How to make hard things easy

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to make hard things easy? A way to take those things we find difficult, the things we struggle with every day, and make them simple? Fortunately, there is a way. It’s all about learning to be smarter and getting better at the Habits of Mind. Let me explain.

Some people divide their lives in a fixed way. They split tasks into two categories: what they find easy and what they find difficult. We hear them say things like, “I’ve never been very good at …” For them, things that are hard today will always be hard. But that’s short-sighted.

The problem lies in a misunderstanding of what “difficult” means. If we take a fixed view of our intelligence, then we view the difficulty of a task as intrinsic to the task, and we measure our intelligence against the task. At some point, we reach the limit of our intelligence and some tasks, some levels of difficulty, are always beyond us.

But the reality is there is nothing intrinsically hard about a task. Sure, some tasks are more complex than others, but they are only difficult in comparison to our current intelligence. Things that are hard become easy when we increase our intelligence – when we become smarter!

That’s why the things you found difficult in Grade 4 are easy today. At the time, you weren’t smart enough to do those tasks easily. Over time, you became smarter and now Grade 4 tasks are easy for you.

Instead of dividing the world into easy and hard, we should divide it into:

  • Things that used to be hard but are easy today.
  • Things that are still hard but will become easy in the future.

Or, to put it another way, things we previously were not smart enough to do but are now, and things we’re still not smart enough to do but will be in the future.

It’s not the task that’s difficult; it’s where the task lies in relation to our current level of intelligence that creates difficulty! As we learn to be smarter, things that were once well beyond our abilities come into reach.

The critical question is, how do we learn to be smarter? This is where the Habits of Mind come into play.

When Art Costa initially identified the Habits of Mind, he called them “Intelligent Behaviours”. To him, intelligence wasn’t some fixed amount you were born with. Rather, intelligence was a set of behaviours that could be developed. Being “smart” wasn’t a fixed trait – it was something you could get better at.

So, the reason why we find some tasks difficult is that we haven’t yet learnt to behave intelligently enough. To make those tasks easy, we need to learn to behave more intelligently. And we learn to behave more intelligently by engaging in the Habits of Mind. Getting better at the Habits of Mind is what makes hard things easier!

As I explained to a group of educators in South Africa recently, learning to be smarter not only makes hard things easier, it gives you more choice in life. Watch the video below to find out why:



James Anderson is a speaker, author and educator who is passionate about helping fellow educators develop students as better learners. James’ work combines Growth Mindset with Habits of Mind and Practice to create Learning Agility. He puts the growth back into Growth Mindset. And through creating and describing the Mindset Continuum, he provides the cornerstone for effective Growth Mindset interventions.

James is a Certified Speaking Professional and speaks regularly at conferences around the world. He has published several books including Succeeding with Habits of Mind, The Agile Learner, The Mindset Continuum and The Learning Landscape.

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