Buzzzzz! Buzzzzz! My alarm clock begins shaking on the nightstand. It’s beckoning to me as loud as it can, and I’m not ready to answer. Maybe it is because it is 5 am Monday, the time and day I dread the most. Perhaps it’s because I know I need to get up, so I’m not late to my 5:30 am CrossFit class, or I’ll hear it from my coach. Plus… I’ll have to do five burpees for each minute I’m late, and I hate burpees! Can you tell I’m only one week into my CrossFit membership, and I’m regretting my decision to sign up already?
Clearly, this is a difficult task I am trying to avoid, and rather unsuccessfully at that. I know, I know, we should challenge ourselves to do difficult things. “Doing difficult things is what will make you stronger!” I can hear my coach saying as I struggle to lift a weight over my head that a pregnant woman next to me is having no problem. I can say that the embarrassment motivates me to continue on, no matter how uncomfortable I am.
As I set my bar down to eat some humble pie and look around at all the bad-assesses in class, I pause to ask myself. “Why should I stop avoiding difficult tasks? And How can I do so?”
That’s the question we’ll examine deeper with answers that not only helped me with CrossFit but can help you in whatever you find difficult in your life.
Why Should You Stop Avoiding Difficult Tasks?
Let’s face it. We are all human beings and enjoy being comfortable, period. We love all of our daily creature comforts that have made life simple. Whether navigating to a new destination or cooking a meal, we are always looking for a shortcut. We want faster, easier, better, and definitely not difficult. These things are almost synonymous with the American dream by today’s standards. This often sought-after dream used to be about hard work and grit but is now about getting there before anyone else with the least amount of effort.
Despite all this, easier is not always better, and here’s why:
When we take the easy way, we program our brains to be lazy. It no longer has to use critical thinking or creativity to develop a solution but only needs to seek the shortcut. This training actually re-wires the neural pathways of our brains in less-than-optimal ways.
According to Dr. Daniel Amen, M.D. author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, we need to work our brain if we want it to be healthy.
“Your brain is like a muscle. The more you use it, the more you can use it. Every time you learn something new, your brain makes a new connection. Learning enhances blood flow and activity in the brain. If you go for long periods without learning something new, you start to lose some of the connections in the brain, and you begin to struggle more with memory and learning.”
Furthermore, research from Anatomist Marian Diamond, Ph.D., from the University of California at Berkeley showed that rats who were allowed an easy life without any new challenges or learning had less brain weight than those who were challenged and forced to learn new information in order to be fed. New learning actually caused increased brain density and weight, meaning a healthier overall brain.
Before you jump to conclusions about the differences between human and rat brains, you should understand the following research:
“Even though the rat brain is smaller and less complex than the human brain, research has shown that the two are remarkably similar in structure and function. Both consist of a vast amount of highly connected neurons that are constantly talking to each other.”
The bottom line is that it’s simply healthier to exercise our brain, just like it is beneficial to exercise most other parts of our body. The more you take care of your brain, the more it will take care of you.
Here are 7 ways to take care of your brain, according to Dr. Amen.
- Protect Your Brain – protect your brain from injury, pollution, sleep deprivation, and stress.
- Feed Your Brain – go on a diet with brain boosting foods.
- Kill the ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) That Invade Your Brain – stay happy, hopeful and positive.
- Work Your Brain – keep learning, learning is a brain workout.
- Make Love for Your Brain – regular sexual activity enhances overall brain activity and improves memory as it boosts estrogen levels.
- Develop a “Concert State” For Your Brain – only when you feel relaxed will you be able to concentrate easily, listening to music is a nice way to relax yourself while improving your concentration.
- Treat Brain Problems Early – mental health problems such as anxiety and depression need to be dealt with as early as possible.
Any one of these recommendations alone can help you out when it comes to not avoiding difficult tasks. Remember, whether it’s accomplishing difficult things or a related area, your life can only improve with an optimized brain, so put these into action today. You can learn more about each one here.
Even if none of this so-called “brain talk” is convincing you, then let’s look at the situation from a different vantage point, growth and confidence.
If you’re reading this article, then you are interested in learning in some capacity. Whether it’s basic curiosity, strict personal development, or anywhere in between, you are seeking knowledge in some way. The search for knowledge is a search for growth as an individual. Growth, by definition, is the opposite of stagnation. So, by this rationale, anyone who is growing is undergoing change.
To indeed undergo change and growth, we need to step outside of our comfort zone into the area of uncomfortability. This is where all the magic happens. This is where we do the difficult tasks that we don’t always want to do. As we do difficult things more and more, they become easier and more manageable.
Anything most worthwhile learning in life takes some difficulty and time to become proficient.
Take a moment to think back to when you were a young child. When you first learned to ride a bike, did you just hop on and take off down the road? My guess is no. It probably took many tries before you could become proficient and start riding all over the neighborhood. Did you try a couple times and then give up because it was too difficult? No. You continued on again and again until you figured it out. You probably did the same thing for any sport or hobby you enjoyed. I’ll bet that many of them you kept practicing until you became pretty good. This is part of our drive as human beings and is embedded in our DNA.
We have always done difficult things as individuals and as the human race. World history is littered with examples of people doing difficult tasks and choosing the hard path. This mentality is embodied in JFK’s famous NASA speech from 1962:
“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”
Meaning, to accomplish greatness, you must do difficult tasks.To achieve the things you never have, you have to do the things you have never done.
How to Stop Avoiding Difficult Tasks
How great do you want to be?
If this question makes you uncomfortable, then your desire for growth may not be intrinsically motivating enough. You may need to build some confidence in your abilities to do the difficult tasks in the first place.
If you are going to build confidence, you first need to acknowledge the fear that is holding you back. Often, avoidance of a difficult task is related to fear. This could be related to the fear of getting started, fear of inability to complete the task, or simply a fear of a lack of knowledge around the task. In all cases, fear leads to inaction, which leads to a further lack of confidence.
According to Jen Gottlieb, Co-Founder and Chief Mindset Officer of Super Connector Media,
“Confidence comes from feeling the fear and doing it anyway consistently.…because every single time you do something difficult or scary, and still do it, you get to the other side. You then realize that you didn’t die, and nothing terrible happened, so you get a win and celebrate that win. With each win, you put another coin in the confidence bank and become a little bit more confident. If you do that consistently and trust yourself to be able to do those scary things, you’ll grow to where it will be less and less scary and become easy.”
Sounds like a recipe for success to me. The key is not to focus on the totality of the difficult task but only one small step at a time. This makes any task far more attainable. As the old saying goes, How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
With this theory in mind, here are 3 tips to help you stop avoiding difficult tasks
- Break it up – Dividing the task into smaller, feasible parts makes it seem easier while allowing you to celebrate the small wins.
- Manage limiting beliefs – Focus on what you can accomplish and avoid any negative self-talk. By staying positive, you will increase your likelihood of sticking with it.
- Seek Support – When others hold us accountable, we increase our chances of success by two-thirds.
Whether it’s brain health, growth, or confidence, the good news is that there is hope for you and me when it comes to completing difficult tasks.
I ended up sticking with the difficult CrossFit class I was enrolled in. That first week was over ten years ago, and even though it was challenging at the time, I’m glad I didn’t give up. I’ve been coaching others in CrossFit for six years now and have learned to do many, many difficult tasks along the way. Those successes rank near the top of my list when it comes to CrossFit. I’ll save the top spot for the fact that I’m now the one who gets to hand out the burpee penalties.
Featured photo credit: Daria Nepriakhina via unsplash.com
|||^||Dana Foundation: Diamond in the Rough World of Neuroscience|
|||^||Harvard Business Review: Rats Can Be Smarter Than People|
|||^||Creativity at Work: Dr Daniel Amen: Seven Ways to Optimize your Brain and Your Life|