Have you ever dreaded doing something that you thought would be hard, only to realize it wasn’t nearly as hard as you thought it would be? There are many reasons we claim that something is hard to do. For academics (and mostly everyone) thinking something is hard means believing it to be complicated, or intellectually challenging; that it’s something that is difficult to understand, or requires a lot of knowledge or preparation. Yet, some of activities we identify as “hard” don’t meet the aforementioned definition.What does hard mean?
- It is intellectually challenging.
- We can’t motivate ourselves to get started.
- We lack confidence in our ability to perform the act (this lack of confidence is not necessarily indicative of our level of skill).
- We feel ill-prepared.
When I work with clients, I find that what they might claim as hard is actually quite simple – in that it doesn’t require a lot of brainpower. Or, that what they are identifying as hard actually is not difficult in the way they think it is. For instance, I had one client who was finding it incredibly difficult to find time to write (I bet you can relate). She could not create a block of time in her schedule to devote to writing. When we examined her schedule, however, there were multiple opportunities for her to carve out some time for writing. The real struggle she faced was being comfortable with writing for short periods of time. It was hard for her to adapt her writing style. Her challenge was changing her habit.
On a personal level, I find that things are hard for me when I don’t have a lot of confidence in my ability to do them, or when I don’t have a plan. If either of these two factors is at play, then my goal or project seems insurmountable. I deal with both of them by breaking my projects into smaller parts. I generally have confidence in my ability to perform smaller, seemingly less complicated tasks. Plus, smaller tasks can go straight into my calendar, where I can schedule them and then check them off once achieved, thus building my confidence. This way, I’m actually tackling two challenges at once – and realizing that the obstacles we identify as difficult are rarely mutually exclusive.
So consider whether it is your perspective or habit that is causing you to make things hard for yourself. Think of the challenges that you face, or the tasks that you think are hard. It might be starting a literature review, completing a dissertation, or finding thirty minutes to write every morning. Or perhaps it’s a broader activity, like writing. How can you break these activities down into smaller components that you feel are easier to achieve? When you think of your project in terms of these smaller components, does the larger task still seem as difficult? Or, are you making even the smaller components hard because you are unwilling to change your own behavior? Turn your challenge into an opportunity for self-reflexivity so that you don’t end up standing in your own way.