The Hard Easy

Before we begin, a word of caution: the idea that I am about to give you is an infectious one. It sticks irrevocably, like when someone tells you to notice your breathing and then tells you to stop, but you can’t. It could potentially change your behavior for the better.

Today, I want to talk about the Hard Easy. The Hard Easy is not a concept that I invented– like you’re doing now, I absorbed it from a contemporary, likely another NOLS instructor. But it has stuck with me and remained one of my most persistent and potent thought tools.

The concept of the Hard Easy is simple to understand: There are simple yet absolutely crucial tasks throughout our daily life that if tackled will make our lives exponentially easier down the road. Yet, as is the way of the universe, it is incredibly hard to get ourselves to do them. Doing the Hard Easy means recognizing these moments for what they are and simply doing what needs to be done, even though we don’t want to.

Mountain are where you find the hard
Mountains are an ideal place to the learn about the Hard Easy: there are many invitations to cut corners, and all bring immediate consequences. This is where I started to learn: Mt Adams, WA, 2002.

My room-mate owns a row-boat which he parks in our driveway. When he uses it, he unearths it from a giant nylon tarp, but when he returns, the tarp inevitably remains heaped next to the boat, unapplied. Once, I watched as he walked to the window, listening as a heavy rain started to fall. He looked at his boat. This was his moment, and he let it pass.

A week later, I watched as he looked in horror at his boat, filled to the gunwales with rainwater. He had to bail it out by hand, a task requiring many hours. Had he instead done the Hard Easy, accepting the discomfort of the rain, the tarp would have saved him a lot of sweat off his back.

The concept of the Hard Easy is simple, but it’s challenging to implement. We are creatures of comfort, seeking immediate gratification. Behavioral economics has demonstrated that we value current comfort more than future comfort. We’ll take a Twinkie now to sate our hunger, even if that prevents us from sitting for a full meal in a few hours. Now means more to our animal minds.

Doing the Hard Easy requires split-second self-mastery. Your practice of the Hard Easy can begin here: First, learn to see the Hard Easy moments, even if you let them slide. Second, pick one that arises frequently, and practice executing consistently in that one moment. The third step comes naturally: you’ll see and feel the effects of your simple actions.  Drunk with your new-found power, start seeing and acting in more moments.

It’s easy to identify an outdoorsman with an understanding of the Hard Easy. When establishing camp after a long day’s work, he’s the one with the well-pitched tent, bomber backpack, and critter-proof kitchen. He knows that it takes a matter of seconds to pitch the tent tighter, or to cover his pack. Even though he’s tired, he does it anyways. He’s the partner that you want to have and that you want to be: personally dialed, and not making disasters.  As an added benefit, he carries with him the quiet self-respect that builds with daily integrity.

There comes a time in each NOLS course when we stop encouraging students to do what needs to be done. We let them see it, or not see it, for themselves. This is when they learn the value of the Hard Easy. One June day in the deep snowpack and rain of the high Wind River mountains, I watched as students crawled into their tents. One tent in particular, wetted by the weather, flapped like a flag in the wind. As I slid into my own, I wondered whether the night would give stern feedback.

Sure enough, in the middle of the night, a panicked ruckus arose. The flapping tent, acting as a sail, had torn under the stress of the growing wind. As I taught the students to sew by headlamp, in the blowing sleet of midnight, they learned an invaluable lesson. Stop the leak, tighten the line, drink when you’re not thirsty, and wash the pot: see the little things that make a big difference and just do them. Live the Hard Easy.

Category: Knowledge & Technique


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