Trying hard is a big part of who I am. I always thought that if I worked hard, it was more likely that everything would happen the way I wanted it to happen. I tried hard to be perfect and that mostly meant that I had a lot of things in life that I had to work hard to do. I worked hard at school so that I got good grades. I went to college and grad school and worked hard to get a good career. I worked hard to get advances in my career. I worked hard to make friends, do the chores, live life. So I worked hard pretty much all the time, and yes I did indeed get a whole lot done and was and am very successful. But guess what? It was HARD!
It was hard in part because as a perfectionist I was too critical of everything. So everything had to be redone over and over because it was never quite perfect. And that is hard. (See also The Beauty And Perfection of Imperfection for more about perfectionism).
It wasn’t until about age forty when I became a life coach that I learned that whether I struggled and made something hard or went with the flow and took it easy, the outcome was usually the same. The only thing that differed was how exhausted and used up I felt afterwards. Holding on tight and trying hard is not only hard but also often counterproductive. When you try too hard, you don’t have access to as much of your creative juices. When you take it easy, life runs smoother and allows for great joy.
So for all of you who try too hard, here are some tools for amp-ing up the “ease” and reducing the “hard”.
- Try perspective shifting. It turns out that the attitude that “all work is hard” makes it hard. If you change your perspective and see it as easy, it feels—well—easy! Now I know that sounds like quite an oversimplification because it isn’t like the work is actually physically easier just because you think it so. But somehow taking a perspective that it is easy starts in motion a chain of thoughts and beliefs that increases the positive and easy vibes. You can get silly with this one. Try on different perspectives. Ask yourself, “How would my cat approach this task?” “What’s the rose-colored glasses perspective?” “How would Tinkerbelle do this job?” If you aren’t laughing when you try this, then you aren’t taking it seriously enough—and I mean seriously silly enough.
- Make it playful. Whistle while you work. The more you find the fun edges of a task, the easier it feels. Something as simple as putting on music in the background can make it more playful. Incorporate all the senses to find playful—in addition to sounds, consider sight, touch, smell and taste. Light scented candles, work in colored pencils, move locations to outside, sip a yummy drink, use your hands. Ease will find its way to you.
- Team up with someone. Taking on tasks with an accomplice you enjoy being with is an easy way to easy. Together you can accomplish a lot in less time while having fun.
- Call it good enough. Letting go of perfectionist goals helps to increase the ease. Think you need to do one more draft? Let it go and call it done! It’s good enough. Ah, the ease!
- Lower your goal. A variant on the good enough goal is to lower your goal at the start. Change the goal by assessing realistically what you need to accomplish. It probably doesn’t need to be as big as you thought. Making your goal not-so-huge will reduce the amount of work you have in front of you and it won’t feel so hard.
- Break down the goal into mini-goals. If you can’t lower the goal, at least try to take it in steps. You have to stop and acknowledge each mini-goal to make this work. But you will find that time flies when you take your tasks in smaller bites. So much easier!
- Delegate your task. What you find “hard” might not be so hard to someone else in your life. Sure, in some cases you might have to pay someone to do the task, but consider whether the money is worth it to reduce your level of hardness. It often is an easy out.
- Eliminate the task at together. Letting go of a goal altogether is something that few people even consider. But you may be surprised to find a number of items on your to-do list that you won’t miss if you cross them off before you even start them. Trust me—try taking some time to review your list and see how many can be eliminated forever. It is likely that you got so accustomed to doing a task that you automatically do it, even when it no longer serves you. Get rid of it now!
- Celebrate and acknowledge what you have accomplished. Part of what makes things hard is that we are off and running to do the next thing without taking a breather. As a celebrant as well as a life coach, I have seen many times the power of celebrating. It makes it real, it makes it meaningful, it makes it fun and it makes it easier in part because you look forward to the celebration.
- Be present to the moment. Always holding out for life to begin after you complete a goal is a very hard way to live. The more you stay with where you are right this instant—living in the now—the quicker you will finish a task, even a task that seems really hard. And you will find that being present to all the magic of a moment is calming all the while you get closer to your goal.
Much of what I suggest as a way of lightening the load of life is a way to make you smile. It is hard to smile and feel like the work is hard at the same time. Smiling tends to relax your body naturally and the physical reduction of hard also increases the physical feeling of ease. Remember that if you are used to struggling, it will take time to get used to taking it easy. But if you practice ease in your life instead of pushing hard, life will indeed become easier and you will be more joyful and fulfilled.