Before I moved into the area of coaching I spent some time living Japan. Quite randomly, while exploring Tokyo one day, I came across a house that was being used to sell second-hand English books. The house felt old, and out of place where I happened upon it. There was almost no furniture and along every wall in every room, from floor to ceiling, were bookshelves full of books.
I pulled a book from the shelf. I have no idea why I chose it, maybe it was something about the title… The Road Less Travelled. It sounded familiar somehow. I read the first paragraph…
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
This truth was profound to me, and still after having read it hundreds of times, it is profound to me. Profound for its simplicity perhaps.
It may be simple but for a long time I wasn’t living with such acceptance and was regularly measuring how difficult life was at the time against how difficult I believed it should be. In hindsight I laugh at myself for all of the energy that was wasted.
Asking why life has to be difficult is a bit like asking why the sky has to be blue. It is what it is. The difference between the two is that even if I accept that the sky is blue, that won’t change the fact that the sky will still be blue tomorrow. The magic and beauty of accepting (I mean, REALLY accepting!) that life is difficult is that it actually shifts the perception of struggle, creating a situation where it no longer matters that life is difficult.
It usually takes a bit of practice to shift an ingrained thought process. These are my key tips on how to accept that life is difficult:
- Understand that looking for the easiest, least energy consuming way to do just about anything is human nature. So, consciously or unconsciously, it will always be a default to want to take the easiest option and this default is particularly difficult to move against whenever you are feeling uncertain, scared, or tired.
- H.A.L.T. This acronym stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. I don’t know who invented this acronym but they were definitely onto something. Your problems will always seem bigger or more challenging to deal with if you’re feeling one or more of these needs. Check-in and ensure your mind and body are in balance (e.g. rested and fed) before dealing with “difficulties”.
- Understand that life will always be a series of problems, or choices to be made. It is never-ending and you don’t have the power to change this. What you have power over is how you choose to perceive your problems. As long as I have GOOD problems in my life then I’m happy. When I perceive ‘good problems’ then I find they don’t absorb endless amounts of energy. For example, if I’m planning a holiday and I am debating about whether to go to Italy or Hawaii, this is a really good problem to have. Even making a decision around whether to take a job offer, while it may be an important decision, it is still a good problem to have. Take extra special note here if you’ve ever had problems like these and turned them into energy consuming dramas… because there are people the world over who wish they had your problems. Save your energy that gets wasted on asking why it has to be difficult, and adopt a gratitude stance.
The tendency to ask ‘Why does life have to be so difficult?’ is something I see in people often in my work. Not bad, just human. In fact I see it so often that I have a joke that goes something like “If I have Client A who believes that life shouldn’t be so difficult, and Client B who accepts that life is difficult, for Client A add two coaching sessions to bring them up to speed.” I say this is a joke, but in reality it’s really not far from the truth.