ThinkingFive areas where choosing the “difficult path” pays off

Five areas where choosing the “difficult path” pays off

“The best protection is always to be working on hard problems.”

“The best protection is always to be working on hard problems”. This is advice to school students from Paul Graham, one of the founders of Y Combinator. The whole speech is worth reading in full.

Graham’s point here is simply that at school, and throughout life, you need to keep your options open. And the best way to do that is to choose the hard problems to work on.

But this is part of a broader principle that seems to operate in many areas of life. Growth comes from the difficult path – not the easy path. More often than not, in life, it’s wise to choose the difficult path. (Clearly there are caveats here – but indulge me for the sake of the argument). Here are five key areas where choosing the difficult path pays dividends:

1. Synthesis, not summary

I’ve been teaching a course in facilitation recently. And one of the key points I’ve been stressing to participants is that a good facilitator will synthesize the conversation so far – not summarize it. That is, a good facilitator will push the conversation further, and create new meaning from what’s been discussed, helping the group to keep progressing. Rather than simply summarizing and rehashing what has already been said. Much harder to do. Synthesis is the difficult path. But in terms of results for the group – no comparison.

2. Accountability, not comfort

I’m reading Patrick Lencioni’s book “The Advantage” right now. He names five behaviours of effective teams. One of the most important – peer accountability. It’s not comfortable when you call out a team member for a non-constructive behaviour. It’s the more difficult path. But for growth for the team – it’s invaluable.

3. Deliberate practice, not mindless practice

Music practice is a classic trap for choosing the easy path. Too often you can play scales mindlessly, not actually focused on what you’re doing. This article, from a Julliard musician, talks about “deliberate practice” – and how, although it’s more difficult, the results are worth it.

4. Going out, not staying at home

Feeling down? The classic response is to stay home – it’s what you feel like doing (well you do if you’re an introvert like me). Instead, go out. See people. Difficult at the start – but again, you’ll feel better for it. This approach – “behavioural activation” – is a classic in treating depression. Get up and out – do the opposite of what you feel like doing. (Clearly this is not the “be all and end all” for depression – but you get the idea I’m trying to make, I’m sure).

5. Interval training, not easy jogging

Want to get fit and burn fat? I’m afraid the difficult path of intense interval practice is going to get you there much more effectively than easy jogging around the oval. (Not that I’m taking my own advice on this these days – at the moment I’m happy just getting out to the oval at all).

Over to you

Where have you seen this principle of “choose the difficult path” operate in your life? Tell me about it in the comments. And don’t forget to subscribe to this blog by clicking the “subscribe” button in the top right hand corner.