May 22, 2013

Does Everything Have to Be Hard?

I laughed out loud yesterday when I found a piece of music I had worked on in the course of my professional violin career.

At the top, I had written,“This is not hard.” Even though it was in my handwriting, I can hear my teacher saying it. He was always having to remind me that I already knew how to play the violin, and that meant that some things just were already easy.

One of his favorite ways to say it was, “You’ve already played all of these notes before, just not in this order.”

It happens all over the place for me. I notice it in the smallest, everyday things.

I look out at the weeds in the back yard and feel like it’s an insurmountable task—yet, it only ends up taking 15 minutes to pull them all. Some administrative task goes undone for weeks or even months, just because it feels like it’s going to be so much work. And then, when I get it finished just before the deadline, I find that it takes all of five minutes and was a breeze.

Now, playing the violin isn’t as easy as pulling weeds or filling out some form, but when someone reaches a professional skill level with it, there are still plenty of things that are indeed just easy to play.

So, why is it that no matter what part of my life, I run up against this, “Oh, no, it’s going to be so hard!!” thing? It all comes back to this feeling that I call Learned Distress, which is the feeling we all absorb early in life that there is something wrong with us being just the way we are. We soak up this negative feeling from the way those around us feel about being themselves.

Learned Distress becomes embedded in our sense of self, which is the automatic, generating force behind each moment of our lives.

Learned Distress comes in many flavors, such as, “I don’t matter,” “I don’t fit,” “I have to be perfect,” and so on. This “everything has to be hard” piece of Learned Distress can have a few different origins.

For me, it’s about an interplay of the feeling that I need to do things perfectly, but that what is safe when it comes to achieving things is to fail and fall back on being dependent on someone else, as a result. Others experience “everything has to be hard” as their impetus to work, work, work all the time, so they can avoid feeling anything, because for them it’s not safe to experience their feelings.

Yet others survive by having a constant crisis going on, so “everything is hard” gives them a convenient crisis-generating mechanism.

Despite the fact that I still see layers of this Learned Distress coming up in a multitude of ways, I have also seen so much change in this arena. As I’ve unlearned layers of “everything has to be hard,” I have found myself procrastinating much less than I used to.

Just this week, I dove into a huge professional test I needed to complete. As I got into it, it was actually more involved and complicated than I had thought it would be. Since I had 60 days to complete it, I could have put it off for a long time or dragged it out, but the further I got into it, the more something in me bubbled up to drive me forward. I completed it within a few hours and passed with flying colors.

Clients of mine tend to use the words “miracle” or “weird” (or both) when they experience change in this realm. Often, they don’t even notice the shift until I point it out, because they’re so used to working hard to achieve something that when it happens easily, they don’t register it.

One of my favorite stories is someone who told me that no change had taken place that week for her, when the desired change had been to have more order in her life. She experienced disorder in being dyslexic, being a hoarder, and never making it to work on time. When I asked her to tell me about her week, she started off my saying, “I only got one room of my house cleaned out.”

When I pushed a bit further, she admitted that she couldn’t even remember the last time she had done that. She also said that she made it to work on time every day, except for the day she got to the office an hour early and organized it before everyone else came in.

Some things in life are difficult to achieve, and they are worth working hard for. Excellence and innovation in many fields can often only come as a result of this kind of hard work, and it makes our world a better place.

But, is “everything has to be hard” getting in the way of having ease in your life in the places that could be simpler? Do you put things off or make things harder than they need to be?

I’d love to hear about your experience with this piece of Learned Distress in the comments.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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