It’s Always Easier Than I Make It

How many advanced-degreed, savvy business consultants prone to self-deprecation and an over-inflated view of one’s sense of humor does it take to change a light bulb, and how long will it take? *                                    

* Answer buried below

SimplifyI spend my life coaching and consulting with clients about changing their behavior so they can increase their effectiveness. Behavior is not always easy to change, but it’s doable. Here’s a common scenario. You walk into a meeting totally unprepared. You get blindsided by two people you didn’t know would be there. How did that work for you? Recommendation: find out the purpose of the meeting and who will be there in advance next time. You might also want to think about why you’re invited while you’re at it. Learn from the present, change some things (behaviors) and see how it works in the future.

Some behaviors, however, are harder to change, which means harder to start or harder to stop. These tend to be more ingrained. For example, if you’re basically a disorganized person, a time management course is not going to help you unless you are willing to faithfully change your routines for at least a month. It takes more effort, but lots of practice and discipline can create the desired change in behavior.

Change behavior. I know this. I preach this. I work with my clients on this – and then I looked in the mirror, and it hits me. I hate it when this happens. When it comes to important and enduring change, the change first needs to happen inside your head – how you think, not what you do.

Confessions of a Complicator

I got to thinking why it takes me longer to do what I think should be an easy and routine task. Line them up; knock them down. I’m not talking about taking out the trash. That’s not hard. Don’t need to overthink that. But there are so many other things that, with the proper amount of delay, a touch of obsession, and a dose of anxiety, lead to really big deals.

Time for some serious self-talk

With a little soul searching and three Post-it® notes, I created one axiom and two corollaries for myself. I like to use this terminology because I learned these in high school algebra and it makes me feel smart, even if I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about:

Axiom: It’s always easier than I make it.

Whatever the task, it’s always easier than I make it. It’s always easier than I think. This is my mantra.

Corollary 1: Good work equals finished work.

Perfection equals unfinished work. Perfection is the enemy. I know it’s the enemy. It comes with a cost. I’ve got to give it up – another burden shed.

Corollary 2: I don’t have to spend my life pleasing everybody.

What a huge burden. Other peoples’ happiness, so I’ve extolled and been told, is not my responsibility.

I know there are some good tag lines out there like “keep it simple, stupid” or “just do it.” I tried these and then thought I might need a licensing agreement to even think them. I say create your own axiom. Add a corollary or two. Your head, your axiom. No algebra required.

OK, it’s time for the light bulb story. True story. I have witnesses. There was a flickering florescent bulb in the overhead fixture in the laundry room. Taking off the fixture cover proved to be a challenge. I remind myself that I have a couple of advanced degrees. I can figure this out. 5 minutes go by. 10 minutes. No luck. Not even close.

Down the ladder. I Google “changing florescent bulbs.” I look for the savvy business consultant version, but apparently the videos are geared more to practicality than complication. I watch the video. I make sure that I make it complicated. Back up the ladder. Wrong video or wrong fixture, or maybe wrong bulb changer. No luck. I’m 20 minutes into this.

So it’s on to YouTube video #2. Ok, deep breaths this time. I know I can do this. From the depths of my psyche comes the axiom: it’s always easier than I make it. Bingo. Success. Cover comes off in less than 5 seconds, although it is roughly 27.5 minutes, give or take, after I took that first step. Add in another 3 minutes or so for changing the light bulb and closing the cover (piece of cake, by the way), and there you have it. Done. A victory lap around the laundry room takes place.

In case you are wondering, the correct answer to the opening riddle is: one consultant, 30.5 minutes (if you include watching two videos), and that’s when the consultant thinks he’s really smart. Perhaps a new record for longest time. [Editor’s Note: I’d appreciate a little slack on your part given I realized that a consultant changing a light bulb scenario was too good a story to pass up blogging about.]

It’s always easier than I make it. Always. This works for me. I have to remind myself that there’s no need to complicate things, pretty much anything. One small axiom puts me in the right mindset.

Changing behavior is critical for success in any job. But for more enduring change, you have to get inside your head, rewire your thinking.

What about for you? Do you have any light bulb changing stories? Any axioms you’ve created for yourself?

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