Welcoming the Hard Stuff

It’s not about gritting your teeth!
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Welcoming the hard work softens it. Better put, it softens the forces of resistance within us. It does so by revaluing this work and by honoring the truth and teaching it has for us. Its truth is that in being done it makes life easier. Its teaching increases our practical wisdom and prudential judgment, freeing us to live and act from an internal locus of control.  

We want the structure of lives, like the foundation of our home, to be “hard.” It supports everything else that is more fragile and that needs a protected space to grow. Structure, like the frame of a greenhouse, contains and protects, but also gathers light, warmth, moisture – the conditions for nurturing growth. But it’s easier proven by doing than by saying.

How to Welcome the Hard Stuff?

Welcoming is a receptive act. It begins with opening ourselves to meet the constituent parts of that which we label hard. It involves relaxing the tensions induced by our habitual aversion to the task. It’s about make space and time to appreciate the intelligent practices and helpful results that arise from the doing. It’s about being present to the experience. 

The hard stuff for many of us includes administrative work. Note that one of the adages related to this work can take the form of an admonishment: “You must keep your house in order.” But administrative tasks also reveal patterns as they create order. It may require that we focus retrospectively, combing through invoices, activity records and the like to summarize, categorize, report.

But in the process, and if we are attentive, we are prompted to consider the purpose, strategy, and course of our actions which these records document. What did we do? How did it create value? Are there insights from these data about the return we’re getting on our time and efforts? Might this history indicate what we should be doing more of, less of, or approaching differently?

We are prompted to notice what we have done and perhaps what remains unfinished. Records of past action most often fire thoughts about current and future opportunities and challenges. It’s for this reason that Business Schools have emphasized analytics. Analysis can stimulate forward-thinking insight. So perhaps we might keep some parallel notes while doing our hard-stuff tasks.

The Role of Mind States

Attitude, purpose, and method are choices. But there only choices if we free ourselves to notice them as choices. We can most skillfully notice them as choices by employing mindfulness practices that loosen our grip on default modes of attitude, purpose, and method. A non-grasping mind is one that can consciously consider these options.

So, close your door if you have one. Sit. Assume an upright posture, chin slightly tucked, and shoulders back to open your chest. With eyes closed, as you breathe in, notice your spine lengthening, your chest expanding. The air you breathe in through your nostrils will feel cooler than the air you exhale through your nostrils. Settle. In the first few breaths find a comfortable, stable base. 

In these moments – 5 minutes will do – notice any racing thoughts or preoccupations. They’re natural. That’s how our mind works. But then let them go, let this busy mind go, and return to the breath. Be nowhere but here, now. As distractions arise, return to a focus on the breath. You might also scan your body, noticing areas of tensions. Breathe into them, and on the out breath release the tension.

That’s a bit of brief guidance on how to change mind states. It’s an ancient practice that helps free you to welcome the hard stuff with an attitude of curiosity and openness. In this way it’s more likely to reveal itself as a place where you can be and an activity from which you can learn and derive benefit. But these changes don’t just happen, we must welcome them.