Simple and Easy

Simple or Easy?

Steve Jobs was probably the most well known proponent in modern times of highlighting the differences between simple and easy, although I’m sure as a concept it goes back to the ancients. There is a huge chasm between things that are simple, and things that are easy. Despite that chasm, we often conflate the two.

Something that is simple is just that– not complicated. Easy to understand. Basic. Intuitive to grasp and comprehend. Easy, by contrast, is not difficult. Effortless. Not challenging. Not demanding. Many things that are easy are also simple, and vice versa.. While it is easy to equate simple and easy, the concepts are not identical.

To give this in equation form: E=mc2 is simple– but try actually explaining Einstein’s the theory of relativity, and its implications on reality (not easy– hard). But the underlying equation is simple. On the other hand, basic math (2+4=6) is simple, and it is also easy.

So, what are other examples of things that are simple? Winning any race– all you have to do is… go faster than everyone else. Simple. According to Wikipedia, the fastest 1 mile run is held by Yomif Kejelcha of Ethiopia. Being the fastest human alive is… simple, just run one mile in in less than 3 minutes and 47 seconds. Living a good life is simple. Taking care of your health is simple. Being a good partner, or parent, or friend is simple. None of these things, however, are easy. The training involved in winning a race is…hard. Taking care of your health, day in and day out is…hard. Being loving, kind, attentive and present for those in our life is often…hard

Easy, remember, does not really require effort. So while it might be simple to take good care of your health (eat vegetables, exercise, sleep well, etc), is is often easier to reach for the box of chips, watch an extra episode of Netflix (or 3), and skip the morning walk.

This distinction between simple and easy is probably not a new concept to you. In practicality though, it trips us up. I often see patients in the office that are frustrated with themselves and their behaviors (Why can’t I just get to the gym? Why is it so hard to lose weight? Why do I keep going back to the same job I hate?) and lament how stupid or weak willed they feel. Why? Because while the solutions to our problems are often quite apparent to us (simple), the solutions to our real problems are often hard (not easy).

Sometimes, figuring out what the changes are that we need to make is hard– but more often, its the doing where we get stuck. And because its easy to articulate what we need to change, we assume that it is also easy to actually make that change. Conflating these two leads to suffering. If is sounds simple, we also believe it is be easy, and then when we struggle, we blame ourselves.

In the end, most of the things that matter, and that make life good, are simple and hard. They are easy to articulate, and clear, but require work and effort.

Simple is helpful. It provides clarity, and gives us a useful and direct way of thinking about our direction. When we have clarity about things, they often seem simple and obvious. Seeing things as simple and obvious can be incredibly useful, and is an important starting point. Recognizing the difference between simple and easy gives us the freedom to acknowledge the magnitude of what lies in front of us, and hopefully the self-compassion when we struggle to do hard things.

-Doc