Take the Easy Way

When we pause and look for an alternative, it turns out that the hard way is never the only option.

I’m not a morning person, but in the household division of labor, I’m the one responsible for getting the kids up and out to school in the morning. It’s not ideal. I’m not happily awake or fully caffeinated, and I just want the kids to comply the first time I tell them to get their shoes on. When we’re behind schedule getting out the door, I can lose my patience. My voice gets louder, and there’s palpable stress because “we’re going to be late!”

After a while going through this same drama every morning, everyone getting their stress levels up and not feeling good about it, one day we happened to get to school early, without any yelling. It was actually not unpleasant.

I noticed a couple of things. The difference between being “late” and “on time” was actually quite small, maybe 5 minutes. But the difference in the experience, because of my stress and frustration, was big. When we were running behind and I was yelling, the kids weren’t happy, I was tense, and on top of that I felt like a crappy parent for getting worked up.

Moreover, “late” wasn’t actually late—it meant arriving on the later side of the 15-minute dropoff window instead of the beginning. While we were at a greater risk for being actually tardy, in case there was traffic or something, we weren’t meaningfully late. It just felt like we were.

Turns out there was a simple fix: I just moved our morning routine up by 10 minutes, changing the kids’ alarm and our target time to get out the door. It’s not foolproof—as anyone who has set their clocks a few minutes fast in hopes of not being late knows, you adapt and learn when you really need to leave—but it sets us up for success, and we generally get out the door with less drama.

Often, the things that get us worked up and angry aren’t worth it. We manufacture urgency, and we tell ourselves that the only way to get to the other side of the wall is to grit our teeth and bang our head harder against it. Sometimes the best solution is a change in perspective, and the problem may disappear completely. Even when we can’t manage that, if we give ourselves the space to rethink our approach, we can find an easier way through—why bang through the wall when you can find a door?

Things don’t have to be done the hard way. We can solve challenging problems without inflicting pain on ourselves or others. Suffering is optional. An easier, kinder way is there; we only need to pause and look for it.

Published in management and tagged leadership, management and zen