How To Convince Yourself To Do Hard Things

The end of the year is approaching and we're all feeling tired and burned out by the many pressures of work and family life. When our mental energy is drained, our brains cope with that fatigue in the same way. We do what is familiar and simple without considering new alternatives because it’s easier to process existing ideas over new ones. It's called expediency bias.

Our brains do this because it's easy to default to what's worked in the past rather than challenging ourselves to consider new and potentially more taxing alternatives. We stop innovating in order to make quick decisions and save mental energy. Anything that requires effort is labeled hard work and quickly discarded. So how do we break out of easy patterns of behavior to overcome the hurdle of new ideas?

Tip 1: Mindset. Tackle new things when you’re in a good mood and shift the way you perceive a task using a method called 'reappraisal'. With reappraisal, you're basically choosing a word or phrase that re-labels what we need to do and casts it in a positive light eg “I’m going to feel better once I get this new process down on paper.”

Tip 2: Autonomy. Allow our brains to envision the positive benefits of taking a more innovative approach. Provide incentives by comparing and contrasting the end result of trying something new versus sticking to the status quo eg a clever new project management system vs the clunky old spreadsheets.

Tip 3: Self assessment. We can accomplish hard things by observing and acknowledging when we revert to old ways of thinking and behaving. Practicing a growth mindset with the support of others helps get new habits to take root.

Hard work leads to wonderful long-term benefits if we can only get through the short-term discomfort.