I talk so much about the easy and hard roads in my blog posts (the exact quote: the easy road becomes hard with time and the hard road becomes easy) that it’s time for me to clarify what exactly I mean with it. It’s one of the most important lessons of life, illustrating why it’s so important to always make smart decisions, big or small.
In this article you will learn:
– Why you are programmed to constantly make the worst decisions possible
– What is the number one thing you have to do to start making better decisions in life
– That beginnings are the hardest. Once you develop a new habit, hard becomes easy
– Smart decisions accumulate and they lead to a high quality of life
– It's so hard to save 100$, and so easy to spend it. But it's so good to have full bank account. :)
Every day, you take hundreds of small decisions, like what to eat, what to do with your money, how long to sleep, which tasks to do and how well to perform them, and so on. All these small decisions slowly accumulate into different outputs over time – positive or negative ones.
On the other hand, from time to time you have to make big life decisions, like what to do with larger sums of money you inherit, who to marry or start a family with, whether you should start your own business or change a job, should you drive home drunk or call a cab, and so on. These big decisions immediately have a big impact on your life – a positive or a negative one.
No matter if we talk about big or small decisions, there are different levels of how wise/smart the decisions are. You can make a somehow okay, good, better or the best possible decision. On the other hand, you can make a not-so-good, bad, worse or even the worst possible decision. The better the decisions you are making on this scale and as often as possible, the better the quality of life that awaits you in the future.
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You aren’t programmed to make good decisions
But here’s the big catch. Unfortunately, you aren’t programmed to make good decisions. Your biology isn’t wired in a way to come even close to good decisions. Ever since the jungle times, you have been programmed to make the worst decisions ever.
You are programmed to rest a lot (to be lazy, in other words) and to save as much energy as possible – physical, mental and emotional one. You are programmed to eat everything that tastes sweet, stock fat instead of muscles, because muscles are big energy consumers and own as much clutter as possible in your home for eventual hard times in the future.
You are wired to buy status symbols to rank better on social hierarchy and you are programmed to be attracted to other people, even if you are in a relationship (at least after infatuation fades away).
You have been programmed for instant gratification since the jungle times, because back then it was hard to find something sweet, if you didn’t immediately eat all the food that you caught a tiger ate it (and you along with it) and you had to be lightweight to be able to climb trees. In addition to that, you were programmed to be afraid of the unknown and changes, because everything new was a matter of life and death back then.
The list of instincts from jungle times that drive you to make stupid decisions is endless.
Thus your natural tendency is to make stupid decisions. To watch TV at least five hours per day, eat high sugar food, stare at other booties (or even slap one from time to time) despite being in a serious relationship, buy as many things as possible for the tough times and for a higher social status (you know, to attract a potential mate), and to be afraid of everyone who is different than you.
But as we will see, the road of instant gratification is the easy road. Unfortunately, it is programmed in your DNA to choose the easy road, over and over again. But you don’t live in a jungle anymore, where life expectancy was 30 years at the most and every single thing that moved tried to kill you. You live in much nicer times now, in times where you need a significantly different life strategy.
To undertake the hard road, you need the long-term view
Besides all the instincts that are driving you towards instant gratification, there is another bunch of things given to you. Important things that can help you shape the life strategy you need for today’s time – curiosity, the will to create and discover new things and an ability to plan your future.
I can also add organizational skills with which you can highly structure and organize your life, the opportunity to grow and improve, and not to mention the most capable computer ever called the brain and the most remarkable device ever called the body.
All these capabilities given to you are the opposite of primal instincts leading you to make better, healthier decisions in life. But in order to put these capabilities to work, you need to have a long-term perspective. You must see how curbing instant gratification leads to more enjoyment in the future. And that means taking the hard road.
But how can you develop the capability to possess the long-term view? It’s simple. Even though the future starts sometime later (in the future, obviously), the way to use capabilities that lead to making better life decisions is to make the future feel connected to the present. If you see the future as part of your current self, you can clearly see the requirement for immediate and persistent action in the present moment that leads to the future you want.
What you need to make better decisions in the present and to keep going in the face of tough life situations and adversity is to make your future self feel like it is in the here-and-now, connected rather than irrelevant to the present self. It may sound slightly confusing, so let me explain with simple examples.
How do biology and psychology mess with you
As we now know, making the future self part of your current self is the key. That’s because our natural tendency is to only care about what’s happening here and now, and not where we will be in 3 to 5 or even 10 years. That’s just too far away. The now is much more important than the future, and consequently the pressure of instant gratification is so much higher.
If you eat a cookie, your enjoyment comes immediately, but the fat comes only after months of eating one cookie too much a day. If you smoke a cigarette, the relaxation benefit is immediate, and it’s probably going to take decades before you develop cancer. Who cares about what will happen in decades, right?
Not so fast. Bad decisions accumulate into bad outcomes and sooner or later, you have to pay the price. On the other hand, good decisions lead to more enjoyment in the future and a small sacrifice in the present. When you make the future self a part of your now, you can see how enjoyment in the future is much greater than a small sacrifice in the present. And that’s the key to having a long-term view.
Of course, you have to find the right balance between investing into your future and instant gratification, you aren’t a robot, and you have to constantly fulfill your needs to be a psychologically healthy and assertive person. However, the vast majority of your decisions should be towards your better tomorrow.
Fortunately, there is a simple life truth that shows where you’re going in life with your current decisions. Short-term history is the best predictor of short-term future. So take your body fat percentage, net worth or any other kind of success metrics and analyze what’s been happening with those metrics in the past few months – is the trend negative or positive? It’s very easy to get a good sense of where you’re going.
With every next decision you make, ask yourself where that decision is going to lead you – tomorrow, and in 6 months, and in 3 years and even in 10 years.
Make sure you count your future self into the decisions you are making today. That’s how you always keep the long term-view.
If you aren’t completely convinced yet, let’s look at different life areas and see where does the road of instant gratification, the easy road, lead and where does the hard road, the road of keeping the long-term view, usually take you.
Competences and knowledge
The easy road is to stop reading this article because it’s too long. The easy road is turning on the TV and watching a stupid reality show, laughing at other people how they could be such fools; but are you that different from them, wasting your precious life in front of the TV? The easy road is watching or listening to depressing and negative radio and TV news every day. Because your mind likes it, and it likes it a lot.
The easy road is spending hours on social networks and stalking other people to know what they are doing. Not far from that is posting rare highlights of your life on social networks, hoping that many people will like your new status. You are getting nowhere in life; you’re only wasting precious seconds, hoping to get a little bit of attention from folks who barely know you.
The hard road is reading a book instead of watching TV. The hard road is reading one book per week, and only books with high valuable knowledge. The hard road is reading for one hour every single day no matter what, or even reading at least one page of a book every day despite being tired like hell.
The hard road is taking a massive online open course and actually finishing it. Not only subscribing to it because it’s free. The hard road is finding people you can learn from, convincing someone highly successful to mentor you, and constantly improving yourself.
The hard road is always acquiring new competences, being curious and constantly trying new things. The hard road is committing yourself to lifelong learning. The easy road is to stop educating yourself and reading right after you finish high school or college. The easy road is forgetting about your brain and skills right after you end with formal education.
The hardest road possible is not only developing reading discipline, but also applying all the newly acquired knowledge. The hardest road is to change your behavioral patterns, meaning that you stop doing some things and start doing new things. That’s a really hard road. It’s equally hard and tough to think, analyze and strategically develop a competence that is in rare supply on the markets and in great demand (to make lots of money). That’s hard.
- Where does the hard road lead? Being able to provide all sorts of value to the markets and people.
- Where does the easy road lead? Having zero job opportunities in life and becoming a boring person.
It’s so hard to save 100$. And it’s so easy to spend 100$. Saving 100$ is the hard road. Spending 100$ is the easy road. Saving 10% of your paycheck every time the day for your salary payout comes is the hard road. And keeping the discipline that you never ever spend the saved money is as well. Signing mortgage on a house you can’t afford or indebting yourself to buy a new fancy car is the easy road.
Actually, today saving 10% of your income and investing it in a mutual fund is the easy road. The salesman who has to convince you to sign the investment agreement was on the hard road. You were on the naïve easy road, thinking that people who sell financial products really care about your money. They care about their fees.
Spending less than you earn is definitely the hard road, but I must also add getting yourself financially educated, knowing different types of investments, making good investment decisions, optimizing your taxes, legally protecting yourself and paying daily or weekly very close attention to what’s happening to your assets and net worth. That’s the hard road.
- Where does the hard road lead? Having a full bank account, not drowning in debt, having zero financial worries and being able to do so much good with your money.
- Where does the easy road lead? Drowning in debt and living from paycheck to paycheck.
The easy road is sitting on your couch in front of the TV and watching reality shows while eating a bag of potato chips. The easy road is putting a frozen dinner in a microwave instead of cooking a healthy meal. The easy road is eating too much chocolate and blaming your genes for being fat.
Just bought a magic weight-loss pills? Or a sauna belt to melt your fat while watching TV? You’re on the easiest road possible. It’s not going to work.
The hard road is calculating the macronutrients you need, planning and preparing your meals in advance, being in a caloric deficit day after day when you are cutting fat, eating no junk food at all, eating not so tasty (compared to chips) green veggies every day, and not overeating even when you’re emotionally stressed.
The hard road is doing something for your health every day. And it’s not only about your diet, but also about regularly exercising or doing other beneficial things for your body, be it going to the gym, doing a sport you like, stretching, getting a massage, meditating, doing yoga, and so on. Every single day, no matter what.
The hard road means having a mentality that nothing will come between you and your goals. Nothing!
The hard road is going to sleep early and making sure you get enough rest. The hard road is continuing on your healthy lifestyle journey even when you feel like shit, even when you injure yourself or hit a plateau. The hard road is finding new exercises that enable you additional fitness progress, constantly improving your diet and listening to your body about when to stop in order to not overtrain.
- Where does the hard road lead? Feeling good in your own skin, having a six-pack and high levels of energy to enjoy life, living a longer life and suffering from fewer diseases.
- Where does the easy road lead? A fat body, a hospital bad and low levels of energy.
It's so hard to build up quality relationships and so easy to start abusing them. It’s so easy to emotionally break your kid over and over again. It’s so easy to come home after a hard working day and start nagging to your partner. It’s so easy to go out to a club and cheat. It’s so easy to flirt with others or gossip about them.
It’s so easy to get into a relationship and stay with the person even if you are miserable, just because you’re scared of being alone. It’s so easy to blame love for bringing wrong people into your life, and it’s so easy to bitch to others about how they should change instead of accepting them as they are and changing yourself.
It’s so easy to be intolerant towards others, their beliefs and values. It’s easy to judge and despise others. It’s easy to make yourself feel better and superior and it’s so easy to be narrow-minded. Yes, it’s very easy to feel superior because of your color, religion or membership in a social group. It's so easy to be an asshole boss and so hard to be an exceptional leader.
It’s the hard road to never stop investing into a relationship dear to you, even after decades. It’s hard to remember all the anniversaries, be attentive and romantic and nurture sexual attraction. It’s very hard become the best version of yourself in order to maximize the value you can offer in relationships. And it’s hard to develop extraordinary communication skills and regularly put them to use.
It’s the hard road to clean toxic relationships in your life, to make peace with your past and your parents. It’s the hard road to spend time with the people who push you and are better than you and, on the other hand, also mentoring others and sharing your knowledge. That’s really hard, it’s much easier to sit on a beach and watch the waves.
It's hard to constantly forge new relationships, search for new people who can enrich your life or build additional dimensions with the people you love in your life. It’s hard to end a relationship when the time for that comes and it’s hard to move on when life wants you to.
It’s so easy to let relationships just happen, and so hard to be superproactive in relationships, forging the ones that you really need in life. It’s hard to respect different kinds of people and their values.
- Where does the hard road lead? Deep and healthy relationships, the best thing that can happen to you on this beautiful planet.
- Where does the easy road lead? To many relationSHITS.
Career and achievements
It’s easy to just send out 30 CVs and hoping that someone will reply. It’s so easy to be quiet at a business meeting. It’s so easy to see an employer as someone who abuses you and out of whom you must get the maximum paycheck for the smallest possible investment. It’s so easy to hope that there won’t be much to do in a working day, so you can browse social networks and play games instead.
It’s so easy to blame your boss for the miserable career. It’s so easy to gossip about other coworkers and being jealous, trying to block their promotion. It’s so easy to do a job you hate, only bitching, whining, complaining and doing nothing. It’s so easy to hope that better career opportunities will fall from the sky right on your head.
It’s hard to write down 50 ideas every day and share them with your boss or founders, ideas about how the company you work for can improve. It’s hard to bring additional sales into the house. It’s hard to promote your company wherever you go. It’s hard to accelerate your learning when you are new at the company and it’s hard to learn everything about products, industry and key people.
It’s extremely hard to proactively do an analysis of the companies with which you would fit in best (make a list), and then develop the competences they need and look for, prepare outstanding personal presentation materials (much more than just a standardized CV), start networking with the key employees at different business events and, in the last step, proactively convince them that they simply have to hire you, because you will do anything to help the company grow.
It’s easy to find a job and it’s easy to write down something as your life mission. The hard road is staying true to your mission and staying motivated at your job even in the hard times.
It’s hard to find a good cause to fight for and stay true to it. It’s the hard road to motivate your coworkers when they are acting dull, bring solutions to the table and not only point out problems, and show real commitment to help the company grow while also you’re also personally growing.
- Where does the hard road lead? Self-actualization and respect from professional social circles.
- Where does the easy road lead? Wasting 1/3 of your life.
It’s so easy to lose your temper. It’s so easy to feel angry or drown in depression. It’s so easy to not show your emotions or even suppress them. It’s so easy to keep bad body posture and frown all the time. It’s so easy to give in to your fears, not saying hi to a stranger you like or climbing a mountain because you are afraid of heights.
It’s so easy to lock yourself into a mental and emotional cage, play safe and be scared of everything. It’s so easy to not really live a life, but only exist, making sure you feel as numb as possible, just to avoid any kind of challenge. It’s the easy road, the road on which you just wait for life to pass by. It’s easy to be a zombie.
Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there. – W. Rogers
It’s hard to mark your emotional levels on a happiness index every day and analyze them. It’s extremely hard to start disciplining your mind to manage your emotions better. It’s hard to sit down, take a piece of paper and do emotional accounting or cognitive reframing. It’s extremely hard to become better at managing your emotions.
It’s very hard to express feelings sometimes, but you do it anyway in a respectful manner. That’s the hard road. It’s hard to take the risks of being rejected or failing. It’s hard to be honest with yourself about what you want from life and assert yourself in a healthy way. Going to a therapy if you have issues with depression or any other severe negative feeling is not an easy road. Who likes to admit they need therapy?
- Where does the hard road lead? Happiness and living life to the full.
- Where does the easy road lead? Being a zombie, not really living but only existing.
The hard road becomes easy with time and the easy road becomes hard
I saved the best for last. Because only people who read the whole article deserve to know this life secret. Just kidding, but anyway. Even though you have to stand strong against your primal nature and instincts if you want to undertake the hard road in order to live a better life in the future, really hard are only the beginnings.
It’s true that nature programmed you for life in a jungle, but fortunately you can reprogram yourself to live a happy and successful life in contemporary times – times very different from the jungle era. What am I talking about?
After forcing yourself to make good choices for only a short period of time, they slowly become routines and routines slowly turn into habits.
It’s how the hard road is slowly turning into the easy one. We know this concept as developing a new habit. Developing a new (healthier) habit simply means that after performing repetitions for a certain period of time (usually for 30 days), you slowly begin to perform new desired behavior subconsciously, without any effort. That is when a hard road becomes the easy one.
It may be hard to exercise the first few times, but then you get addicted to it. It may be hard to start reading books instead of watching TV, but I guarantee you that after the first few months you would never go back to it.
It may be hard to save money, because there’s never enough of it, but when you start and you see that you can survive on 90% income and how good it feels to have money in the bank account, you will definitely love to stick to your new habit.
That’s why I love to repeat over and over again that the hard road becomes easy with time, and the easy road becomes hard. In the beginning, you have to put in the effort, the hard work, you need self-discipline and win battles against yourself over and over again.
But with time, making good, healthy decisions becomes much easier. They become part of who you are and how you live your life. You reprogram yourself to live a completely new lifestyle. And then the good life, the successful life, is right at your hands.
Choose the hard road, you’ll never regret it.