My son recently finished up his Infant Swimming Resource (ISR) lessons and what a process it was to watch. As one could expect at 15 months old, he is eagerly vocal about what he likes and dislikes; usually in the form of screaming and/or crying. As he began his ISR lessons, this didn’t change. He sang his beautiful song of “stop making me float and hold me” to our magnificently patient instructor. What he didn’t do, however, was stop.
No matter how much he didn’t feel like learning to float or flip himself over (the key points of ISR), he still did it. We have videos of him in full fussy mode clapping for himself as we praise him for a good action. Each morning, regardless of how he felt about the lessons, he kept going.
Now before you warm up your commentin’ fingers, let me clarify: at no point was he forced to do this. He was introduced to the water and gently shown what the lesson for the day was and moved through it slowly. As most toddlers are, he is more than capable of physically resisting something to show he isn’t down to participate.
At every lesson this little dude would power through his dislike of the situation and went from a sack of potatoes to a floating, rolling pro. Most of us can’t be bothered to get out of our cars for a coffee.
As we continue to grow technologically, we give more attention to our impulses and less to personal discipline. Although we have the means to entertain or feed ourselves with anything at a moments notice, to hit that feel good button over and over, we still need to hold ourselves back from feeding our little instant gratification monsters. We need the discipline to do what is necessary to keep our lives in order. We need to consciously make that sacrifice. It will not always the fun choice, but it is the correct one and the choice that will benefit us the most down the road.
All of the self-help “find yourself” books and speakers are trying to break through our base level drive to grab the cookie instead of the celery (some of them capitalize on it and extort people but that’s another discussion). We think we’re special. That we deserve our little rewards because we did something we didn’t like, but we don’t have to live with a reward system. We’re not show dogs, we don’t have merit points, you’re not gonna get a formal pat on your head. The only reward is in a life well lived and it comes after dropping the idea that you need a reward in the first place. To live with a desire to be constantly happy or to dread a task that is menial or uncomfortable leaves you poised for suffering.
Each one of us knows what it feels like to follow our impulse and get hit with the wave of regret afterwards; skipping an exercise, sleeping away half of the day, eating an entire pizza. We are usually conscious of the negative consequences of our actions before we make them, yet time and time again we feed that little monster.
“To suffer terribly and to know yourself as the cause: that is Hell.”
― Jordan B. Peterson, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
To change this behavior means guiding ourselves to putting down the junk food, living on a budget, and cleaning up after ourselves. Focus on delaying your gratification for a bit instead of giving into what feels good in the moment.
“But Sean!” you say with gusto, “it is far more enjoyable to hit up Postmates than it is to learn how to cook! Why should we do anything that we don’t want to?!”
I know, but dwelling on the “idontwannnna” mindset that impedes our task completion just makes things that much worse. Take pride in a clean house and vehicle. Take pride in a balanced budget. Take pride in a strong work ethic where you recognize the corners that can be cut and you move past them without giving into the behavior that will make things easy in the moment, but difficult in the future.
If you have the means to improve your life, even a little, why wait? Grab the opportunity to better yourself mentally and physically. Grab it and charge forward towards the “you” that makes you proud.
“Faster. Stronger. Smarter. More humble. Less ego.”
― Jocko Willink, Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual
We have to be okay with not being okay all the time. You will not enjoy every meal. You will not enjoy every moment of your day. You will not enjoy every interaction you have. That’s perfectly fine. The goal is to let go of the desire to be totally satiated altogether. In the meantime, as we work to that goal, we have to try to live in that mindset. Acknowledge that you aren’t a fan of the situation while still understanding and accepting that it is something that is happening and something that you must live through. Focusing on how much you dislike something will not change it. The only thing that changes is the amount of suffering you are allowing to dominate your mind in that moment. Slowly, you will be less concerned with whether or not you enjoy the menial tasks and switch to the mindset of “it needs to be done, so I’ll do it”.
Call it discipline, responsibility, spiritual freedom, enlightenment, non-dualism…doesn’t matter. Sometimes you have to get in the pool and learn to float so that your future self will be less likely to suffer.