7 Quick and simple tips to switch from hard to easy.

7 Quick and simple tips to switch from hard to easy by Cathy Jacob at CathyJacob.com

Do you remember the bright red Easy Button in the Staples commercials?

Do you ever wish life was actually like that? Just slam the button, and like magic, what once was hard is now easy.

In my last post, I explored how to stop making things harder than they need to be. But what if you’re in the middle of something hard RIGHT NOW and you’re just looking for some simple ways to switch from hard to easy mode?

Here are 7 quick and simple practices that can act as your easy button when life offers up a little too much hard.

1. Let your mind wander.

Yes, really.

Have you ever had this experience?

You’re working on a hard problem, and you feel completely stumped. So, you stop and take a break, maybe go for a short walk and then out of nowhere, the solution just drops in your lap.

What is that?

Barbara Oakley, author, and professor of engineering at Oakland University talks about focused and diffuse modes of thinking.

Focused mode is when your executive functions are engaged, and you are zeroed in on executing. Diffuse mode is also sometimes referred to as daydreaming or mind-wandering mode. Or if you’re a neuroscientist, you might call it the brain’s default mode network. Daydreaming and mind-wandering are often considered bad, but it turns out, they have an important function to play.

When you focus without a break for too long, you start to become fatigued, the work gets harder, and your effort delivers diminishing returns.

By taking a break and doing something that does not require focus – you let your diffuse mode of thinking to take over. This is the mode where your mind makes novel connections, sees patterns, exercises creativity.

The key is to use these two modes in harmony with one another by following intense period of focus with mind-wandering breaks.

Take a walk. Let go. Let your mind do what it wants to do. You may be amazed by what your subconscious delivers.

2. Convert your complaint into gratitude.

“We live in a complaint culture that gets high on expressing outrage: especially on social media, which often seems like an endless stream of grumbling and whining about what is unsatisfactory or unacceptable. Even if we don’t get caught up in it directly, it can still affect us. With enough second-hand griping, we get emotional cancer.”

McKeown, Greg. Effortless (p. 55). Crown. Kindle Edition.

Most of us complain much more than we realize. If we’re not verbalizing our complaints, we are internalizing them, sighing and moaning without realizing it. Complaining, particularly when it is shared, makes things harder.

Greg McKeown, author of Effortless: Make it easier to do what matters most, takes a page from experts in habit formation and suggests we use our complaining as a cue to build the habit of gratitude. Here’s the recipe he recommends, “After I complain I will say something I am thankful for.” 

Worst case scenario? It will reveal to you how much you are complaining. Best case scenario, it will instill a gratitude habit with the many benefits researchers have discovered come with a daily gratitude practice.

Two quick caveats here.

  1. This is not about denying your feelings. Sometimes things are genuinely hard, and it’s helpful to acknowledge that. This is about breaking habitual patterns of thought that don’t serve you and replacing them with habits that do.
  2. Don’t impose this practice on others who you hear complaining. You don’t know what they are going through and your admonitions about how they should be more grateful are not helpful and can actually make things worse.

3. Take the “Is that true” test.

One of my favorite questions in coaching is “Is that true?”

I will hear a client state an assumption about themselves or their situation as if it were a fact. Usually it begins with something like “I’m not good…”, “I can’t because…”, “I never…”, “I always…”

Then I will ask, “Is that true?”

Even just asking the question makes them pause and take stock of the story they are telling themselves. It invites the possibility that this is simply a story not a truth. If they insist that it is true, I’ll ask for the evidence and we’ll examine that. Then I might ask, “Would 99% of people who know you and your situation agree that this is true?

The practice of testing your assumptions and getting in the habit of asking yourself if you’re beliefs are true, is a process in critical thinking.  It can often uncover limiting beliefs that are making your life hard.

4. Fun Stack.

“Don’t underestimate the power of the right soundtrack to ditch the drudgery and get into a groove.”

McKeown, Greg. Effortless (pp. 48-49). Crown. Kindle Edition.

One Saturday morning, my four-year-old granddaughter was sad because she was too young to go curling with her older brother. Staying home with her grandmother while her brother was out having fun was hard. I sympathized but it became clear commiserating with her was not helping. So, I jumped up, grabbed my phone, pulled up a kid music playlist and shouted, “Dance Party!” Hard gone; fun begun.

When you are facing something difficult, unpleasant, or just boring, add in something you associate with fun or indulgence – do it to music, invite friends to help you or make a game of it.  I once paired a full-bodied red wine with my annual Christmas Card writing task. The Christmas wishes got a little less coherent after awhile, but it was a lot more enjoyable!

5. Take the next smallest step.

Procrastination makes things hard.

It’s deceiving because your mind tricks you into thinking that it is easier to avoid doing the hard thing. But you are really passing it onto your future self, when it will be even harder.  With procrastination, you take something unpleasant and make it last longer.

In the writing classic, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott tells the story of her brother at the kitchen table close to tears because he had a school project to hand in the next day on birds and he hadn’t started it. His father sat down beside him, put his arm around his shoulder and said, “Bird by bird Buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

When you find yourself putting something off, ask, ‘what is the next, smallest step I can take?” Take it and then ask yourself again. Before you know it, you’ll be engaged and in flow and the process will feel easy.

6. Call ‘time of done’.

I had a fascinating and humbling conversation with a fellow coach and writer last week.

We were comparing writing processes. We discovered that we have a lot in common. We started writing online at roughly the same time. We each typically publish 2 to 3 articles a month. We write about similar topics. But there’s one key difference between us.

She publishes on the same day she starts writing her article.

My articles typically take me a week from beginning to end.

Here’s the ugly math:

  • My friend. 2 articles per month = 2 days of writing.
  • Me. 2 articles per month = 10 days of writing.

I’ve read her stuff – it’s pretty good. Our writing style is different, but the articles are around the same length.

So, what’s going on?

My guess? I have a “time of done” problem.

I can get the first draft of a post written in a few hours. Pulling together research and sources for a typical piece takes three or four more hours. Most of the additional time is an obsessive process of editing, reading, re-reading, re-writing, second-guessing and general agonizing over whether the piece is good enough. Most of that time, I’m not adding any value to the final product.

My new practice?

Limit myself to two thorough edits and press publish. In other words, determine what done looks like and call ‘time of done’ earlier.

7. Ask, How can I make this easy?

Making a habit of asking this question has delivered more improvement in my personal productivity and the quality of my working life than almost any other strategy. I now ask it whenever I start a new project.

If you want to take a deep dive on how to create more effortlessness in your life, I highly recommend you read Effortless by Greg McKeown. It is bursting with practical, easy to implement and helpful tips to create greater ease in your life.

How do you get yourself out of hard mode and into easy mode? Share some of your tips below.

Looking for more? Subscribe to The Slow Sip, my free monthly newsletter packed with articles, podcast episodes, practices and practical recommendations to help you transform your relationship to work and life.

    Cathy Jacob

    I'm Cathy Jacob. I am a writer, coach and co-founder of Fire Inside Leadership. After two decades of coaching leaders on how to inspire while navigating the challenges of demanding careers and lives, I’ve created this site to share the best of what I’ve learned from my courageous clients and leaders in the fields of psychology, leadership, philosophy and neuroscience on what it takes to live an inspired life.


    1. Jane on June 17, 2022 at 12:45 pm

      This is great, Cathy. I see you, me, all of us in what you’re writing and am chuckling while knowing how important what you’re saying is as awareness and a practice. The one I laughed the hardest at myself is mind-wandering – it’s become quite chronic, ridiculously laughable many days. Roddy says I’m talking out loud more and more and interrupting my own sentences. lol! the one I laughed at for you was the time of done math. My mode of this is just motivated by different things (she says sitting at the computer on a non-work morning). anyhoo, thanks for the wisdom and reminder. xo

    2. Suzanne on June 28, 2022 at 11:53 pm

      I’m going to try to be grateful after every complaint. Sound advise. But I’m going to have to think of a lot of things to be thankful for. Lol

      • Cathy Jacob on June 29, 2022 at 12:58 pm

        You and me both!

        • Cathy Jacob on June 29, 2022 at 12:58 pm

          Let me know how it goes.

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