8 ways you’re making life harder than it has to be

Do you crave the challenge?

When you see a problem waiting to be solved, you can feel your energy levels rise. Blood surges through your veins. Your mouth salivates. Like a hound tugging at a leash, you want nothing more than to lunge forward and tackle the issue into the ground.

Except the problem isn’t so easy to solve. After awhile, it stops being fun and starts turning into work. You wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into.

Sometimes, we don’t want to find the easy answer to a problem. We want to toil and struggle to feel like we’ve earned something. Otherwise, we don’t treasure the result.

While this helps us push through difficulties, the problem arises when you use this attitude towards everything. Some challenges are not worth the effort. Others can be achieved more quickly.

Life doesn’t always have to be an uphill struggle. Sometimes there really is a better, easier approach. Here are eight ways you’re making life harder than it has to be:

1. Not aligning your goals with your strengths

If you put your mind to it, can you do anything you want? The answer is a tentative “yes”. But the real question is: How good do you want to be?

Some individuals are more predisposed towards certain sports, such as running, because they have the right genetics and physical composition. While practice matters, it only carries you to an extent. A person with the right attributes will make faster progress than a person without the required attributes, given the same amount of practice.

This concept of natural affinity goes beyond athletics. For example, a study showed that some people are genetically geared towards self-employment and entrepreneurship, while others prefer working in a company. Adopted children are more likely to work in similar professions as their biological parents, rather than their adoptive parents.

When different people make similar observations about your character and qualities, listen closely. You’ll hear certain tendencies come up. These will provide you with the direction towards finding your strengths.

2. Living under the assumption you’ll be a lucky outlier

It’s normal for people to have fantastical, unlikely dreams at an early age. But as time carries on, these aspirations give way to the realities of life and a sense of what’s within grasp (and what’s not).

Still, we can remain incredibly optimistic, no matter our age. Like in the Gold Rush, we hear about a shiny new opportunity and believe it’s finally our chance to strike it big. Even if the majority return empty-handed, we focus on the success stories and think we’ll end up like the lucky few.

YouTubers are a prime example. You hear about the people who earn millions by making fun videos that entertain their subscribers. You notice videos that generate hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of views. But did you know that 96.5 percent of aspiring YouTubers earn below the U.S. poverty line?

When we perform below expectations, we assume it’s due to a lack of effort. We struggle harder, thinking we’ll succeed harder. But as Nassim Nicholas Taleb says in Fooled by Randomness: “Mild success can be explainable by skills and labor. Wild success is attributable to variance.” In other words, lack of wild success is very often a lack of luck.

While you can aspire towards the impossible dreams, don’t forget to have reachable dreams too. It’s where your hard work and talent are more likely to yield results.

3. Mistaking hard work for productivity

We view busyness as a good thing. It’s commonly believed that time spent on a task has a linear relationship with output. When someone’s burning the midnight oil, we assume they’re getting a lot done.

But the question is, does more time spent on something lead to better results?

Once, I was working on a group project where we spent hours deliberating back and forth on a simple issue. Even though it wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things, this one problem consumed most of the meeting. Sometimes you just need to pick something and move on.

Whenever you work on a task, ask yourself, “What is the purpose of this?” Being clear on your objective helps you see the overall picture and work towards that. Otherwise, you end up nitpicking over details that don’t matter.

4. Believing that getting help from others is a weakness

If someone tells you, “I made it completely on my own,” don’t believe them. The person may not be intentionally deceitful, but the fact is that we all receive help in some form. It might be a sage piece of advice from someone who’s been there, useful technology somebody else developed, or an idea that a predecessor came up with.

We all need to rely on others, one way or another. There’s nothing wrong with receiving a referral for a position or an introduction to a hard-to-reach person. If anything, you should be making the most out of the resources available to you.

One of those resources includes a community of people backing you up and supporting you when you need it.

5. Trying to change yourself to fit in

Have you talked to somebody and felt like you were putting on a façade? Something about the other person made you feel like unnatural about yourself. Somehow, you felt awkward, self-conscious, or some other negative trait.

It’s uncomfortable when you meet someone and this feeling pops up. But when it happens over and over with someone you run into regularly, it can be downright torture.

Maybe it’s a friendship that has run its course, with no common interests to glue you together. Or it could be a relationship that’s turned toxic.

When you force relationships that are already drifting apart, maintaining it is like fighting against the current. Sooner or later, something has to give. You can only be something you’re not for so long.

Instead, seek out people and places that lift you up and help you grow. When you do, it’s feels as if the world is full of promise.

6. Getting started on something without setting things up first

In the culinary world, there’s a French term called “mise en place”, which translates into “put in place”. It means to prepare and organize the ingredients before you cook.

Mise en place is an excellent practice to simplify the cooking process at home. In a restaurant setting, it’s a necessity. During the day, the prep chefs wash, cut, and separate out all the required ingredients. When the busy dinner period arrives, all the ingredients are set out and ready to use, making the cooking process go smoothly and quickly.

Mise en place is a great practice outside the kitchen as well. Before you write a report, create an outline of all the points you want to cover first. Before you decorate a room, plan the layout first. When you put aside time to set things up, the rest becomes much easier.

7. Doing things for the approval of others

Donate to a charitable cause, and people will criticize your choice.  Build a product, and people will point out everything that’s wrong with it. Get into shape, and people will tell you to be satisfied with the way you look.

When you take a step outside, no matter how small, someone will have an opinion about it. And their opinion might not be positive. The person might be angry, jealous, or critical of your actions, even if you think you’re taking a step in the right direction.

Now imagine the life of someone influential. The person may have succeeded in athletics, is a community leader, or is otherwise notable for their achievements. There are always bound to be people who disapprove of what they do.

What if, instead of ignoring the naysayers, these influential individuals decided to pay attention to every voice of dissent and responded accordingly? They would get nothing done. Their safest bet would be to stay at home and watch others get criticized instead.

When you do things for the approval of others, you lose touch with who you are. The pressure of conforming to other people’s expectations moulds you into something that you don’t want to be. Eventually, you become a hollow version of yourself, living a life that others have created.

8. Pouring your energy into something outside your control

Your locus of control refers to your perception of the events in your life. People either have an internal or an external locus of control. Which one sounds more familiar to you?

  • Internal locus of control: You believe that what happens to you is based on your own effort and decisions. You are responsible, and therefore in control of the outcomes in your life.
  • External locus of control: You believe that the things that happen to you are based on factors outside your control, such as luck, chance, or decisions that people make. You don’t have control over events, so there’s little you can do.

As a result, you don’t take responsibility for things.

Studies have found that people with an external locus of control are more likely to suffer from depression and a feeling of hopelessness. They tend to pin the blame on others when bad things happen, they have lower motivation to pursue goals, and they put less effort into making something work. After all, if they feel that their actions have little to do with the outcome, why bother doing anything at all?

When you wait for someone to choose you, or for a chance event to transform your life, you’re essentially pouring your energy into unproductive emotions and thoughts. Instead of spending precious time worrying, analyzing, or blaming other people, shift your focus onto what you can do.

Work on improving yourself. See what opportunities are out there. When you start focusing on what’s within your control, you open yourself to new possibilities. Life becomes easier when you take the reins and decide where you want to go.

This article first appeared on Jump Start Your Dream Life.