“You gain knowledge through suffering.” David Goggins.
Pain is a crucible that reveals the impurities in us, and allows us to separate the dross from the superior metal. Adversity, be it mental, emotional, or physical, allows us to grow and become what we could be: better versions of ourselves than what we were before the trials and tribulations.
The worst agonies are those that are unexpected and we are completely unprepared for. The car accident killing a close friend. The love of your life leaving. The company you have sacrificed for for a decade terminating your division out of the blue. The cancer diagnosis. All of us will be blindsided in a massive way at some point.
There is little we can do to prepare for these individual, specific events but we can make ourselves stronger and better overall, to “callous your mind” as Goggins proclaims. So that when the truly horrible happens we can be as prepared as possible. Or as psychologist Jordan Peterson says: so you aren’t a sniveling worthless mess but can be useful in tragedy and strong for others. But how?
The Stoics talked of choosing adversity. Of occasionally dressing in “the meanest of clothes” and “partaking in the worst of fares” so that poverty and loss do not frighten you as you are hardened to them. Catholics and Muslims fast for this reason, and that first bite afterwards is the most delicious thing you can think of. Stoics further remind us to momento mori: remember death and face our mortality and that of those we care for, so that we enjoy their presence more while we have them and are prepared for their loss and the void in our life their absence will cause. Appreciating the fragility of good fortune and life itself will help us get off the hedonic treadmill as Lori Santos points out in the Yale course “Science of Well Being” (available for free on Coursera) and build resilience for the inevitable massive shock of loss.
Chose to take the difficult path once in a while. Take the ice cold shower. Run in the blistering heat or freezing rain. Go on a spartan diet for a few days. Put yourself in mental duress and challenge your assumptions. Push your limits. The more often you chose to make yourself uncomfortable, the more comfortable you will become going through the inevitable rough patches. The contrast between the hardships you chose to endure versus your normal comfortable existence will prepare you for the inevitable pain that is part of life. The greater the disparity you force yourself into, the stronger your foundation to withstand the assault that will break lesser people.
If you select the path of easy, ultimately life will be hard and potentially break you. But if you chose to break yourself over and over by taking the hard route, ultimately your life will be easier. You decide when and how much you want to suffer. What will you opt for?