Gretchen Rubin

Do you make the mistake of describing a task as “easy” or “no big deal”?

Here’s something interesting: studies show that people tend to persevere longer with problems they’ve been told are difficult, as opposed to easy. Why? It’s humiliating not to be able to do a task that’s supposed to be easy, but there’s no shame in having trouble with something difficult.

I realize that often I follow just the opposite rule: I downplay the difficulty of some job, in the belief that I’m being encouraging—say, by telling the Big Girl that it’s not hard to zip up her coat.

But now that I think about it, of course it’s discouraging when someone downplays a task that seems difficult. For instance, when one friend told me it was extremely simple to start a blog, I felt disheartened. But when another friend said that it was a pain, but that she’d give me a lot of advice to make it easier, I felt encouraged.

It works the same way with asking people to do a task: if you ask someone to do something, and you characterize it as difficult or a lot of trouble, paradoxically, in my experience, people are more willing to help. They know you recognize their effort. Once a friend sent me an email with the subject line, “Quick favor.” In fact, the favor was going to take some work on my part, and I was irritated by her characterization of it as easy.

The Big Man makes this mistake when he asks me to do something I don’t like to do, like call a repairman, and tells me, “It’s no big deal.” Well, if it’s no big deal, do it yourself!

Actually, now that I think back, I’ve noticed that he’s changed his tactics to say things like, “This will be a big pain, but could you…?” or “Could I ask you to do me a big favor?” And being asked in this way does make it easier for me to say “yes.”

Now, why does this bit of useful psychology relate to happiness? Because by showing sympathy for others’ difficulties, you cheer and encourage them—rather than accidentally discouraging them (though with all good intentions), by minimizing their efforts.
I just found a very funny and helpful new blog, Fast Dads – dad-centric parenting advice.

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