Biting into the easy center of a “hard” life

I answered this question on Quora some 19 months ago, but for some reason neglected to also post it to this blog. As it contains insights of interest to students of Instinx, here it is now:

Question from Quora: Why is my life so hard?

Answer from Gus:

You don’t give much to go on, but let’s see if I can help:

Looking over the 12 answers given so far, I wonder what makes it so difficult for people to appreciate that there are levels of mental capability just like there are levels of physical capability. If the question was “why do I find it so hard to climb trees?” then most answerers wouldn’t respond with “you just think it’s hard for you” as they have done here. They would take the questioner at their word and explore the specific competencies involved.

The fact is he or she is finding life “so hard” and that means it is more difficult to be living their life than it is to be living your life, unless you feel life is that hard too.

For whatever reasons, the questioner is finding it more difficult to cope than most other people they are aware of. For the questioner, that is reality, regardless of its cause. We can be sure of this without knowing anything about their circumstances.

Difficulty is an attitude or emotion that behaves rather differently from most negative emotions. Take fear as a comparison. I used to be so claustrophobic that I couldn’t receive an MRI. The panic would rise in me until it felt impossible for me to lie still inside that bloody donut. But I always knew the fear was inside me, that it was my problem, not somehow emanating out of the machine.

However, if I felt that riding a bicycle was difficult, then it actually feels like the difficulty is “out there” in the bicycle. It is not as immediately obvious that I am “difficultying” the bicycle, like I am fearing the MRI. It feels more like the bicycle is making me feel incompetent.

And yet the truth is that feeling difficulty is exactly the same as feeling fear or anger or grief or despair or any other negative emotion. It’s happening “in here” and not “out there”.

So this is the first step to answering your question: Why is my life so hard? Recognise that you will find the reason it feels so hard within you, not out there. In other words, life isn’t doing anything to you, it is the feeling of difficulty within you that’s making it feel so hard.

Thus, a more practical question to answer would be: Why does my life feel so hard?

(It may seem like I’ve used a lot of words to make a very simple point, but I have to make sure it is understood first or everything that follows is useless.)

To answer that question, let’s first look at the opposite: when something feels easy, why is that?

The common denominator of everything you find easy in your life is that you find it easy to put your attention on it. You find it easy to think about and focus on the things you are good at and you find it difficult to focus on the things you aren’t good at. All problems of difficulty are actually difficulties in attending to things.

In simple terms, a person’s attention is always in one of three states. Just like H2O is always in a solid, liquid or gaseous form, a person’s attention is always either attending, avoiding, or obsessing about something.

Attending is the state that feels easy. We are freely and instinctively able to give the appropriate amount of attention to these parts of life without much conscious effort: it just happens. Avoiding is what usually causes a feeling of difficulty. The more something feels difficult, the more you want to avoid it. Apparently.

But remember what I pointed out before: you don’t want to avoid something because it is difficult, it actually feels difficult “in here” because you want to avoid it. That’s the illusion of difficulty and why it’s not always obvious how to make things easier. (In business, billions of dollars are wasted every year making things physically easier when that is seldom the real reason why they aren’t being used.)

You have to reduce avoidance in order to reduce the illusion of difficulty. In military boot camp, for instance, you are forced to do things that may at first seem very difficult. You are not permitted to avoid it, over and over, so eventually your mind stops trying to avoid it so strongly and thus you find it much easier to do. You may never get to the point where you actually want to do it all by yourself, without outside pressure to do it, but it certainly gets easier to the exact degree that your avoidance of it reduces.

Yes, you are also getting fitter physically, but that is only part of the reason why your training feels easier as you go along. Your mind is also finding it easier to attend: to think about and focus on the activities involved.

Obsessing will also make things feel difficult, but it does it in the opposite way. Instead of feeling like your attention is being repelled, it is being grabbed. When you obsess about something, your attention is being robbed away from other parts of life until it feels difficult to give anything but the obsession an appropriate amount of attention. By default, you end up “avoiding” the other parts of life simply by not giving them the attention they normally require, which makes life in general feel more and more difficult to live.

This is what happens to a drug addict, for instance, but it doesn’t have to involve substance abuse. I coached a person recently who was letting his business fall apart because he was determined not to give up one more dollar in his divorce settlement than he had to: that was his obsession. When we freed up his attention from that obsession, he went back to happily creating what he wanted in his life.

From this you can see – if a person is seriously asking the question: Why is my life so hard? – there’s a good chance he or she is obsessing about something that is robbing attention away from everything else.

So – life will be feeling so hard because you are avoiding big parts of it for one reason (avoiding) or the other (obsessing). The way to make it feel less hard is to improve your ability to focus on whatever you do want to focus on.

Any meditation or mindfulness technique will help you to improve that ability to some degree, you can read about the one I use here: Attitude-First-Aid

Right now you may not know what you want to focus on, but that doesn’t need to be a problem. The more able you become to direct your attention (by doing the exercise given), the more you will find yourself focusing on what you want to without really having to think about it at all. Certainly, life will begin to feel easier, bit by bit, right away.

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Posted November 20, 2016 at 3:09 pm by Gus Griffin · Permalink
In: Misc