Grit - Part 2: How pain and effort lead to a better life…
In my previous blog, I wrote about how you can achieve pretty much any goal in life, should you be willing to sacrifice, invest in lots of hard work and learn to embrace pain.
But I've often asked myself, was it really worth it to sacrifice so much to attain the goals we've set? Shouldn’t we be teaching our kids and our peers to lead a more gentle life devout of any sacrifice and pain?
And in a way, isn’t that what most of us are trying to do for our kids? Spare them from whatever pain we can…. For as long as we can…. For as long as they are small.
We want this because we want to shelter them from the obstacles that will come their way. To buy them a few more years of peace….
But instead, we are robbing them of the change to surmount the problems in their lives, to develop the tactics and strategies that they will need to navigate society, feelings, careers, family and friendships.
Because our role for kids shouldn’t be to spare them pain nor should it be to make them happy. Our role as parents should be to prepare them for life.
We should remember that we are the sum total of our experiences and our decisions. That the same painful lessons we are trying to spare our children are the same lessons that made our stomach stronger… that shaped our character and determination.
And so we should be teaching our children that life is not easy. That many challenges will be coming up their way. That there are many ways to overcome these challenges - and that by doing so… we are giving them the tools they need to be happy.
And it all starts with pain and sacrifice.
How our brain measures satisfaction...
When we are asked "Are you happy with your life?", the narrative part of our brain will try to answer these questions:
- What is the delta between where we are and where we wanted to be?
- How we recollect the experiences of our lives.
The first question is easy and straightforward. We get unhappy in life when there is a significant delta between the life we expected to live and the life we are now living. This is why we get sad when we end a relationship or a job ("not where we wanted to be...").
It may be the regret over a diploma you never got when you were younger. Now... married and with kids in the house, it seems even more insurmountable... The steps to get there, the costs, the lost weekends, the burden on your spouse are all additional challenges that make that goal feel even more unattainable.
And we sit back... we blame ourselves for bad decisions we may have made and keep doing the same thing... and the delta keeps growing every year... and so does our dissatisfaction with our lives.
And when the delta gets too big, we tend to get depressed and anxious... Because the path to "where we wanted to be" seems so long and tenuous... everything starts to feel like it becomes overwhelming...
And we further sink in...
This is what happens when we look back at areas of our lives where we know we've under invested...
And it is specifically in these moments... that we must remember to "take a step every day..." (refer to part 1 of the article).
Now on to the science of how we remember experiences
I admit that it’s counter-intuitive to understand how hard work and perseverance will bring happiness in the end.
While the term happiness is vague, it is usually broken down into two parts:
- Happy moments that we experience;
- The satisfaction we feel about our lives.
The problem is that our brain is incapable of measuring our happiness as the sum-total of all of the positive experiences we’ve had minus the negative ones.
Even if our lives were 90% good moments and 10% bad - our brain would be unable to recollect it this way…. Indeed, the science is clear about how we remember our experiences (vacations, careers, life, goal, relationships, etc…).
We recollect the satisfaction of our experience based on:
a. How they began;
b. The significant events that shaped them;
c. How they ended.
With "c" (how they ended) as the most important factor in their recollection.
Indeed, imagine the two scenarios below for the same 2 week vacation with your wife:
Scenario A: You spend the first 10 days of beautiful weather and good times with your wife. You argue and have bad weather for the last 4 days.
Scenario B: is the exact opposite.
We should prefer scenario A (more good days) but our minds will remember B as a much better vacation than A just because of the way it ended.
And now for another brain bias… Why do we often go on vacations that have 15 different stops to it… (lots of places to visit, things to do, etc…) when most vacations should be about resourcing ourselves?
Because our brain also measures satisfaction/happiness as the number of significant events that have happened.
This way, we can tell ourselves (way after it’s over) that it was a great vacation because we did so many things…. Even if, what we may have needed was two weeks lazying at home catching up on sleep and good books.
How do we then measure the satisfaction in our lives?
If we apply the theory of how we remember experiences to how we experience our lives, then the questions are slightly tweaked to something that looks like this;
a. How our life began,
b. The significant events that shaped it,
c. How close we are now to where we thought we'd be.
If we understand these as the key factors on how we measure and remember our happiness then we can start to imagine paths that we can take to get there.
We cannot change A but we can have a direct impact on b and c... both of which have a much more profound impact on our happiness than a.
But when we look at the last two, a common denominator seems to jump out: they are both positively impacted with the amount of effort and investment you’ve put into it.
We get unhappy in life when there is a significant delta between the life we expected to live and the life we are now living. It the part of our mind that tried to see if we are happy with “our current end” of our story. Are we happy with where we are?
And the only way to be happy with where we are is if we’ve met our goals (whatever they could have been…) because this is our we’ve defined our happiness in the first place.
And the achievement of any worthwhile goal is arduous - and the more arduous, the more rewarding.
Because we have had to work towards it. We have had to stretch ourselves to get there.
Because life is not a long straight line and that getting to where you wanted meant that you have had to take many turns, twists and detours to get there.
These twists and turns have forced you to push yourself and to overcome the plateaus / ceilings that were in front of you. To push yourself out of your comfort zone and to achieve something…
One step at a time…. Living many difference small success along the way…. Making tons of little and big changes in your life…. Changes that are making your life better.
And when you look back… in the same way as you’ll look fondly at that vacation with 15 stops in 14 days as an enriching one - you will look back upon your life as an enriching one.
You will have taken many steps... you will have reached many plateaus... you will have accomplished many things... and your life will feel full and meaningful.
So persist towards the right goals…
So… push relentlessly towards your life goals - no matter what they are (just chose them wisely because you will attain them).
You will realize that by doing so, you will always get close enough and most importantly, you will learn that whatever distance is left - is easily bridgeable.
And you will also need to remember that while it does get hard at times, those are the steps in your life, the plateaus you need to break….
Remember that persistence is also about commitment, effort and investing into your meaningful relationships. It's about building strong and deep connections through years of investing in your children, marriage, family and friends...
And we also know that a deep and broad social network is the single most important determinant in living a good, healthy life.
Those are the challenges that have been put in front of you to overcome to become a stronger, better, smarter, kinder and gentler human being.
And remember that working hard doesn’t mean that you don’t get to enjoy yourself fully along the way (it’s a question of priority and focus) but most importantly that working hard means that you’ll get to enjoy yourself a lot more at the end.
“ Work when they sleep,
Learn when they party,
Save while they spend,
Live like they dream.”