I’ve recently come to the conclusion that what makes life interesting and worth living overall is the idea that life is, in essence, a struggle.
Now, hear me out here – I don’t want people to assume that it is somehow synonymous with suffering. That’s a package deal and I know for a fact that some people are connecting the respective concepts habitually, but that’s wrong. Let’s talk more specifically about struggle, because as a noun it means “a determined effort under difficulties” and as a verb “make one’s way with difficulty”. The word can be used in a number of different ways, but these specific forms of its use, I am focusing on. So let’s get into it.
Consider how a child comes into this world and how they begin to learn and develop a cognitive faculty, with the long term outcome being self-sufficiency. A child has to, with great difficulty, learn how to walk and utilize rapidly developing musculoskeletal groups in unison. Not only that, but as children develop better eye sight and a more powerful cognitive network, they are rapidly learning to identify and differentiate between objects. Their experiences in the world also lead to certain results that end up carving out particular neural pathways that are deemed important in the brain. This changes, constantly, as children experience more things, and as they get older and develop their self-awareness and ability to deconstruct and analyze their own thought processes, they learn to isolate and restructure neural pathways even further, optimizing them for efficient survival, action and function in the world.
..that’s a very basic summary of the complex process of “growing up”, but it gives the gist of what it’s all about. Everyone can likely think back to particular moments in their childhood and identify some of these aspects – whether it was a profound experience that led to a particular lesson learned that is very strongly built into your habits, or something minor that just blips into your minds awareness because “hey this banana is now conceptually tied to the memory of you falling over in a park and the reason why was a tree you noticed had long branches, the concept “long” refers to an attribute of certain entities, bananas are “long” and hey neural pathway what the hell!”
Anyway vibrant descriptions of growth aside, could you really consider any of this development not a struggle? Have you observed children learning to walk and speak for the first time? It’s not only amazing, but it also looks like they’re working really hard to move those muscles and utilize their newly formed vocal chords!
It’s a struggle. It is difficult to be human and to be alive. There are a lot of functions within the human body that are entirely automatic (your liver, for example, just does its job without being asked – give it a raise with healthy food). This also includes walking, eating, talking, reading this post right now – it’s all automatized, but those particular automatic functions were learned over a period of time. They were carved into your brain in some form and were developed as such to become automatic. It’s nuts.
Once you become lucid of this fact it’s rather surreal, because you become aware of the habituated nature of 99% of what you do, day in and day out. Your blinking is automatic and now it’s on manual control. So is your breathing. Then comes the noticing of your eyes darting across the screen, reading this. Then the feeling of warmth in your skin or maybe the tightness in your neck and shoulders (something I feel right at this moment, very explicitly). That’s your self awareness and your free will – your ability to focus in on things – taking the reigns.
Apply this to your entire daily routine. You get up, brush teeth, eat food, go to work, take a dump, take a shower, etc etc. These things are daily, they are habitual, and they are specifically ingrained into you to be done on the daily in order for you to function. If you make it completely conscious and focused in, you’ll find that it is quite the struggle to get it all done. It becomes a struggle and really hard to do – but once you get back into the routine of it all and spend your awareness more on thought and new actions, then it becomes all automatic again and you’re on cruise control.
It’s madness, when you think about all of this. We do the same things every day, and all of it was earned via a struggle to attain automation. We are on constant cruise control with our survival mechanisms while simultaneously thinking and planning ahead for other things, or living in the moment of whatever it is that we’re doing.
So, where am I going with this? Well, routine is a damn good thing, for starters. It keeps us up and running, and maintains a firm level of consistency within our lives. But simultaneously, there comes a point where routine can become so “routine” that we become stagnant and feel dissatisfied. That’s the constant desire for expansion and ambition knocking on your door. Knock knock, asshole.
And that’s where learning to enjoy the struggle and accept it as the default of life comes in. Automation is easy, but learning new things, challenging yourself, changing the flow of what it is you’re doing, is hard as all fuck – especially when you’re an adult past the age of 25 (there is a reason for this, mainly in the form of neuro-plasticity, but I recommend Andrew Huberman for that info). I also think there’s an element of being self-aware here that makes it difficult, too. Kids are impulsive and just do shit – they throw themselves into a bush filled with poison ivy because whatever, then deal with the consequences. It’s god damned awesome how crazy kids can be – but for adults, we’re self aware and we’re very, VERY aware of our struggles and difficulties. Not a bad or good thing – that’s just in our nature because we want to survive.
But now you understand on some level why it can be so hard to change your life and habits around. You’re going against whatever it is that you’ve programmed yourself to already do and you’re acutely aware of it, too. Some things are easier to change than others, but things like large changes in diet and exercise routines can be extremely difficult to get into if your habit for the past two decades was sitting and doing nothing.
But it can be done, and accepting that it IS a struggle, spitting in its proverbial face, and smiling during the struggle is par for the course. Bitch, cry and get mad, too – that’s also normal, that’s your brain throwing stress signals at you and you being mighty aware of it.
Though regardless of this, be aware of the fact that life IS a struggle – getting better, improving things, optimizing and restructuring, all of it involves the struggle to greater heights, and really registering that it’s a good thing will not only make you smile, but fill your heart with joy – because sure, it’s hard, but you’re aware of it, and you willingly accept it because to give up on your ambitions is to give up on life – and while comfort through habit can make you feel safe, it will not make you happy if you’re yearning for the adventure of living.
I think Albert Camus’ “The Myth of Sisyphus” really illustrates the feeling of struggle being a good thing, so I’ll end this post with my favourite quote from that essay.
“The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus