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Everything is incredibly hard

I believe your best bet is to think that everything in the world is incredibly hard. When you start acquiring a new skill or implementing something, you must adopt this attitude. First, let me give you a few examples.

Me and my friend, when talking politics, we rarely agree on the means by which to achieve the outcome we both consider desirable. For instance, lately we’ve been discussing the upcoming elections in Russia and how nothing has been done by the current government to eliminate corruption. He said “Given some political will, it would be really easy to do it”. Yet it is hard for me to imagine that most of those bragging about corrupted governments would be able to do any better than these governments, once they are in their shoes. For example, according to Samuel Huntington “in a society where corruption is widespread the passage of strict laws against corruption serves only to multiply the opportunities for corruption”. Huntington also points out that corruption becomes widespread only in societies that are currently modernizing and that it is actually lower in both traditional and already modern ones, because it gives way for newly formed social groups to get their way in a yet not adopted new political system. Thus, one may view corruption as an indication of active transition, rather than a sign of decay. Huntington may have been right or wrong (I don’t have enough knowledge to judge that), but the mere existence of his work and many other works on political development suggests that political solutions are never easy. It took books and years and a great deal of research for people to back their theories.

Or let’s talk about sleep. How hard sleep can be? You take your 8 hours and you’re fine. Yet it’s an extremely complicated process for which most people really don’t even know the basic rules. Simply knowing them (without even following them at first) would undoubtedly rise the quality of their lives.

Or programming. I recently was working on a tiny form the sole purpose of which was to upload an image with some info. A friend of mine, who is familiar with webdev, but who is not really a programmer was making fun of me after learning that it took me 3 days to do it. It didn’t even occur to him, at first, that there may be complications that are simply not seen on the surface. You only get to know those complications when you actually engage in the project in question, but programmers learned to instantly adjust to the possibility of complications in any project and even without the knowledge of a particular project they tend to be very careful in estimating the difficulty.

Now this what I think is an extremely important meta skill - being conservative in the estimation of difficulty of anything. This proves to be useful even if the actual thing turns out to be not difficult at all. By assuming it is, you only save yourself some time, engaging in learning or doing thoroughly and diligently. If it is easy, you finish fast, but if it’s not, you also save yourself some time and energy that otherwise would be wasted on realization of that fact. As a bonus you will also never look like a dick to anyone who knows a great deal about the subject.

On a final note I would like to bring up the Dunning-Kruger effect, which basically says that people are actually capable of getting through the first steps only because they don’t realize how difficult the thing is. I certainly think this is true (having learned it the hard way on my own experience), but I also think that as long as people learn one set of difficult skills it is no longer necessary to deceit ourselves about the level of difficulty of other things. Rather it might be beneficial to think things are hard simply to filter out activities and skills we really don’t care that much about.