Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

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April 21, 2024 | Max Jenkinson

Why Life Has To Be Hard

Imagine the following conversation: “Do you want difficulty?” “No, I want ease.” “In your experience, has doing something easy been worthwhile?” “Well, no, not very often.” “Then perhaps you really want something difficult.” I think that is the secret to the reason for Being itself: difficult is necessary.

Jordan B. Peterson

Something about this struck a cord. The desire for greatness seems inherent in humans. It’s deeply ingrained in our cultural ethos, perhaps even in our collective consciousness.

Despite this, we are in an ongoing trade-off between safety and freedom. And, that manifests psychologically as the battle between comfort and something like meaningful difficulty.

In simpler terms, we know that difficulty is a prerequisite for an outstanding individual yet we want our children to have it as easy as possible. As a parent, I think this meta-battle makes itself explicit, and more tangible in a sense.

The quote is from Jordan B. Peterson’s book An Antidote to Chaos: 12 More Rules for Life. In the prequel, 12 Rules For Life: Beyond Order one of the rules states “Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.”

The gist is that to create functional individuals one needs to let one’s children do things that make us uncomfortable. And it makes sense, but the same is true of ourselves.

My childhood was easy. Perhaps too easy. It might be the reason for my propensity toward self-improvement with a tilt toward Stoicism and a tinge of masochism.

Things becoming too easy is probably a factor for why figures like Joe Rogan, David Goggins, Jocko Willink and Peterson are so popular today. They are all proponents of personal responsibility and moving away from what is easy to what is meaningful.

I’ve always had a sense that there must be more to life. The path I thought was the only one that seemed easy, boring and unfulfilling. At one point it made me angry that normal, to me, was boring.

Then I had the, now, obvious realization that it was up to me to carve out my own path in this life and that the fact that normal was boring actually allowed me to do so. I opened the door of society’s bandwagon (playing the song of comfort), stepped out into the unknown and decided to figure out the rest along the way.

A scary decision to make, at least alone. I tried my best to convince friends around me to step off as well. Some followed and off we went—into the jungle that is life.

I usually look at that moment as the start of my life. I also happened to be 18 at the time. So, today I am 7 years old as an individual, or as a person living the examined life (a great book by the way).

I guess all adults go through the process of stepping off the all-so-cushiony bandwagon our developed society so graciously gave us. Many of us decide to stay on it, at least to some degree. Unless we decide to live completely off the grid we’ll always have a leg, foot or hand on the bandwagon. Here’s where the analogy falls apart.

I’m not making the point that we should say “fuck it” and run off to the Amazon to join an uncontacted tribe (although I have considered doing so). All I want is for you to consider the balance between comfort and meaningful discomfort.

To find life meaningful (which is what we all inherently want) we need to find the balance between the two that is optimal for us. And that point is unique to the individual, to you.

If life feels boring, uneventful and not so exciting you might want to go your own way more often. On the other hand, if life feels overwhelming, busy (in a bad way), and stressful you might want to dial it down a bit.

I think the vast majority have a sense that life is not as meaningful as it ought to be. We have been optimizing toward comfort a little too much. Life used to be rather difficult for most people, something we seldom consider.

Now, life is often difficult because it is not difficult enough. Paradoxical statement perhaps, but, if we explore it one layer deeper we’ll find that it is fact a logical sentence.

In happiness research or positive psychology, we have figured out that autonomy, the sense that we are in control of our lives, is critical for well-being. To be happy we need to feel that we are in the driving seat of the wagon instead of merely passengers.

I like to view it more as if we are giving the driver a general direction of where we would like to go and then experiencing the ride as we go. Life is unpredictable. Those who force the direction life goes are generally left unsatisfied.

For people who have heard the term, The Matrix used in the same context as The Rat Race should now get a sense I am, in one sense, talking about exactly that. When we allow life to happen to us and never take control of where we are going we almost always end up in a place we do not want.

Being stuck in the rat race, to me, is never realizing the bandwagon we are currently on. Then when we do we are in a position that makes it really hard to change and easy to justify staying. We get stuck living a lifestyle we don’t want to maintain a life we don’t like.

Most people in this position would never admit to being there. Because if they did they would have to face the fact that they must step off and venture into the unknown. The sunk cost fallacy kicks in, the coping starts and we convince ourselves that our lives are good enough, and they too often are.

We’re not looking for good in some objective terms. We are looking for meaningful, challenging and exciting. If life does not feel like an adventure we need to change. And, it is all about that, a feeling.

A person living an, on the outside, normal life can be excited by many things: their work, friendships, intellectual interests, hobbies, goals, or even a new exotic pet. It is not about creating a facade of adventure, it’s about cultivating a genuine love for life.

The search for the feeling of adventure is an adventure in and of itself. Begin there, and don’t stop. Don’t stop until… …never mind, don’t stop.

Stop every once in a while to reflect on the different bandwagons you are currently on in the domains of life you value. Consider the direction it is going and course correct as you go.

When the wagons (you are on multiple ones at the same time obviously) are in motion enjoy the ride, you chose to be on it, and you chose the direction it is going.

A core idea of the Stoics was to get to a point where we wish for things to happen as they occur. This is difficult for humans in general. But, it is even harder to accept that what we are doing is what we want to be doing if we do not choose it.

To be happy or whatever you want to call it we need to take control to the degree we can. Once we do that we need to endlessly work on gratitude, acceptance, and tranquility.

I began with a quote for Peterson, so I will end with the rule in which the quote comes from.

Rule IV – Notice that opportunity lurks where responsibility has been abdicated

In life there are hierarchies or game-like structures, think work, relationships, etc, that could be improved upon. Games are adventures, a reason why we love them so much. Instead of abdicating responsibility, stand up tall and face the world.

Life is difficult and it is supposed to be. Lean toward it, take on what is hard voluntarily and you will grow. Allow what is hard to be thrust upon you involuntarily and life’s inevitable hardship will crush you.

I hope you had a difficult week and let us hope next week is hard too. Until next Sunday, do what makes your future self proud.

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Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading Health Decoded.