“Easy never changed anyone.”
This was what came out of my workout instructor’s mouth at the beginning of a class recently, and while I usually tend to not give much attention to the motivational aphorisms that she offers, I took notice of these four words. I immediately began to think how it is precisely our belief that this is true that leads to so much difficulty and unease in our lives. And, upon further reflection, I realized that my practice of late has really been about leaning into ease and embracing it as a way of life, something that certainly doesn’t come naturally for a person with the drive and fire I’ve always possessed.
From as early as I can remember, there was a certain shame that hung over choosing anything that was easy, or perhaps more accurately: if I wasn’t pushing myself well beyond my capability, I was being a slacker. In elementary school gym class, I would always be sure to grab the heaviest medicine balls, making light-hearted exercises that might have otherwise been fun into a grueling show of grit and strength. I remember being mortified when I got placed into a class that was known for being notoriously easy in middle school and marching straight to my guidance counselor’s office to see how I could get transferred into a more academically rigorous class asap. And this probably explains why I was so driven to apply to (and eventually attend) a college that was so academically intense that it was referred to both as “the place where fun comes to die” and “the level of hell that Dante forgot.”
My whole life, I’d been fed the belief that if I was capable, I should not only exercise that capacity but constantly push myself far beyond it, and I let this be a primary motivating force in pretty much everything I did. I don’t say this entirely with regret, as my achievement mindset has led to some amazing opportunities that have shaped who I am and allowed me to share with my gifts with others. But the truth is, this way of life was completely exhausting, so much so that at a couple points in my 20s, my body started shutting down in ways that made me feel utterly weak and incapable, despite all the outward achievement I was projecting to the world.
I know I’m certainly not alone in the way that I lived so much of my life to date. We live in a culture that constantly reinforces the notion that if we are not pushing our way through life, we are not doing enough. More, better, stronger, faster: these are the mantras we attach to. Just about every client I’ve coached is suffering from this need to overachieve, sacrificing health in the name of ticking an endless list of boxes that are somehow associated with a good life.
We’ve been conditioned to believe that we are lazy if we choose to do anything less than our potential (and sometimes, we’re even shamed if we’re not giving 110%). In truth, consciously choosing to do less is not a signal of weakness, but a sign of wisdom. This isn’t to say that there aren’t times and places to explore our upper limits, but living a lifestyle of constant pushing is neither healthy nor sustainable.
When I heard my instructor’s exhortation at the beginning of that class, I took it as an opportunity to do the most difficult thing I actually could do: invite in more ease to my workout. Despite the raging inner screams of my ego, I purposefully chose weights that were lighter than usual; I focused on stability and connection to my breath over maximizing reps. When I felt myself beginning to sweat, I backed off. I experienced a sort of kindness with myself that I rarely experienced when I exercise. In short, it felt great!
Since that workout, I’ve consciously been walking a path of ease, saying no to more work opportunities than ever before, having more lazy evenings, avoiding the need to fill my calendar with social activities, asking for help. Ironically, while these things may sound easy, none of this comes easily. Inviting the easy stuff in is hard, but this is precisely the medicine I need.
I visited a girlfriend who is a fellow fiery pitta-type recently at her new home, and was struck by the red “easy button” (just like the one you’ve seen it on a Staples commercial) on her desk. You press it and a silly voice tells you, “That was easy!” We should all have an easy button in our home, or at least in our hearts, to remind us that there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking the easy route. For those who have walked the path of difficulty, struggle and overwhelm for far too long, going easy is precisely what can change us.