Why you want hard problems and not difficult ones

Who doesn’t like a good challenge? I sure do. I love immersing myself in a problem and working hard to tunnel through its complexities to find a solution.

But, what makes a problem a good one to solve? Which problems should you avoid wasting time with, and which are worth jumping into to start your next wild ride?

Over the years I’ve compartmentalized problems into two categories that have helped guide me: “difficult” ones and “hard” ones.

Difficult Problems

A difficult problem is a problem that drains your mind and body. Everyone involved in these type of problems are spinning their wheels in circles, and are able to squeeze only a tiny of drop of value from each pass. Difficult problems are demotivating, repetitive and often fueled by dark clouds. Difficult problems are overcome, not solved, and one is driven to overcome them as a search for relief.

Their challenges are often emotional ones; often testing patience, not intelligence, persistence, or ideas. Most importantly, when a difficult problem is overcome the end results often places everyone in about the same place they started. A solution is a derivative of your current state at best, and incurs a great deal of wasted time and money. People tend to beat their head against the wall with difficult problems.

For example, problems that arise from convincing someone to want to be a better person, or to want to make better things, are difficult problems.

Hard Problems

Hard problems are a joy, but not at the least bit easy. They are motivated by “why”, “why not” and “how can we make it possible?” Much like difficult problems, they are filled with long nights, and little sleep. Unlike difficult problems (where a relief from the pain endured is what drives you), the pain you endure from hard problems are a bi-product of your insesent need to find a solution; you push-on in spite of the pain.

Hard problems are motivating, inspiring, and complex. They may never find a solution, or its solution is hiding right around the corner; neither of which changes your resolve . Working on a hard problem can feel like chewing on glass while staring into an abyss, but you chew with vigor and you stare like a hawk.

Hard problems create competition, new ideas and challenges with others or within yourself (e.g. “I can do better than that”). Rarely will you see competition arise from a difficult problem.

You know you’ve solved a hard problem when you end up in a place you haven’t been before, with a new perspective and new insight and a new direction to follow forthwith. With hard problems, you are not only avoiding going in circles, you have taken a rocket ship leap to a new planet. The harder the problem, the farther you will fly.  If only you can – just – get -to – the – next – solution! A hard problem requires focus. Neh! A hard problem fuels focus! A difficult one: a distraction.

For example, problems that arise from discussing how  to be a better person, or how  to make better things, are hard problems.

Final Thoughts

Avoid difficult problems if you can. Sometimes dealing with them is necessary, but recognize the difference; don’t let people (or yourself) mask one for the other. It can help both mentally and emotionally. Seek out hard problems by imagining what the world would be like if you solved them.  If you find yourself in a difficult problem see if you can’t upgrade it to a hard one.  How can you change “how come” into “why not”, or “no” into “let’s try and see what happens”?

Best of luck, and may your life be hard but not very difficult! 😉



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