We are programmed to find comfort. It’s natural. We seek pleasure and avoid pain because that’s what our brain is trained to do, through years and years of evolution. Putting ourselves through exhaustive or exertive circumstances is a fight against ourselves. Everything our brain has been programmed to search for savagely is at hand-food, water and (potentially) sex. It’s easy to sink into a state of doing nothing, since all our needs, says our brain, are fulfilled, and so we don’t need to do anything else. Our brains are right, but they’re also wrong. All our survival needs are met, but that does not mean we, as people, are satisfied. The things which we want to achieve are usually hard work to attain, and this involves a battle between your will and what your brain wants. Your brain wants comfort and pleasure, but you want to push yourself, to experience hardship now for the sake of gain later. This is what you must do then-fight yourself. Battle against your brain’s instincts and if your will is strong enough, you will win.
Lingering inside our own heads is a habit which is, at least in the world of work and commute, becoming less and less common. On the way to work adverts are everywhere, telling us how to think and pulling us away from entertaining any thoughts of our own. Phones and other devices enable us to distract ourselves from our minds, also controlling our stream of thought. Little opportunity is there for quiet and distraction-free time just to live inside our own head and explore the vast extent of our own selves. Real time alone is becoming more and more scarce, and it is harder, in a world obsessed with haste and getting as much done as quickly as possible, just to stop and sit in a quiet room. Why is it, though, that Pascal says that all men’s miseries stem from this? Not only does sitting in a quiet room enable us to explore ourselves, but it also provides time for deliberating upon our troubles and contemplating the generally trivial nature of our misery. Without this time, we are unable to separate ourselves from our problems, and thereby we become deeply engrossed and entrenched by our problems, simply because we do not distance ourselves from them, something that can easily be done through simple quiet thought. Sparing time for this basic yet effective action is crucial for dealing with life’s troubles, and gives us time to reflect, a thing which might at first seem scary, yet is on all accounts necessary.
The future you is already someone else. Some other person has written a book, some other person can run a marathon, some other person has the job you want. The goals you have today have most likely already been achieved by other people. This fact can do two things:
I) it lets us know that what are aiming for is possible, and so we know that, if we try hard enough, we can attain it
II) it can be used as a target. Using Ovid’s quote about horses running fast when other horses are in front, we can use the fact that people are ahead of us as a booster and a motivational tool to work more intensely and passionately towards what we want to do.
Another quote of Ovid, the notorious Roman poet: ‘Be patient and tough; someday this pain will be useful to you.’ This quote expresses the good of sacrifice and suffering. Not all suffering is good, but not all suffering is bad either. The pain you experience now is worth the gains you will experience later. It’s a simple fact. If we want to be good at something, we have to be willing to hurt for it, for our goal, for ourselves.
First, then, be willing. Be open to pain, and soon enough, if used in the right way, that pain will open the doors of satisfaction.
We all have comfort zones, accustomed places and routines. It’s not surprising really, given that it’s in our nature to seek comfort. Comfort is what it is-comforting. Yet, should we always seek comfort so easily? One might say that comfort is both uninteresting and mediocre. Little worthwhile is gained from comfort. Alain de Botton said that people only start to become interesting ‘when they start to rattle the bars of their cages.’ Great things come from pain, sacrifice, discomfort. How can we evolve if all we spend our time doing is working for money and watching endless TV and endless social media feeds? A life of comfort is nothing to be ashamed of, yet is it something to be truly proud of? Comfort is good, I do not deny that, but is comfort always good? Perhaps, you might say, it is. But if you always lived in ‘comfort’, would you have created anything you thought was worth anything? The best of things are made from the worst of times.
If you want to come near to experiencing the feeling of being alive, first you must leave your comfort zone.