The Hardest Thing

“We suffer more often in imagination than in reality.”
{Seneca}


Sharing difficult feedback. Public speaking. Expressing empathy. Learning to play a musical instrument. Becoming fluent in a foreign language.

These are all “hard” things. And I have to put “hard” in quotes because right now you might be saying to yourself, “I don’t think ___________ is that hard?”

Maybe you play an instrument really well or love giving talks or have developed solid skills for giving tough feedback. You probably don’t see those things as hard anymore. You appreciate the work it took to get to your current level of confidence but “hard” no longer means what it once did.

My guess is that before you became competent you told yourself a story about just how hard it would be to get there. And that story – your imagination – depending on how richly it was detailed and how expertly it was crafted, stood in the way of your getting started.

I’m a beginner at the piano. I have not yet had a lesson (that’s coming soon) so I am using my daughter’s early lesson books for exercises to train my fingers and some “easy” songs to aid my learning. I have been at it for one month. In that short time my attitude has shifted from a lifelong belief that “piano is hard” (and therefore not for me) to a present sense of very pleasing satisfaction that I can already do things that I never imagined being able to do.

Until I decided to sit down at the piano for 15 minutes a day, I was living under the shadow of “hard” as an imaginative device to prevent me from starting. I now experience “hard” as an aspirational device to feed my curiosity and help me add one small brick at a time.

The piano is, of course, an objectively hard instrument to master, and mastery is the domain of a very few. But mastery isn’t my goal. Learning to play some songs I love is my goal. Connecting with my kids through music is my goal. Filling the house with Christmas carols is my goal. After six weeks of daily practice, those things no longer seem hard. They seem possible, exciting and a lot of fun.

What changed? I suppose I got old enough and just a little bit wise enough to realize it was time to stop suffering in my imagination and time to start succeeding in my reality.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

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There’s a line in a David Whyte poem I come back to again and again: “anything or anyone that doesn’t bring you alive is too small for you.”

It’s worth considering what you’re hanging onto that no longer serves you. That habit, that mindset, that behavior, that relationship…it’s familiar and understood. It’s comfortable.

If you let it go, what will you be left with? What will take its place? The great adventure is to let it go and find out. The great terror is to let it go and find out.

I’m reminded of the understory of a forest. If it doesn’t burn periodically nothing new has the space and light to grow.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

 

When Motivation Becomes Habit

“Motivation is a lot like showering. It’s useful, but it doesn’t last, so you need to repeat it often.” – Zig Ziglar

I hope their employees are in the habit or they might read this euphemistically. Scary. (Barnes&Noble bathroom)

I hope their employees are in the habit or they might read this euphemistically! (Barnes&Noble bathroom)

I made three very specific commitments for Lent this year. One month later they have all become habits. That should satisfy the “28 day” folks. It really works.

Yes, I was motivated to get started. You need motivation – a feeling that it is no longer optional to move towards your cause, purpose or goal. I was deeply motivated, as a matter of fact, both personally and professionally to break new ground on some long-held beliefs, fears and wants.

Without that energy for a new way forward I can certainly see how the gap between motivation and habit would be very hard to jump. If you don’t have a burning drive that you are ready to be honest about – for me, dependence, capacity and production – then this is not for you. If you do have that drive and you’re hanging back out of fear, it’s time to snap out of it and get moving. Really.

Lent was convenient timing. I happen to be a person of faith and I am grateful for the invitation to dedicate six weeks to renewal, reflection and re-orientation that my church provides. That, of course, is available to us any time and all the time. Lent is just a construct, like everything else we’ve invented.

What’s more accurate and more honest is that I was sick of myself. I was tired of thinking about it, wondering about it, getting frustrated about it, on and on. I was done with that phase and ready for a new one. Maybe Lent was divine intervention, the right opportunity at the right time. I won’t argue that as a very real possibility. It’s also true that, living in the first world as we do, we have choice and I made a decision to exercise mine.

It’s my turn. And it’s your turn, too.