The Easy Way

James Titchener / @mistertitchener

We default to the easy way. It's in our programming. Hard things (running, meditation, eating kale) take up our energy in the short-term, so we avoid them despite the long-term benefits for sucking it up.

But procrastination feels awful. There are not many feelings I despise more than the nagging voice reminding me that I'm not doing what I'm supposed to.

There's probably a place here for self-love. Nobody is perfect. But I fear self-love is often delusion in disguise. It's easier to tell a story for why we don't have to do something than it is to admit that we're not giving our all.

And these stories are seductive. I've been impressed by Nassim Taleb's book series Incerto, and since he's obviously smart, I defaulted to accepting all of his ideas. Especially the ones that already aligned with my thinking and made my life easier. One of these ideas (or stories) is that consistent cardio exercise is nonsense. Our ancestors were nomads. They didn't jog 6 miles a day. They walked—lot. And sometimes they ran as fast as they fucking could away from tigers. So Taleb suggests we do a paleo workout of sorts. Rather than doing somewhat intensive exercise daily, relax most days (with lots of slow walking) and do sprints and heavy weight lifting every now and then.

I hate running and lifting, so as long as I didn't have to do it often, I was down. I swapped frequent running and push ups for very slow walks. And while I love me some slow walks in nature or through the shit-crusted streets of San Francisco, deep down I knew I was taking the easy way.

Challenging moments are what make us. If you've ever needed convincing of this, listen to Can't Hurt Me audiobook by Navy SEAL and professional nutbag David Goggins. His story is filled with unbelievable adversity that he overcomes by not only training his mind to embrace pain but to seek it out deliberately.

I think he uses insane physical challenges (world record for 4030 pull ups in 24 hours) as a form of meditation. One of the fundamentals of most meditation practices is to recognize that pain does not equal suffering. Pain is the physical sensations in your hands and arms after doing pull ups for hours on end. Suffering is the voice in your head screaming GET THE FUCK OFF THIS BAR YOU NUTTER. Suffering is when you get lost in the stories formed around the sensations of pain. But you don't have to buy into these stories. I think this is what Goggins has learned the hard way.

We're capable of more than we give ourselves credit for. Challenging and painful moments are an opportunity to practice this truth. In this sense, I wonder if we can learn to embrace adversity for giving us a new chance to overcome and grow.

James Clear in his book Atomic Habits said something I love:

"You don’t have to. You get to."

This subtle shift in framing is powerful. It can turn the things in life you dread into opportunities to be grateful for.

You really don't have to do anything but survive. We've been trained to believe that we have to keep up with the Jones', but it's not true. The game has changed since our paleo days, but our biological programming that tells us we need to fit in to survive hasn't changed to meet this new landscape. Most of us aren't playing for survival anymore. We're playing for happiness—but that's not what we're designed for.

We don't have to go running, meditate or eat kale. We get to, because in the long-run it's good for us and doing hard things makes us harder. There's a huge chunk of the impoverished world that doesn't get to do anything of the sort. They have to survive. Something tells me they would be ecstatic to get the opportunity to do anything beyond surviving. The fact that we get to do anything at all is a luxury.

The Stoics used a practice called negative visualization that's relevant here. William B. Irving in his valuable book A Guide to the Good Life sums this practice up nicely:

"They recommended that we spend time imagining that we have lost the things we value—that our wife has left us, our car was stolen, or we lost our job. Doing this, the Stoics thought, will make us value our wife, our car, and our job more than we otherwise would."

In the same way we can imagine that our wife has finally had enough of our shit, we can imagine that we've lost the ability to play our 1st world game. If we have to survive, we don't get to do anything.

It might be helpful to consider too that there will be a last time that you get to do that thing that is painful in the moment. What do you think someone in a senior home would give to get to run around the block a few times? Four chocolate puddings? Five?

We don't always succumb to comfort. We've been sold on a dream that says if you bust your ass now, you can relax on the beach when you're old and wrinkly later. Suffering now for comfort later. But is comfort really awaiting us on this path? Arthritis and watching your friends and family die around you while you slowly (and often painfully) die yourself doesn't sound very comfortable to me.

What if we worked hard not in spite of the pain, but because of it? What if we worked hard not to find comfort later, but to train our minds to find comfort in the midst of pain now and always? And what if we worked hard not just for ourselves, but for the billions (now and in the future) that don't get to work hard at anything besides survival? Don't we owe it to them for being lucky enough to be given the chance to get to do anything at all?

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