The Two Fallacies of Difficulty

April 22, 2009

I have noticed two logical fallacies or cognitive biases related to difficult challenges.

The first I call the fallacy of sufficient difficulty: “This is hard, therefore it is hard enough.

For me, the best example is the gym. It’s hard to get to the gym several days a week, but for noticeable improvements in fitness, it’s not hard enough—you must also eat well and get enough sleep. It can be very frustrating to work out a lot and not see results, but the truth it’s perfectly possible to work out every day and not improve much. Most people need to do it all to see a benefit.

I see this also with students: They’ll work hard on an assignment and assume that the mark must be good because of the hard work. Unfortunately it’s not always true.

The second fallacy I call the fallacy of desirable difficulty: “This is hard, therefore it is worth doing.

Intelligent and hard-working people seem to catch the worst of this one. They set themselves challenges and work like crazy to overcome them. But they never consider if anyone else cares about the results, or if the results change anything important. In my personal opinion, this problem wastes more of the world’s collective intellectual energy than any other.


One Response to “The Two Fallacies of Difficulty”

  1. gjoez Says:


    It is very true and many people fall into these 2 traps!

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