You may have heard the story of the bride who cut off the ends of the roast. It’s an old legend with many variations. Snopes has a good one:

The new Jewish bride is making her first big dinner for her husband and tries her hand at her mother’s brisket recipe, cutting off the ends of the roast the way her mother always did. Hubby thinks the meat is delicious, but says, “Why do you cut off the ends — that’s the best part!” She answers, “That’s the way my mother always made it.”

The next week, they go to the old bubbie’s house, and she prepares the famous brisket recipe, again cutting off the ends. The young bride is sure she must be missing some vital information, so she askes her grandma why she cut off the ends. Grandma says, “Dahlink, that’s the only way it will fit in the pan!”

The point of this story is that sometimes we make life hard for ourselves by following traditions by rote. Often these traditions have a practical origin (e.g. grandma didn’t have a big enough pan) but over time have acquired a magical aura. “This is how we do it in this family,” or “this way the juices flow out of the ends,” or “this way the roast has more room.” Going through the motions without questioning the reasoning behind them can lead to unnecessary trouble.

When I hear people tell me something I’m planning to do is “hard”, I ask myself “Why is it hard?” And more to the point, I ask myself a question I love: “How would I go about this if I assumed it was easy, rather than hard?” I first heard a version of this question in Tim Ferriss’s podcast, and find it a good way of testing my assumptions about the “right” way to do things.

Often I find that the things we assume make the task “hard” can be easily accomplished with a new technology or a completely different approach. People just assume it’s hard because it’s been hard in the past, and they’re not questioning whether the conditions that made it hard are still true. Discovering an easier way to accomplish something hard is not only practical; it also gives me an energy boost. It satisfies my directive to take things by their smooth handle.