I was pondering why life is so hard. It is, there’s no question. Even for people who have everything going for them, some things are inescapable. You’re going to have to do dishes and laundry or pay to outsource them. You have to work because vendors have this really intense commitment to payments. In the course of every life, there’s going to be some combination of the following: emotional upset (relationships, mental health, problems with children), workplace stress (toxic co-workers, layoffs, etc.), health issues (yours or a relative) and death.
These are terrible things.
Even if you’re a trust fund baby who never has to work and has a permanent housekeeper, you can’t dodge emotional upsets, and even if you and everyone you love has platinum healthcare and the best luck in the world, sooner or later someone will die and you have to face grief.
But the real problem is that these things only affect the difficulty level of your life, or in some cases present actual obstacles.
You look at your newborn and think, nothing bad will happen to you. I will protect you. And you envision her life as a long, straight, clear road. But life isn’t long and straight and clear. It has peaks and valleys. It has different terrain. Some stretches might be paved but other stretches might be boggy and hard to push through.
If you start to think about life like that, as an obstacle course, you can see that it’s not even straight. Each time you make a wrong decision in life–a relationship that doesn’t work out, or a job that gets you nowhere–it’s a spur on the road. You get to the end of your dead end and have to come back.
If you make big changes in your life, that’s a curve in your road.
If you or someone in your family gets sick, it’s like a climbing wall has been dropped suddenly in front of you.
But here’s the thing: we handicap ourselves. Our negative mindsets, our bad habits, our commitment to things we should be pruning from our lives–all these things work as ankle weights. They slow us down and they make each step harder. Climbing out of a valley is suddenly twice as hard as it needs to be. Those walls can stop your forward progress for weeks or months.
My mother is a great example. She had a lot of trauma in her marriage with my dad. They’re divorced now but she’s still standing in front of a wall, refusing to try to climb it. Until she’s ready to start that work, she can’t move forward. It has been years that she’s been standing there. I don’t know that she’ll ever be able to get over that wall.
Which brings us back to Newton. Inertia is the tendency of objects in motion to stay in motion but also the tendency of objects at rest to stay at rest. In effect, he said change is hard.
(Yes, I’m aware he was just observing this and didn’t cause it but let’s face it, this is not a blog post about facts.)
So if you have ankle weights on, you have to pull them off. One at a time. Each bad habit is pulling you down, and you have to break it with great difficulty to get a little ease in your life. How many weights are you holding onto?
That’s not the end of it. Once you push all that effort into the removal of your ankle weights, you’re not flying. You just have an easier time navigating the obstacle course.
But the price of that ease is constant vigilance. You can’t let yourself get complacent or you will strap the weights back on. It’s a constant part of your life.
This applies to the other areas of your life, too. If you have enough money to outsource some of your housework, that smooths out that part of the road. If you have a loving, stable relationship, you can rely on your partner to prop you up when you get stuck in a bog.
But again, that requires initial effort and you have to sustain it. Relationships need care to flourish. Even passive income requires a large initial investment of time or money or both.
Inertia again. You can make your life better, but you have to work incredibly hard for it. And it’s so easy to make a change for the better in one area of your life and drop another part of your life.
Disclipline and self-control are limited quantities. Decision fatigue is real. That’s what makes change so hard. If you try to pull ALL your ankle weights at once, AND generate enough passive income to retire in 5 years, AND find a great relationship, AND have a time-consuming hobby, you’ll burn out and do it fast.
I have an idea on how to solve that problem. And my problem from last week, too. It’s about habits. When you solidify a habit it stops needing willpower. Do you need willpower to change into pajamas? No, it’s just a thing you do at night.
Theoretically, if you can create habits that make your life easier, you can make the road of your life a little easier to navigate. You spend a month training yourself to floss every night as a habit, and then you have better dental health for the rest of your life. At least in theory, you can change your life, one month and one habit at a time.
My current plan: try to habit-ize as much of my life improvement effort so that I can maintain the inertia of movement in those areas while I pick at other areas. I have a lot of issues, so it will take a long time, but that’s my idea. Pick one thing that’s important and habit-ize it. Eat better, for example. Get a handful of meals I like and are healthy. Figure out a time and place to prep them each week. Rinse and repeat. Once that’s in place, I can put that effort into something else.