What Would This Look like If It Was Easy?
Taking the path of least resistance is what we do in many areas of life, to our detriment. “That’s a problem for future me”, we think as we devour crappy food and stay up too late scrolling social media. We default to a way of living that requires the least conscious design. At each fork in the path, we take the road most travelled (to the disdain of Robert Frost).
In some other universe, a wiser version of ourselves made a different choice at each fork in the road. That version of us ended up somewhere different. Perhaps not too far from where we ended up, but, dear God, it’s a nicer place to be. Full of deliberate decisions, and sensible choices.
How do we course correct? How do we undo a lifetime of default choices in areas of our lives such as parenting, working, or exercising? One way is to ask a disarmingly simple question:
What would this look like if it was easy?
I first encountered this question on the Tim Ferriss podcast, and I’ve realised it’s one of the most powerful self-development questions you can ask.
What Would This Look like If It Was Easy?
Imagine it’s Tuesday, and it’s all going to hell at work. You feel like a piece of flotsam battered by a storm, moving from task to task and sinking beneath the onrushing emails, expectations, and deadlines. It’s exhausting and draining, and you sense you are not delivering at anywhere near your optimum level.
You go for a walk to clear your head and ask yourself: what would this look like if it was easy?
This question creates the freedom to imagine a different way of being. It defers the potentially difficult question of how to do this and allows you to dream for a bit.
Let’s consider this for a moment. If work was easy, perhaps it would feel calm. You’d probably be in a beautiful workspace, devoid of clutter and distracting noises. You’d have a short and well-prioritized task list, which tells you what to focus on next. You would be ticking things off this list, undistracted, feeling like you’re delivering real value. Your emails would still exist, but you’d control them, not the other way around. Every now and then, you would process a bunch of emails and return to the calm of work. Your calendar would have a few important meetings, but otherwise contain large expanses of time to focus. Life would feel proactive, not reactive.
You could easily imagine further aspects of the perfect working experience. The important thing is to ask the question. Now that you’ve made a deliberate choice about what you want, it’s often surprisingly straightforward to adjust life so it runs more smoothly. The difference between the easy path and the hard path is always smaller than you expect.
Creating Distance from Your Situation
Think about the last time you turned to someone for advice. Perhaps a sensible colleague, or a good friend. You would have explained a seemingly complex situation to them, and with a few deft questions, they expose the obvious answer that’s been there all along.
The benefit your advisors have is they are dispassionate and distant from your struggles. They are not mired in the decisions you’ve made until now. Instead, they hear the facts and imagine the simplest solution. They don’t need to ask themselves “what would this look like if it was easy?” because they haven’t considered any other option. The outside-in perspective is always the easy route.
It’s far easier to solve other people’s problems. When our friends bemoan their situation, we can’t help thinking: “It’s so obvious. The problem is X, and if you started doing Y instead, this wouldn’t keep happening.” This is our dispassionate, detached opinion helping to solve the problem.
Asking “what would this look like if it was easy?” to yourself is like bringing a friend into the conversation. Someone who’s not bogged down by the current situation and can imagine far simpler solutions for us.
Easy Small Things, Easy Big Things
It’s not just small tasks or individual circumstances that could be easier. This type of thinking can be applied to families, business departments, or even a whole company.
I know many parents who dread the nightly battle to wrestle children towards their beds. When you’re wrapped up in the moment, it can seem like you’re just dealing with the hand you’ve been dealt. But asking “what would this look like if it was easy?” can present options to explore.
Taking a few minutes to sketch out the ideal evening could prove very helpful. It might feel absurd, like you’re imagining a scene from The Waltons or The Sound of Music. But if you don’t have a clear view of what you want life to be like, how can you hope to stumble there by chance?
Perhaps your work life feels super hectic, as mine often does. If you’re fortunate to run a team, you can ask them to imagine how this could all be a bit easier. In this alternate universe, you wouldn’t be in a rush to deliver projects because you’ve been carefully managing expectations with stakeholders. Maybe there are fewer meetings because the strategy was clearer all along, and written down for all to see.
Whatever it is that you collectively imagine, there’s probably a team somewhere that operates just like that. Now that you know what you’re aiming for, you can start making small changes to move in that direction.
Subtractions and Additions
As I explore this question in different areas of my life, I notice subtraction is often the answer. Situations are usually easier when they are simpler, with fewer distractions, more deliberateness, and a sense of purpose. Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, is a great book to read if you’re interested in paring life back to the things that matter.
On other occasions, a decisive addition is needed. A moment of additional preparation so that everything runs more smoothly. A few hours of sharpening the axe before you fell the tree. In a business setting, this might involve creating a process to define something that currently unfolds haphazardly. Or introducing a regular planning cycle so that everyone understands what they should be doing.
Given the broad range of subjects this question can be applied to, and the astounding outcomes that are often mere tweaks away, I think this could be one of the most powerful self-development questions in existence.
Next time you find yourself struggling with something, just ask: what would this look like if it was easy? And take the road less travelled…