There’s this saying that life only gives you what you can handle, and I’m compelled to think that that’s the case. After all, haven’t we all moved on from what we thought was the worst pain in our lives?
Now, I’m particularly lucky that my experiences of pain have been somewhat mild, comparatively speaking. After all, I didn’t have to live through wars or famine.
Heed this advice though: if you’re going through tough times in life, never compare yourself with others to decide if you should or should not suffer. If you’re feeling pain—both physically or mentally—then there’s probably a reason why.
Pain over pleasure
Now, my bad days have only involved dead-end careers, sports injuries, and bad relationships with borderline abusive partners. That’s besides losing loved ones, of course.
But every time the pain train came, there was always a reason, and more often than not, these feelings were a sign that I had shit to address.
For instance, would I have started writing for a living had I not grown disillusioned by my career in hairdressing and accounting? Did my bad relationships help me appreciate my current partner more? And would I have written three novels had I been happy at work?
It feels like it would’ve taken just the slightest of discrepancies to totally change who I am today—I could’ve won the national hairdressing competition, or had a girlfriend who didn’t want to become a monk, or landed a decent posting during my accounting days—but life did what it did, and here I am.
When writing fiction, we’re often told not to give our characters what they want. Instead, we give them what they need.
And pain, my friends, despite being last on your wants list, is exactly what you need.
Pain pain go away
Most of us wake up every day trying to avoid pain. We skip the gym in favour for Netflix, we choose that cheeseburger because a plate of steamed broccoli and chicken is just too much to bear, and we never read the Terms & Conditions because nobody needs that negativity in their life.
We also go through life hoping that our loved ones live forever and that our partners will never leave us. We abstain from skydiving because one in every hundred thousand people die from it, and we don’t stand up for ourselves because confrontation hurts.
But the one thing we fail to realise is that the thing we’re avoiding is actually what makes us stronger, and if the prospect of pain is stopping you from doing what you want, then you should reconsider it because that’s how you get internally swole.
Isn’t it masochistic?
Life is pain. That’s what it boils down to. Some people would call you a masochist for wanting to put yourself in uncomfortable situations, but that’s not really the case if you’re merely preparing yourself for the inevitable.
Because no matter how bulletproof you think you are, there will be a chink in your armour that life will stick its dagger in someday.
Maybe you’re not a family guy, and you don’t see what all the fuss is about people dealing with toxic relationships. But perhaps (touch wood) you’ll have to battle a disease someday, and that could be your definition of hell.
Or maybe you’re not afraid of death and disease, and what gets you instead is the pain from failure or loneliness.
We’re all human, and the downside of that is we all have our weaknesses. You can try, but you’ll never be able to avoid everything that causes you pain. So let loose a little. Don’t run from it. Live your life how you want to, and introduce yourself if pain decides to visit.
The good news is that pain and fear can be overcome by exposure, and that’s something within your control that you can do every day.
Every time you wake up without hitting the morning snooze button, every time you choose to go for that run instead of drinking that beer, every time you learn something new instead of playing that video game, you’re building your resilience and tolerance to discomfort.
This helps you deal with being somewhere you’d rather not be, and while this pain won’t compare to challenges life throws at you, you’ll at least have the benefits of acclimatisation under your belt.
Looking for a sure fire way to build your resilience? Start with exercise. There’s a reason why it’s touted as a cure for everything—because it really is.
Not only does it do your body good, but it’s also a great way to stay in the discomfort zone for prolonged periods of time. Want to see if you can withstand discomfort for an hour? Run that long and see what your mind says.
Pain as a level-up
Once you get used to dealing with pain, you become somewhat familiar with it. So the next time it rolls around, you won’t be running around like a headless chicken. Instead, you’ll have the presence of mind to reflect on what’s going on.
And this is important during times of crisis because it allows you to see the same problem from two totally different perspectives. You can see your problem as a life-changing disaster, or as something you can overcome.
Have you ever had a bad day but still chose to go work out instead? Didn’t your problems seem less threatening once you were done? That’s an example of perspective shifting.
You don’t need to exercise every time a problem arises though. You just need to know that perspective shifts exist, and that not being fearful of where you’re at is the first step in changing your mindset.
On the less-dramatic front, resilience to pain allows you to live with the nagging discomforts of life long enough to address them.
No longer will you feel like you need to escape every negative feeling or avoid the day’s possible problems. Instead, you’ll probably welcome them because it shows you what you can work on.
This is especially true in the era of social media, where we’re quick to tap that little red button on our phone whenever it pops up.
But when it comes to our real-life notifications—like the insecurities we feel when we look in the mirror, that guilt from waking up late, or the restlessness of boredom—we tend to sweep them under the rug and pretend that they’ll go away if we ignore them.
We need to stop that, and face what’s bothering us head on. That means no running to the bottle, to video games, or to whatever your vice is. By all means, kick back once in a while and have fun, but don’t spark up that blunt just because you can’t handle having nothing to do in the afternoon.
Maybe you’re afraid to speak up for yourself. Maybe you’re not happy with your eighty-kilo girth on your five-five frame. Maybe it’s time to come clean with that morning drinking of yours.
Whatever your maybe is, it’s not going to change without involving some pain. In fact, pain is the first thing your conscience uses to tell you that your upgrade is due.
Because life’s going to move on anyway, so you might as well get something out of your suffering.
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