I was at the gym a few weeks ago when a young man approached me just after I had finished my squats. He explained that he was a beginner in the gym and asked about the best way to progress toward being able to lift an impressive amount of weight.

“Oh, that’s easy — just keep following your 5×5 program and…”

I stopped myself.

“Sorry, I misspoke. It’s simple, not easy. Just keep following your program consistently, push yourself, and good things will happen.”

I walked away from the interaction pondering what I had just said. My correction was only subtly different from my original statement, but I believe it advocated a completely different mindset. Humans are wired to take the path of least resistance, and there are few things worth accomplishing that are actually easy to do. There are clearly two are clearly two different spectrums to consider when evaluating the method of accomplishing a goal. The questions you will ask yourself are:

Is it easy or hard?

Is it simple or complicated?

Easy vs. Hard describes the distance to the goal. Something is easy if it is tangible, immediate, and low-effort. Things that are hard require sustained effort and go against our natural state of intertia. There are few “Easy” things to do that will set you apart from the average person, because if it were easy everyone would do it.

The other spectrum, Simple vs. Complicated, describes the complexity of the solution. I have found that my best accomplishments are borne out of habits that are relatively repeatable and easily communicated. Complicated things require more explanation, more nuance, and are easier to forget or ignore due to the many steps involved. When you are evaluating different paths to a goal, this is how you may see the combination of these factors out:

Easy and Simple

If your life is a bank account, the Easy-Simple situations are the withdrawals that, over the course of time, will leave you broke. It’s both simple and easy to get fast food — just head to the drive-thru and hand over your money, and you can be eating delicious poison within minutes. It’s easy and simple to play video games, or lurk on online dating sites from the comfort of your home. These solutions are accessible and require little dedication. The exception here is the direct solution to fixing a minor problem — supplementing zinc to fix a deficiency, for example. However, any large-scale change (rather than just a hack) that is marketed as Simple and Easy is likely fake.

Easy and Complicated

The wisdom to recognize these deceptive situations is of paramount importance. Easy-Complicated situations often contain a needless number of details, but promising quick and reliable results without putting in much work. In other words, this is the domain of marketing gurus. Pyramid schemes, goofy exercises, and workout supplements come to mind as things with mechanisms that are difficult to explain but supposedly require low amounts of effort to show results. The complexity of these solutions is often baked in to distract you from seeing the true hard (but simple) solution.

Hard and Complicated

Some things worth doing will fall into this category—achieving mastery, rather than competency, in an area is often Hard-Complicated. However, for the majority of life’s goals, a solution in this quadrant means you are not taking the most efficient path to your goal. Which brings us to…

Hard and Simple

These are the solutions you should search out for most of your problems. We live in a world where most goals have an established blueprint for success, and more often than not these steps are easily communicated in a few sentences. However, the implementation of the advice will require dedication, sweat, perseverance that few are willing to muster. Want to build muscle? Start a business? Improve your diet? Make more money? These things all have fairly simple steps, but require significant effort to execute over the long term. Key indicators for these methods is that they are sustainable and easy to summarize, but you must fight against your inner inertia to do them over the long term. They also tend to show small but incremental returns that help verify their worth

There are exceptions, but for most goals in your life, you will be best served by following the Hard and Simple methods of making progress.

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