“Ease” is not a word that describes most of my career, but I now use it as a tool to achieve my career goals. This article describes my journey to give new meaning to ease, and why I embrace ease as an acceptable and desired part of my career.
EASE IS NOT THE ANTITHESIS TO HARD WORK
My deep dive on ease started when I heard actor Denzel Washington give a speech that illustrated common thoughts on ease:
“Without commitment, you’ll never start. Without consistency you’ll never finish. Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship.”1
Ease is often conceptualized as giving little to no effort. Dictionary.com defines “ease” as freedom from labor, lack of difficulty, pain, or discomfort. With that definition, it’s understandable why we can view ease as a threat to success. Most accomplishments require hard work.
As I went deeper into my career transformation journey, I leaned on alternative definitions of ease2 such as:
- freedom from anxiety; a quiet state of mind
- to mitigate, lighten, or lessen
- to become less painful or burdensome
I began to realize that ease doesn’t mean an absence of effort or pressure. It’s not the antithesis of hard work or hardships. I began to understand that ease had less to do with external challenges and more to do with my internal experiences with those challenges.
EASE IS THE ABSENCE OF INTERNAL RESISTANCE
Several months later, I heard a podcast that offered a thought-provoking perspective on stress. To paraphrase, stress was defined as wanting your present situation to be something it’s not. The discussion emphasized the importance of accepting the present moment as it is; acceptance doesn’t mean giving up, but to stop resisting reality so you can act based on the present moment. This insight was at the core of developing my new relationship with ease.
My new relationship with ease started with small, but powerful, perspective shifts. The first shift was moving my focus from what was true to what was helpful. It was true that I was in a high-pressure, high-stress role and needed more resources and support. But focusing on what I lacked was not helpful. What did help was accepting the reality of my situation and deciding how to respond rather than react. Initially, my job didn’t change, but the way I felt and thought about it did. As a result of those new thoughts and feelings, I adopted new behaviors. Those behaviors became the catalyst for people and circumstances to shift around me, which created more opportunities for ease.
As the ease continued to flow, I had a moment of clarity: I had unintentionally contributed to the stress I was experiencing. My negative thoughts and feelings poured gasoline on the stressful situations, creating even more feelings of uneasiness. This new awareness led me to develop a personal definition of ease as “the absence of internal resistance to external circumstances.” Research supports this, finding that “feeling stressed and feeling overwhelmed seem to be related to our perception of how we are coping with our current situation and our ability to handle the accompanying emotions.”3
IT’S OK TO WANT MORE EASE
When I first started embracing ease, I felt like I wasn’t working hard enough even though I had evidence showing this was objectively untrue. I realized that I had internalized the concept of ease as the antithesis of work. If that didn’t change, I would never feel like I was contributing enough unless I was struggling. When I heard that “ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship,” it made me feel like suffering is a better path to progress. But that’s not what science shows. Neuroscientists have proven that stress and anxiety significantly reduce your abilities to perform tasks.4 Your brain goes into survival mode and diverts resources away from your memory, logic, and critical thinking functions. When your stress goes up, your performance and accuracy skills go down. Chronic stress can rewire your brain, making it more reactive to external pressures and less likely to return to normal after the stressful situation is over.5
Ease is a powerful antidote to stress. Ease can disrupt negative thought and emotion patterns. It can interrupt the automatic fight-or-flight stress response and allow you to reconnect with the parts of the brain associated with critical thinking. For those in careers that are often stressful and require deep thought (ahem … lawyers), ease is not optional. It’s indispensable if you want to perform at the highest level without burning out. Hard work is necessary. Suffering is not.
PUTTING EASE IN ACTION
Ease starts as an inside job. You can’t control what happens around you, but you can control what happens within you. Consider what ease looks like to you and decide whether you want more ease. Which behaviors of yours are preventing you from accessing more ease? What thoughts, feelings, or beliefs can you reframe to allow for more ease into your career?
My clients often come to me feeling overwhelmed with constant thoughts that “there is not enough time.” Unfortunately, time stress is socially acceptable — how many times have you heard someone say, “There aren’t enough hours in the day”? As a result, most of us have automatic negative thoughts and feelings about time.
While optimizing performance behaviors like getting organized, setting realistic goals, and prioritizing helps, your behavior modifications start with your thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. To soften the resistance that leads to lack of ease, you must also reframe your thoughts (“I have enough time to do what is important”), relate differently to your emotions (overwhelm is an emotional reaction that you can choose to act on or not), and address counterproductive beliefs (“urgent” doesn’t always mean “immediate”).
Today, I still work hard but rarely find myself suffering. Although there are still many aspects of my current role that I cannot control, I have learned to foster better thoughts and emotions within me. Once I developed a better understanding of and relationship with ease, my high-paced and high-stress career became easier and, at the same time, I was able to accomplish more. I’m confident that embracing ease can do the same for you.