Why Can’t It Be Easy?

The customer drove across town with her print job. She needed business cards the next day. At the print shop, she was told that it would be better if the original was in the form of a computer file. She could go home and email it to the print shop and come back the next day to pick up the cards. Frustrated, she exclaimed, “Why can’t it be easy? Why does everything have to be hard?”

The answer that came to her was, “Because you didn’t know. When you know, it becomes easy.”

Life for a lot of people seems very hard. Unexpected things happen. They have too much stress. Problems seem insurmountable. The problem isn’t in the event though. It is in the not knowing how to handle it. Recently, a science television show demonstrated this in an experiment investigating the limits of human performance. A US Navy Seal’s performance was tested before and after being immersed in ice water. The scientists wanted to induce hypothermia and see how badly it would degrade task performance. The Navy Seal was in the tank with ice water for an hour and he so managed his blood flow that his core body temperature remained well above where one would expect it to be. He then got out of the freezing water and performed a designated task with remarkable skill. This man was able to endure conditions that would probably kill most people because he knew how to do it. He had a good physical constitution and a strong mental attitude, but it was experience and training that gave him the knowledge to endure freezing cold without apparent harm.

Incidentally, the seal explained afterwards that he was protecting his core body temperature by resisting the tendency to shiver, which sends blood flow away from the vital organs to the extremities. He did that by relaxing.

Most of the time, our external conditions are not our real problem. The problem is that we don’t know how to handle them. For those of us not trained in the martial arts, being attacked by 5 men is a big problem. At an Aikido black belt test, the attack is a solvable problem. To the untrained eye watching the black belt candidate, it appears that the solution to the problem is to move in response to the attackers so that they can be dealt with one by one. If you are untrained, you don’t know that and you don’t know how to do it. When you know, the problem is solvable.

The trouble is that we become frustrated and anxious when we encounter challenges that are outside our area of expertise. Sometimes we haven’t got a clue what to do and sometimes we apply the wrong solution to the problem. For instance, if in our daily life we use relationship skills we developed in a dysfunctional family, our relationships will probably feel hurtful. If, on the other hand, we get some help seeing that there are other, healthier ways to have relationships, and if we are open to change, we can enjoy more pleasant interactions and feel better about people.

Our challenge then is to recognize that we need not be the victims of circumstances. It is not what is going on outside of us that makes us miserable. It is our response to it. If we can choose a more adaptive response to our stressors, we feel less stress, less unhappiness. Then we can recognize that our problems are not because life is bad or the world is unfriendly and harsh, the problem may be that we just haven’t found the necessary skill to deal with the challenge.

To improve our skill, we may need to train. We may need to study. We may need a teacher. We may need to practice and fail and try again.

What we most certainly need to do is to calm ourselves, manage our anxiety, clarify our intention and be open to there being a solution to our problem.

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© 2008 Tom Barrett