrating what you’ve accomplished because you’ll wonder if the goal was too easy. If you don’t climb the Wall of Hard, you reinforce the story that you’re not really worthy.
The way out of this cycle is not to figure out how to climb the Wall of Hard, but to stop building it in the first place. Of course, that means addressing the mindset that “hard is (necessarily) good.” Hard is neither necessarily good nor bad.
For instance, as you work through the four levels of competence (unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and unconscious competence), the things that you’re the best at will come from unconscious competence, for that’s where intuitive mastery lies. It’s the insight and results that happen before you recognize them – before you start building the Wall or questioning yourself – that will be the best. Making it hard in that case blocks your genius.
At the same time, there will be some truly worthy goals that will be hard all by themselves. You don’t need to make them harder – let the Universe, God, or random chance set the difficulty level for you, and save your energy for other things that matter. Sprinkling pepper on a habanero you have to eat only adds more work for no good reason.
Dismantling the Walls
Whatever the “hard is good” mindset may have done for you in the past, it may be time for you to leave the canoe behind. Doing so is simultaneously simple and difficult. It’s simple because it doesn’t require any additional work but difficult because inhibiting an unconscious impulse can be done only after you’ve started building the Wall.
If you notice something on your action list that you know you’ve built a Wall of Hard for, ask yourself a few questions:
- Is there an easier way to achieve your end result?
- Have you set your goal so high just to make it harder for yourself?
- What story is driving you about the difficulty of the goal or approach?
- What do the energy and time required to climb the Wall of Hard displace that might matter more to you?
- Is the challenge you’ve laid in front of yourself motivating you or demotivating you?
You might find it odd that the guy known for Do Epic Shit is talking about tempering the challenges you make for yourself. I’m neither saying “don’t take on epic goals or personal challenges” nor disagreeing with the belief that adversity builds character. I’m saying “don’t make things harder than they need to be.” (Click to tweet – thanks!)
What Walls of Hard can you tear down today? Will you?