It's an inconvenient truth that the road to success isn't a secret. Most of us know exactly what we need to do to improve our lives. But we don't do those things because they are hard. We prefer tricks, formulas, and hacks over doing the one thing that we know is most effective. A few examples:

  • We sign up for a course instead of coding a website from scratch.
  • We do isolated machine exercises instead of heavy lifts in the gym.
  • We ignore our partner instead of having a hard conversation.
  • We go on fad diets instead of building a healthy lifestyle.
  • We scroll Twitter instead of reading a book.

There's a reason we act like this and it's called hedonic motivation. Humans are wired to prefer things that feel good and avoid things that feel bad. That's why we search for productivity tips online instead of actually being productive. We rationalize these choices too, often in very clever ways, but deep down we can feel that we're simply avoiding doing what's effective, but hard.

How to Do the Hard Things

Figure Out What the Hard Thing Is

First, you need to make sure you know what the hard, but effective thing is in the skill or job that you want to improve. This should be easy to figure out, because it's usually the thing that creates the output. For writers, it's writing. For coders, it's coding. For musicians, it's writing a song. For athletes, it's doing a workout.

Rewire Your Brain

The trick to spending more time on the effective, hard things is to change your thinking so the hard thing looks good while the alternative looks bad. For example, you can program a website from scratch and genuinely become a more competent developer or you can sign up for another course that will rehash what you already know or what you could easily have looked up. Which one is better?

Figure Out Your Why

Make sure you know why you want to do this hard thing. If you don't know why, chances are you'll lose motivation pretty quickly. So figure out your why and frequently remind yourself of it. Write it down and put it where you can see it. The stronger your why, the better.

Make Time for It

Next up, make a commitment. Turn the hard thing into a habit. Every day at a particular hour, you will do this one hard thing. Pure focus, no multi-tasking. Take it easy at first and gradually lengthen the amount of time you spend on this. Enjoy it, too. Enjoy the grind, the pain, the difficulty. You're a winner and you can do it.

Leave the Doubts Behind

When you're doing something hard, your brain will try to find ways to stop doing it. You'll want to look things up or find more efficient ways of doing the hard thing. Don't give in to these seductive arguments during your hard work sessions. Do whatever you want after or before, but stay focused during.

If consistently put in the hard work, you will not only stand out from the crowd, but you will also increase your surface area for luck. There's no way a recruiter will ever reach out to you with your dream job in tech if you never publish any code. But if you work hard and show that work in public, they just might.

The same goes for anything. If you keep improving yourself by doing hard things, the number of opportunities that this will generate will only ever go up. So you'll be getting better at your targeted skill and seemingly become a luckier person in the process too. So don't spend too much time working around the hard task. Just do the hard thing instead.