Maybe Easier Isn’t Better After All

Years ago, I was visiting a friend and we decided to take her dogs to the park. The GPS in her car wasn’t working, so I gave directions: immediate right, immediate left, then forward through the intersection, and park in the lot to the right or left. She admitted that she was so dependent on the technology that she couldn’t have navigated to the nearby park on her own.

Nearly a decade ago, there was a Twitter campaign led by a Canadian doctor named Dr. Mike Evans, in which he encourages people to take the stairs, park farther away, sit less, and walk more. Check out the 4-minute animated clip if you’re interested.

While there’s nothing groundbreaking about telling people to “be more active”, I remember being struck by the way he put it. He suggests finding ways to “make your day harder”, which suggests that there is value to be found in the difficulty itself.

We all know that it’s better to eat broccoli than a hamburger, and to take the stairs instead of the elevator, but that knowledge doesn’t always inspire change. The “better” life often seems harder than the one we already have, and that can be a hard sell.

What most of us really want is an easier life, not necessarily a more wholesome one. We want the GPS to guide us to our destination, the virtual assistant to answer our burning questions, the sentient vacuum to sweep the floor, and the local fast-food joint to prepare our meals. We want less friction and more enjoyment, perhaps more so than we want achievement and virtue.

However, what we often overlook is that embracing the hard tasks in some areas nets us far more ease that our usual “easy” habits. Exercising a few times per week is easier than being out of shape 24 hours a day. Doing a good job at work is easier than wondering when your boss will finally fire you. Learning your partner’s love language and appealing to their needs is easier than worrying whether they will leave you for someone else. Saving money for a vacation in advance is easier than paying off a high interest rate long after your return.  

We often think of difficulty and ease as a simple dichotomy: we want more of one and less of the other. However, the two are often arrive together as a package deal. A small amount of difficulty may serve as the key to unlock a greater amount of ease.

Many of us end up with needlessly difficult lives because we fail to recognize ease when it’s hidden behind difficulty. When you walk up to a gym for the first time, for example, it’s hard to see that you are taking the easy path. Once you’ve made it through the first difficult day, the friction begins to lessen. Once you’ve unlocked the gate, your health situation is easier, dating is easier, clothes shopping is easier, and most physically demanding tasks are easier. For the price of momentary difficulty, you can obtain an extended—perhaps even permanent—period of ease.   

While most of us understand that it’s better to confront our fears and tackle difficult tasks, it can be a challenge to convince ourselves to choose what is “better” rather than what’s easy. However, life has shown me time and time again that a thing that seems hard is often just a package of ease, tightly secured with duct tape. Once we tear through the tough exterior, the steps that follow aren’t so difficult.

Most folks insist on having the ease up front, no matter how little of it there is. Because of this, many miss out on all the gifts that lie just beyond a few moments of discomfort.

When I realized that even the most well-intentioned doctors didn’t have the knowledge and tools to help me, I spent my very limited time and energy reading medical journals and research articles. Instead of placing the accountability on someone else, I committed to learning the terminology, testing treatments proved to be efficacious, and seeking out consults with the doctors behind the research. After a tedious and trudging start, I built up the habit and my results compounded. Dr Evans’s advice to make my day harder has made everything easier.

I have started to view those daunting difficulties that I would have once dodged as an invitation to make things in my life a little easier. Often the hard thing that we don’t want to do is the only thing that stands between us and what we really want: more ease.

To add another layer of complexity to the discussion, many of these tasks seem may seem especially hard because of how little difficulty we encounter in our daily lives. Technology has it made it easier than ever to make our lives hard, by letting us bypass the smallest instances of social and physical difficulty. Why call when you can email? Why cook when you can order in? What pay attention to the road signs when you can rely on your GPS to remember the way?

As technology becomes more ubiquitous, it can take away our opportunities to challenge both our bodies and our minds. Those challenge can be a gift, yet we often choose to look that gift horse in the mouth and, instead, take the frictionless path forward.

The habit of “using the GPS” and “taking the elevator” leaves us dependent and unprepared for the inevitable difficulties, and cheats us out of long-term ease. So, maybe easier isn’t better after all. Perhaps we should all start seeking out life’s challenges, rather than avoiding them.

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35 thoughts on “Maybe Easier Isn’t Better After All

  1. You’ve offered something very important, Esoterica.
    The harder road offers more than an easier time later. It fuels the growth of an enhanced self image and the preparedness and confidence needed for the unexpected challenges life will distribute. One is enlarged as one’s hesitation and timidity shrink. Thanks for showing the path to those who might otherwise turn away.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. What a post – thank you for the encouragement and the video was great. “Sitting disease”. Yep. Any nudge to move more makes sense to me. I love Dr. Stein’s comment about challenging ourselves – even in small ways – to improve confidence. 😎🥰😎

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Vicki! Yes, I hadn’t even considered the aspect of building confidence through overcoming difficulties, but I know that it holds true for me. I always learn so much and deepen my understanding through the comment. I love this community! 🥰🥰🥰

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oops — the “wow” button got pushed before the comment! What an eye-opening, inspiring post! The idea that a little bit of discomfort pays off in the long run is a great incentive to get myself moving, and no where does that hit closer to home for me that getting myself down two flights of stairs to hit the exercise room. Lucky me, to have one just two walkable flights down the stairs. I don’t even have to get into the car and drive. Talk about ease, huh? But please, don’t take away my GPS—you may never see or hear from me again! Many thanks for a great post!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Julia! It’s so easy to focus on what’s right in front of us, but getting in the habit of looking toward that long-term habit or results can really help motivate us to take that first step.


  4. I do take stairs and park far away in parking lots. I experience hard by stopping lap swimming and having to start again months later. It’s easy to say I’m too tired to go, or the weather isn’t right. Thanks for the reminder that “the friction begins to lessen.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Your comment bring to mind the idea that at the one of one’s life, most don’t regret what they did, but rather what they didn’t do. While we may not look with regret at the small things, those small habits could pave the way for bigger possibilities which only become possible when we start building the momentum.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post Erin. Our society is growing by leaps and bounds into embracing the easier is better route. So much so that it becomes a need rather than a nice addition to life. What’s going to happen when we lose sight that everything is not going to be handed to us I wonder, and how long do we have before that happens? I don’t want to pull the generational card but I really wonder if my age group is one of the last to understand and value working hard with the knowledge that things may just be easier then down the road.

    I think you may be one of those exceptions to the rule Erin, and I’m sure there are others among your general age group who feel or have been taught the same thing. I’m thinking more about the 25 and younger social groups and where their expectations fall.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think you’re right about the generational differences, Deb. I was born in that juncture where I knew life before the internet, but can appreciate the technology as a tool. But, I’m certainly the anomaly among my peers.

      My boyfriend’s nephews are 19 and 13 and, while we used to try to guide them, we’ve all but given up on them. The want easy, and nothing less. The older thinks he’ll graduate college (with poor grades) and immediately receive an offer to be the general manager of an NBA team. The disillusionment is mind-numbing and they don’t seem to grasp that they are setting themselves up for disappointment. On the other hand, I do know a few home-schooled kids that know how to think for themselves and work toward their goals, but they are few and far between. It’s unfortunate, but the young people are making themselves easily expendable; with AI on the horizon, who knows how that will play out.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. There are so many great lines in this insightful and inspiring post. I love, “A small amount of difficulty may serve as the key to unlock a greater amount of ease.” The other day I was out paddleboarding with Miss O. She was scared to go out farther in the lake so I said I’d go with her on the board. But my weight made it more tippy, she was nervous, but we did it. As soon as I got off, it felt so much easier to her plus she’d already done it and she went out on her own. A little bit of hard first…

    Beautiful post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love you anecdote about Miss O! Like Dr. Stein and Vicki point out, doing something once helps us build the confidence to do it again. I love that she was able to experience that hard first, and you were able to witness the joy she must have expressed at paddling out on her own. 🥰

      Liked by 1 person

  7. “However, life has shown me time and time again that a thing that seems hard is often just a package of ease, tightly secured with duct tape. Once we tear through the tough exterior, the steps that follow aren’t so difficult.”

    Such an important reminder, Erin. As cliche as it sounds, the journey of a thousand miles does begin with that first step. And one step forward at a time – stop to take a break or tie your shoe laces if you have to – but you get through miles eventually.

    Life ultimately feels satisfying when we are challenged. What I would add to that though is if the menial tasks, like cooking, cleaning, yard work, could be made easier and to free up time and mental space to do the rewarding challenges. That would be the true sweet spot!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for bringing forth the quote about the journey of a thousand miles, Ab. It’s been awhile since I’ve heard that, but it’s so appropriate here, and so true. It’s easy to look back at how far with come with pride and admiration, but it’s more difficult to look forward and imagine the progress that could be made if we were to start today.

      I completely agree with the satisfaction of being challenged, as well as the subtle burden of those menial tasks. Life is too short to sweat the small stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I agree 100%. I actually made an intentional career decision along these very lines years ago. In my line of work (Construction) if you stay with it long enough, and you’re successful, a lot of guys gradually work themselves out of the physical part of the job and spend their days meeting with clients, working in the office, etc. as they hire others to do the hands on carpentry stuff. and I’ve watched those same people eventually crash and burn because while they may be making a lot more money, the rest of their life falls apart..I decided to keep my business smaller, and stay in the trenches day by day working along side the crew. That career decision has served me well, on multiple fronts. (health, sleep great, family in tact, a lot less stress)… Thanks for listening. 🙂 DM

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, DM, and for the great example! It takes a special kind of person to gain insights through others’ experiences and it sounds like you did just that. I think once we hit the income threshold where we’re no longer living hand-to-mouth, it’s advantageous to think about the bigger picture–health, sleep quality, relationships, peace of mind, etc.–instead of just a bigger picture. I’m so pleased to hear you’ve found that perfect balance in your life. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Hear, hear! I agree with you. I like a few challenges in my days, not because I’m a glutton for punishment, but because it’s through exerting yourself that you find out who you really are– and once you know who you are, you’re more at ease everywhere. “Let us then be up and doing with a heart for any fate, Still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labor, learn to wait.” said Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and so I do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, Ally, *this* is brilliant: “it’s through exerting yourself that you find out who you really are– and once you know who you are, you’re more at ease everywhere.” I have 100% found this to be true! I’ve had a rough stretch with health stuff for many years, but I’m more content than ever before, and I think it’s due to the purposeful effort… even when the results are slow to reveal themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. This is a wonderful post, Esoterica. We have become a society obsessed with convenience but all this convenience has a price. It negatively impacts our health, our planet and our relationships. There’s an old proverb “he who does not make time for exercise must make time for illness”. It’s so very true.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading, Michelle! You’ve hit the nail on the head–convenience has a price, and it’s often one of those “buy now pay later” where the installment payments haunt you for years to come.

      Liked by 1 person

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