This is a concept that I learned from one of my mentors – Geoff Thompson. A concept that taught me that the only way to grow was to recognize when I was staying in my comfort zone, regardless of the activities I was doing.
For example – if I told you that tomorrow you were going to give a presentation to a thousand people, and then do some full contact sparring, a lot of you would recognize how difficult this was. And it is. But for me, who presented over 26 times in the last year, and spent years fighting competitively and doing hard sparring, it’s well within my comfort zone. I can pretend that it’s difficult, but it’s still easy to me and won’t help me grow.
Anyway – Geoff explains it a lot better than I can:
Difficult difficult, difficult easy
I bumped into an old friend from the distant past. In my early days as a hard-nosed knuckle-dragger he was one of my compatriots, and one of the hardest working martial artists around. He had always prided himself on his sinewy mentality when it came to all things physical, and he had a prolific work rate. After a brief (and predictable) catch up (how’s the work, the car, the kids, the wife and the mum – in that order) he said ‘hey, you still doing animal day?’
Animal day, for those that do not know, is a form of knock-out or submission fighting (any range, any technique) that I pioneered in the mad, bad (and often sad) 90’s. A time I absolutely loved, but a time I am also grateful to have left behind.
I shook my head in the negative. It had been a many years since I engaged in my last animal day fight.
‘Why not?’ he asked, adding, ‘I’m still mad for it.’
‘Because it is difficult easy,’ I said, ‘and in order for me to continue growing my character, I don’t need difficult easy. In order for me to grow my character I need difficult difficult.’
He gave me one of those loud, squinty eyed confused looks that shouted from a hundred feet ‘Explain!’
So I explained.
Even as a veteran of thousands of fights, animal days were still a scary experience for me, it was violent and dangerous and extremely difficult. But because I had fought so many times and knew the terrain well it no longer stretched me.
Whatever it was that I needed to reap from that hard period of my life had been well and truly harvested; there was nothing left for me to learn there. Animal day was still difficult, and from the outside looking in it probably looked as though it was mad difficult, but for me it wasn’t, in fact it had become difficult easy.
My friend was still in love with the ground-and-pound style fighting and whilst his physical prowess was evident he had not grown even a single inch in any other area of his life, probably not for the last ten years. His was the mistake made by many; they presume that if something is difficult then they are in the arena. But experience has taught me that the only time you are truly in the arena is when you are (ever so slightly) out of your depth.
Difficult easy is when you are on familiar terrain, not matter how hard the going.
Difficult difficult is when you find your self at the bottom of someone else’s class with three crazy training partners; fear at your left, doubt on your right and (that big bastard) uncertainty squaring up in front of you.
Difficult easy is treading water whilst kidding yourself that you are swimming against the tide.
Difficult difficult doesn’t need to employ pretense because it is drowning and swimming for its life.
I see many people suffering stalled development because they are so busy occupying themselves with very worthy, respectably, difficult easy tasks that they use to avoid the difficult difficult areas of their lives.
I am doing it right now as it happens. I should be doing a re-write of a difficult (difficult) film script that is over due, but instead I am busying myself with a piece of difficult (easy) work that is not really due to be in print for another fortnight (damn, caught myself out again!)
Some (more) examples; you bury your relationship problems (difficult difficult) under hundreds of miles of road running (difficult…but easy).
You fill every spare moment with hard lists of worthy causes (difficult easy) so that you don’t have the time to invest in the book that you were always going to write, or the film you would love to make (if only you were not so committed in other areas) or the (difficult…very difficult) painting career that you had always intended to create.
You immerse yourself in course after course, book after book (so difficult, and yet….so deliciously easy) on becoming a life coach/property developer/master chef instead of just getting out there (difficult, oh so difficult) and actually doing it.
Listen. Let me tell you, the moment a task becomes difficult easy you stop growing. That is a fact. In order to re-establish your vital development you need to take an honest inventory (difficult very difficult – I have done it) of your life, ditch the pretence, and embrace the black that is….difficult difficult.
And stop chasing ostentatious challenges (that are difficult easy for you) and sort out your health; you are three stone over weight and your blood pressure is off the scale.
Kill the worthy endeavours that you think other people will think are impressive and do something truly and uniquely impressive; take your (secret) addictions to task and kill the porn (in all its forms).
Stop collecting trophies and certificates and belts that tell the word how successful you are and actually BE a success, by taking a hammer to that creepily burgeoning fear that you are harbouring.
And don’t, please (like my old mate) fall into the trap of mistaking hard work – even extremely hard (easy) work – for progress. Because, let’s be frank, difficult easy is really just another way of saying ‘easy’, and there is no growth in easy.
We aspirants are into the hard game, the long game, the difficult difficult game. What we are not into, or what we should not be into is the game of easy
Previously published – 2008