It’s easier than you think.

In his newsletter this morning, Oliver Burkeman asks, "What if it were easy?" — "it" being just about anything that we perceive as difficult, which is, for some of us, everything:

"No question, life can be difficult – but when I really honestly examine why I don't always do the things I know I want to do, it's often not because they're difficult and I'd rather not experience discomfort. Instead, it's because I'm adding an additional level of difficulty, in my mind, that isn't objectively there at all. For me this frequently manifests in a perverse kind of absolutism: if I can't do some given thing fully, regularly, and excellently – if I can't become "the sort of person" who does that thing all the time – then I don't want to do it at all."

In my own life this same phenomenon often manifests in two ways:

  1. "Productive avoidance" of meaningful things I want to do, such as spending time trying to perfect a process before beginning it; constant fiddling with different software and apps to determine which one might be the absolute best choice for a particular situation (even when every choice is perfectly fine if I would only pick one); experimenting with different systems for a particular thing I want to do (say, Morning Prayer, or writing) in search of the one that I'm going to follow every day for the rest of my life, to the point that I never follow any for very long; owning literally hundreds of books about writing in all of the craft's aspects, which is kind of embarrassing to admit; etc.

  2. Sheer dread of things that I know I'm going to have to do, either because I've made an unavoidable commitment or because they really are necessary. These things — even pleasurable things, things that I know I'm going to enjoy, or learn from — loom in front of me like a tsunami of expectation.

While the productive avoidance is problematic, I am often able to rein in that particular bad habit by making commitments to other people, so that I absolutely must get something done. The problem, of course, is that this leads directly to #2, the whole "dread" angle.

I think that what I am dreading is difficulty, complexity, especially in terms of dealing with other people, or trying to accomplish something that meets some ideal of perfection that exists only in my head. This fear of impending deadlines or events has gotten much worse, and become an actual issue with which I have to wrestle, since my cancer experience. It's difficult to explain just how overwhelming and downright paralyzing it was to go through that whole ordeal, and now even the slightest sort of complexity — any event or project or appointment or task that I have to "get through" (even positive things, things I want to do!) — fills me with stress.

Which is why Burkeman's newsletter resonated so much with me. "What if it were easy?" Well, most things are easy, or easier than we think, certainly easier than horrible things like life-threatening diseases or depression or hunger or oppression. Yet I often forget just how easy most things are.

"What if it were easy?" Heading into the holiday season and beyond, I will try and ask myself that same question when faced with every task. Hmm, perhaps I need to write it down on a card and carry it in my wallet, or find an app that will let me keep the text as a widget on my phone or a virtual sticky on my computer screen, or you know what, perhaps there are other books on the subject I could read or online courses I could take …

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