Just stop making excuses and do it!

The title of this post is terrible advice, really.  It’s just about the worst way to motivate anyone to do anything.  “Look, this isn’t hard,” people – generally people who are already good at that thing – will say.  “Just start counting calories.  Or running.  Or playing the guitar.  Or parkouring.  Or learning Tagalog.  Whatever it is, stop making excuses and go do it!”

Let’s be honest.  They’re right.  The key to success really is to just start.  It’s that simple.  But, at the same time, they’re entirely wrong.  Because “simple” does not equate to “easy”.  Particularly when the word “simple” is being applied to a task that needs to be performed.  Because the experience of doing that task is entirely subjective.

See, there’s this thing called the “Dunning-Kruger effect“, named for David Dunning and Justin Kruger.  Who are they?  They’re the Cornell University researchers who first described the phenomena.  In brief, it consists of two related cognitive biases:

  • The unskilled don’t know enough to understand how difficult a task is, and therefore underestimate the difficulty.
  • The skilled are capable of performing a difficult task, and therefore underestimate the difficulty of the task for people without their skill.

You see this sort of thing a lot when dealing with car or home repairs.  Someone assumes they can watch a YouTube video and then redo the wiring in their kitchen.  Two days later, they’re in the hospital with electrical burns while an electrician has to rewire their entire house.  You also see it a lot with weight loss and physical fitness.  “Just stop eating so much.”  “All you have to do is go for a walk.”  “Step away from the cheeseburger.”  Everywhere you look, you’re bombarded with messages that “all” you have to do is exercise and eat less.

Simple, right?  But simple ain’t easy.  Particularly if you’re learning a whole new set of skills and adopting a whole new set of habits.  It takes time and effort, and it feels awkward and uncomfortable and (maybe) painful when you start.  But it does get easier as you work, as you get good at those new habits and skills.  Things sneak up on you, and one day you realize that maybe, just maybe, you’re succeeding.

When you hit that point, congratulations!  Just keep in mind how much work it was to get to that point, and resist the urge to tell someone else how “easy” it all is.  They’ll thank you.  Or maybe they won’t.  But at least they won’t want to punch you for being a condescending jerk.

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