When we reach a point where we are struggling to make progress, whether it be in a job, a relationship, or pursuit towards an important goal, we face what Dr. John Townsend refers to as the Next Hard Thing (NHT). The NHT is the choice and subsequent action we need to take to get past a challenge. Sometimes we need to identify the NHT before we can address it. Other times, we just need the motivation and determination to do the Next Hard Thing. Consider the following examples.

  • Priorities  The NHT you may be facing is prioritization that can only occur when you’re honest about how you spend your time. What if your goal is to finish an advanced degree? If your excuse up until now has been time, what needs to change to make your education a priority? Is it a commitment to family that can be put on hold? Is it a calendar full of events that you don’t really need to attend? Is it something that’s not on the calendar, such as social media browsing or Netflix binges, that is preventing you from dedicating time to school? The NHT may be having to decide where activities can be pruned, where you need to make a personal sacrifice, or where you need to say no to someone, even if it means dealing with disappointment.
  • Comfort  Your NHT may require you to get out of your comfort zone. If your goal is a promotion at work, and you’re more comfortable being an individual contributor in a company where the opportunities are in management, you need to make a choice. Will you stay where you are and make excuses based on an entitlement mentality that you deserve a promotion without people responsibility because you’re a hard worker, or will you step up to the plate and make an effort to develop leadership skills?
  • Expectations  Would you be willing to let someone down to follow your dreams? Many people pursue lives that match what their parents think is best. Your NHT might be breaking the mold that formed you and pursuing a family life or career that you really want versus what’s been handed down to you.

If you’re struggling to identify your NHT, here are some questions that may help:

  1. Is your belief system holding you back? Do you think you’re a bad person if you say no to someone, even if saying yes isn’t in everyone’s best interest? Do you think you were only meant to be a blue collar worker and that a management position is out of your reach? Do you believe you are worth enough to take the next step to improve your health, your relationship, your financial status, or your education?
  2. What is your biggest fear and why?
  3. Have you clearly identified what you would consider success? Is what you’re facing too difficult or too challenging to compensate for what you would gain if you did the Next Hard Thing? In other words, is the sacrifice worth what you will gain?
  4. Are you too focused on the short-term? Are you unwilling to make a sacrifice today that would benefit you five to ten years from now?

Once you’ve identified what’s holding you back and the next step you need to take, remember that the NHT is temporary. You will eventually earn your degree. That person who was upset with you for saying no will either forgive and move on or no longer be a part of your life (which may be a blessing). Once you’ve learned new skills, more difficult jobs will become easier over time. If you’ve taken the step to get out of your comfort zone, you will eventually adapt to a new comfort zone.

If the Next Hard Thing was easy, it would be known by a different name! There are practical ways to identify your NHT and develop the motivation and determination to do it. There may be mistakes and disappointment along the way, but by owning the decisions and consequences, you’re one step closer to achieving your goals by earning instead of deserving.

When you finally commit and achieve the Next Hard Thing, you are one step closer to being cured of entitlement thinking. To keep making progress, Dr. John Townsend suggests we need to do more. This includes keeping our commitments, focusing on the future, having the right relationships, being able to admit when we are wrong, facing our pain, and taking risks.

©, May 22, 2018


J. Townsend, The Entitlement Cure Finding Success In Doing Hard Things The Right Way, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015. pp. 157-170.

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