Simple Doesn't Mean Easy

Earlier this week I wrote a post for The Sparkline about five people who set big goals (like interviewing 100 people). Each of these people’s lives were forever changed by these simple goals. These goals were simple but not easy.

We often mix up those concepts, simple and easy. They’re two different things. You hear this confusion sometimes after a successful strategy is revealed to be incredibly simple, when people respond by saying, “it can’t be that easy.” It’s not easy, it’s simple.

For example, imagine if I told you that in order to create a popular blog or podcast or youtube channel, 80% of your success comes down to the simple strategy of publishing consistently and frequently. This strategy is simple, but it’s not easy by any means. In fact, this strategy is so difficult to pull off that only a tiny fraction of people who attempt it will succeed.

This is true of so many things we want to achieve. We know what needs to be done. The strategy part is almost laughably simple. But the execution… the execution phase is the graveyard of good intentions.

Showing up day after day after day, to do repeatedly do something, requires incredible self-discipline and focus. Most of us would rather give in to the part of our brain that prefers a quick hit of dopamine from the nearest cat video or shiny new project.

But you don’t have to accept this fate. Some people can persevere through sheer willpower, but those people are rare. Most of us need a little help.

Think about a big, repetitive goal that you’ve already committed to, or that you’ve considered committing to in the future. This could involve exercise, or eating habits, or something related to your work. Anything that you need to do on a regular basis qualifies.

When we initially conceive of and set these goals, we often aim for the perfect version. It’s easy when you’re imagining the future to commit yourself to an impossible standard: eating perfectly, running X miles a week, publishing X amazing blog posts every week. We not only set these goals, but we imagine a high bar for what qualifies as daily success.

We expect to not only show up every day, but also to cross this very high bar. Eventually the high bar we set for ourselves becomes an obstacle. We miss the bar and our overall strategy falls apart.

Instead of setting the bar high, why not set it incredibly low? Make the minimum thing you need to accomplish to consider your attempt successful as small as possible. Don’t require a perfect blog post every time, just require that you publish something. Don’t require 5 miles every time you run, just require leaving your house with your running shoes on. If you publish a 50 word post, or walk around the block, at least you showed up and put in some effort.

Most of the time, you’ll find that opening up the writing tool or putting on your running shoes is the hard part. By taking the pressure off, you’ll end up in the middle of a 1000-word post or 5-mile run that only happened because you made it easy to show up.

Don’t confuse simple and easy. Most of the best strategies are incredibly simple to describe, but exceedingly difficult to pull off. It’s up to you to set a bar that’s easy to clear each time you commit to showing up, so your “simple strategy” doesn’t die on that one inevitable day when you just don’t have the energy to go all-out.

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Hi, I’m Corbett Barr. I’ve been writing here since 2009. Join my email list for new articles about supporting yourself doing something you love: