Simple is not the same as Easy

  • Save 10% of your income.
  • Pay off your credit cards in full every month.
  • Sleep eight hours a night.
  • Eat a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains and home cooked meals.
  • Practice a new skill 30 minutes a day

This is all simple advice. It’s good advice. If you follow this advice, you’ll avoid a number of health and financial challenges in your life.

But just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy to do.

I’m a big fan of Gretchen Rubin’s work, and her book Better than Before offers 21 actionable strategies for habit change. What I like about her approach is that her basic assumption is that we cannot make changes in our lives through will-power alone because our will-power is basically a limited resource, and once we’ve used it up for the day, we’re likely to fall back to our defaults. Our habits. So, we want our habits to be intentional. We want our habits to support us in making the choices we want for our lives.

So, rather than trying to remember to save 10% of your income every month (which is simple, but not easy to do), have that money automatically removed from your paycheck. If you know that is what you want to do with that money, make the decision and do the hard thing once. Then saving the money is easy.

To sleep eight hours a night, Rubin suggests setting a “go to bed” alarm (it’s like a “wake up” alarm, but for going to sleep). That little nudge to remind you that it’s bedtime will give you a better shot at getting your 8 hours of sleep (also, it insulates us from defaulting into watching hours of netflix, drinking too much, scrolling through social media, or making choices we’ll regret in the morning because we’re out of will power late at night). You set the alarm once, and the habit can go from there. Simple (not always easy).

Outside the realm of our personal habits and actions, I find that simple things are rarely easy. For example, when you watch an Olympic athlete in competition, it looks effortless. But it is not. A triple axle. A world record swim. These are not easy feats — even for these incredible athletes.

A beautifully written book. An exquisite painting. The result is a pleasure to read or look at. But was it easy to create? I doubt it.

I find it helpful to remember that just because something is simple, doesn’t make it easy.

My final thought on this is a quote from Mark Twain:

“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

Often, to make something simple, succinct, or, dare I say, easy requires more effort and time than we expect. It’s useful to give ourselves grace when something is taking more work than we expected. I also think the world would be a better place if we took the time to appreciate the people we meet every day who make things look easy.

 

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