In the previous article, we had discussed the difference between easy and simple.
Easy is achieved without effort. Simple is uncomplicated and quickly understood, but often cannot be achieved without effort.
In the long run, an easy life severely limits our mental and emotional growth and makes us vulnerable to stress and poor decisions. On the other hand, a simple life enables us to achieve mastery by taking positive-result yielding actions and feel fulfilled.
We understand this. Yet, most people lust for an easy life. The easy path is one of least resistance while we encounter maximum resistance on the simple path — from others and from ourselves.
Why are we wired like this?
Wanting an Easy Life
Many reasons lure us into desiring an easy life. I’ll group them into three broad categories:
The mind loves to create and loves a challenge. Both traits have been encoded in our DNA since the early days of evolution.
When we lived in caves, we followed simple yet challenging lives: finding food, feeding ourselves, and fending off predators.
But as civilization grew, as we turned into laborers, we got accustomed to the easy life. We outsourced an important action that separates us from other animals — taking decisions. We began wanting expecting people to take decisions to make our lives easier.
We want our bosses to give us tasks at work, experts to share “tips” to double our money in six months, the government to regulate social media, and Netflix and YouTube to autosuggest the next thing to watch… we don’t like taking decisions on our own.
But here’s what we don’t realize. When we let others make decisions for us, we also hand them the power to control us. Life doesn’t remain simple after that.
Instead of letting us create something meaningful and face challenges that stretch us, an easy life creates challenges for us.
Behaving like laborers and letting others make decisions for us is easy. Behaving like entrepreneurs and staying in control of our thoughts and actions is simple, but tough.
2. Lack of Feedback
In the industrial era, workers knew the quality and quantity of widgets they cranked out per shift. Feedback was easily available.
In the knowledge era, we have no concrete or uniform metric(s) to collect feedback on our productivity or the outcome of our work. Nor are we clear about our goals. That’s why we resorted to the same metric that was popular during the industrial age — number of tasks.
We constantly subject ourselves to the “shiny object” syndrome — doing things that are easiest in the moment. We respond quickly to emails, attend long meetings, multitask, and make ourselves available to anyone who asks for just “five minutes” of our time.
The result is that we keep floating from goal to goal. We do a lot of things and move a millimeter in a hundred different directions. But lack of focus means we don’t make concrete progress in any field.
The “shiny object” syndrome worsens the quality of our lives in that it makes us neglect important things. Like relationships, self-improvement, and wealth creation. After years of doing the same things, we find ourselves no better than when we started. Sometimes, we’re worse off. Our relationships stagnate and fail, our skills become obsolete, we’re at the mercy of others and have no clue how to salvage our sinking ships.
“For many people, twenty years of experience is really one year’s experience repeated twenty times.” — Andy Hargadon
Staying busy is easy. Staying busy doing the right things is simple, but tough.
3. Instant Gratification
Discipline, though simple, has never been our forte. In the instant gratification era, this ability has declined even further.
We want quick results and boast about lacking patience. Results that appear slowly make us feel like we’ve failed. Nobody likes failing because it makes us appear stupid. So we stick to easy tasks that don’t challenge us but deliver predictable results most of the time.
To achieve something meaningful requires discipline which in turn, requires willpower. Each time we compromise willpower for instant gratification, we lose some portion of our already-depleted willpower.
The result is that we cannot stick to things that yield positive long-term results. We cannot follow a diet or workout regime, build skills needed to get ahead in our careers or hold on to relationships when the ride gets rocky. Each time we face a challenge, when the slightest hint of sweat forms on our brow, we rush into the welcoming arms of distraction.
Giving into distraction is easy. Staying disciplined is simple, but tough.
The three most elementary reasons for our penchant for what’s easy are the “laborer” mindset, the “shiny object” syndrome, and the desire for instant gratification.
An easy life restricts us from pursuing the main reason for our existence — becoming better versions of ourselves.
We often look at others and wish for their “easy” lives without putting in half the effort they invested. We stick to what’s easy for us. It makes us feel empty but becomes our comfort zone over time. And because everyone around us feels the same, we’re okay with this misery.
But it doesn’t have to be so. You can simplify your life. We’ll discuss how in the next post.