When we approach a new task it is important to know what kind of task we are about to do.
Knowing lets us prepare for the challenges that are up ahead, and this increases our chances of success.
But certain terms are easy to confuse. Simple is not the same as Easy. Hard is not the same as Difficult.
Learn what these mean and how you can use them to be successful on your next project or goal.
There are different types of tasks in the world.
Four of the most common ways we describe them are as simple, easy, hard, and difficult.
Usually people think of simple and easy as being synonyms. And hard and difficult also as being synonyms.
But that is not always true.
In fact, confusing these terms is the root cause of many people’s failures when it comes to changing their lives or achieving goals. Often it is because they take something that is simple and approach the task like it is easy.
But often simple tasks are really, really hard. If you try to do something that is simple but hard don’t be surprised if you fail.
And the best way to guarantee success is to find the simple and easy tasks that will lead you to your goals.
To do this you have to figure out how to make the difficult simple and the hard easy.
There is a specific way you do this, but before you can understand it first you have to know what these four terms mean.
Easy can be defined as “requiring no great labor or effort”(1). It is the opposite of hard.
Some examples of an easy task (for most people) would be watching TV or going for a 5 minute walk when the weather is nice.
Simple means “easy to understand” (2). The “to understand” part is what makes all the difference.
My favorite example of this is moving a pile of decent sized rocks from the bottom of a hill to the top of the hill. (Which by the way is a great workout!)
It doesn’t take much effort to understand how to do it.
- Pick up a rock
- Walk to the top of the hill
- Put the rock down
- Walk back down the hill
- Repeat until finished
While understanding how to do this task is easy, how hard it is to do depends on a few factors. The main ones are:
- How big the rocks are
- How many rocks there are
- How big the hill is
- How fit you are (specific to this task)
One of the main issues in health and fitness today is that people are often told something will be easy, but instead it is simple and really, really hard.
Things like stop snacking, don’t eat processed food, follow this meal plan, walk 10,000 steps a day: these are all simple.
But for most people they are so hard that they can’t do them. Then this turns into them telling themselves that they can’t get fit or healthy because they can’t do “easy” tasks.
And in reality they are struggling with hard tasks, which is of course normal.
That's why for the most part we want to avoid the hard stuff.
Speaking of which...
Hard is “difficult to do”(3). The “doing” makes all the difference here.
Take our previous example of moving the rocks up the hill. It is hard because it is “difficult to do” but it is simple because it is “easy to understand.”
Hard things require great labor or effort. This makes them easy to fail at.
When it comes to health and fitness, many people think that hard is the only option. The idea you have to give up your favorite foods is hard. So hard that most people can’t do it. The idea that you have to go to a gym for an hour a day is hard. Most people can’t do it.
There are certainly things that we can’t make easy. If you want to win a gold medal you will have to do lots of hard work. If you want to run a marathon there will be some hard training days.
But for most goals for most people we rarely (and often never) have to do really hard things.
Difficult is “hard to understand or solve”(4).
My favorite example of difficult (for most people) is solving math equations. It’s usually not actually hard, you just sit and apply some set rules in a systematic way until you find the answer.
But knowing which rules and what order and not making a mistake is hard. Making the process hard to understand which is our definition of difficult.
In my experience there are usually only two things that are difficult when it comes to health and fitness:
1 - Very high level goals
2 - Human psychology
The higher the goal level is the more difficult it becomes. The amount you need to understand to make it to the Olympics or get to 4% body fat or solve a complex medical issue can be difficult. But we don’t run into this so often.
However, the second one we run into all the time. It is simple to tell yourself that you will stop eating junk food tomorrow. But it might not be easy for you to stop. Figuring out why you can’t stop is where things are difficult, and therefore where the hard work comes in.
In the examples you might have noticed that each one is followed by “for most people” in brackets. This is the key to how you can use this knowledge to achieve your goals.
The reason for the bracketed statement is that none of these terms is absolute. They are all relative. Meaning they are different for every person in every moment of their life.
For example, let's take the workout that I did before writing this article:
100 Kettlebell One Arm Swings (50 each side) with 20 kg (44 lbs) in 6 mins
10 Kettlebell Turkish Get Ups (5 each side) with 20 kg in 7 mins
For me this was a simple and easy workout. I know these two exercises very well and it was a light weight for me to do them with.
But for you it could be a simple and hard workout. This would happen if you were very familiar with the exercises but the weight was heavy and challenging. It could even be so hard that you couldn’t do it at all because the weight was just too much.
It could also be a difficult and easy workout. Say you were very strong and in great shape and the weight wasn’t tough but you never were exposed to these exercises before. The weight could feel like nothing on a Turkish Get Up but you could always not know the next step which confuses you and you would have to figure out how to do a kettlebell swing even though you had all the strength to do it once you figured it out.
And finally it could be difficult and hard. It could be a lot of weight for you and you might not know how to do the movements. Now you have the problem of having to figure out how to do the exercises along with the weight being challenging for you.
Every task is like this, whether it is a workout, following a diet, doing a habit. We never know how to categorize the task until we consider the person and their environment.
Additionally we need to consider the moment in time. If it were difficult and easy and you spent a few weeks with a coach mastering the exercises the workout quickly becomes simple and easy. If it were simple and hard and we put you on a program that gets you much stronger soon this workout would become simple and easy.
Also, if I were to stop working out for a number of years or were (G-d forbid) in a serious car accident or got very sick this exact same workout could become either difficult or hard for me.
This leads us to the trick to achieving most goals. Almost all of your focus should be on doing things that are simple and easy.
If you do simple and easy consistently you gain new capabilities. This makes things that were hard or difficult, easier and simpler. Then you can start doing those new things.
It is like climbing a staircase: you don’t need to jump up 10 stairs, you just need to go up one step at a time.
To illustrate, let’s say you want to eat enough fruits and veggies (which for most people is at least 5 servings a day) and that might be a hard and difficult task. You have to buy the veggies, prepare them, find time to eat them, find ones you like, etc.
If instead of trying to do something hard and difficult scale back until it is simple and easy. Maybe that means 1 serving of fruit a day. Then once that becomes second nature you could step up to 2 servings of fruits and vegetables and so on and so on.
We can also take doing something like a Turkish Get Up with 20 kg. You don’t start by just trying harder. Instead you learn the first step of the exercise using no weight. Then we slowly add new steps until you know them all by heart. Then you learn to do them balancing a shoe on your fist. Finally we start adding weight.
When you make things simple and easy you can do them. Then you can slowly progress toward things that were harder and more difficult but have become simpler and easier because you have changed.
Don’t just keep it simple. Keep it simple and easy.
Break down large goals into smaller goals, break down smaller goals into simple and easy actions.
And remember it has to be simple and easy for you. There are no “rules” about where you need to start. Start with simple and easy and slowly progress.
If figuring out how to progress is difficult, get help. This is where coaches help the most; they can help guide you into a logically and proven progression that will get you to where you want to go.
This approach is much more successful than “trying harder” to do something hard or difficult. That is just a recipe for repeating the failure again.
If you are interested in coaching feel free to send me an email. I am here to help.
2 - https://www.dictionary.com/browse/simple?s=t
3 - https://www.dictionary.com/browse/hard?s=t
4 - https://www.dictionary.com/browse/difficult?s=t