We all endure trials and challenges. We all endure difficulties, setbacks, frustrations, and non-ideal circumstances.
Life can be a rough ride.
But as this article will explain; the roughness of the ride of life that we experience depends on two major variables:
- The roughness of the road that we are currently driving on (external circumstances)
- The power and effectiveness of the shock absorbers we have installed (internal reactions to the external circumstances)
And as this article will reason; we have the power to improve our experience with life by both installing better shock absorbers, and choosing which roads we want to drive on, thus making our lives a better ride.
External circumstances: The road we are on
All of us are subject to and exposed to a large number of external circumstances, many of which are not our own personal choice.
We pay tax. We have the parents we were born with. We use electricity and water that has a certain cost. We are a particular, set age that we have no control over. We need food. We need water. The list goes on.
The external circumstances we find ourselves in at this present time are the road upon which we are currently driving in life.
Depending on where we are in life, these circumstances can vary widely. For some of us, we are in the midst of terrible crisis, stress, or otherwise unhappy. These things happen as we drive through life; tragedy comes.
However, whatever our circumstances are, many of them are not permanent and can improve, as well as our experience with them improving.
Internal circumstances: The shock absorbers of the car we are driving
All of us are conscious beings experiencing our lives. Our experience with life is subjective and depends on a number of internal factors.
In this analogy;
The internal circumstances we find ourselves in at this present time are the shock absorbers in the car in which we are currently driving on the road of life.
They constitute our choice in reaction to external events, which ultimately impacts how rough the ride is, just like shock absorbers do.
Example 1: When water gets in one’s eyes
I have a four year old daughter. About two years ago we started showering her. When we were in the shower, I would wash her hair and rinse it.
I would tell her: “close your eyes darling”. She was very young and didn’t necessarily understand what that meant. So when I would rinse her hair some water would get in her eyes (using baby shampoo so it’s not too strong) and that would result in pain and irritation for her. She would cry and scream. I would try to coach her on what it means to close your eyes when the water runs down. I would come down to her level and mimic the behaviour that she needed to do.
Eventually she learned how to close her eyes when her hair was being washed. Most recently, I have reflected on how she has become very good at this. When I’m about to wash her hair I will tell her “I’m about to wash your hair, please close your eyes”. I will wash her hair and she will close and block her eyes with her hands.
Thus, her behaviour when I was washing her hair had a dramatic impact on the overall quality and difficulty of the experience of my washing her hair.
- Washing the hair: external circumstance
- Closing your eyes: internal reaction
Now, it’s not a problem anymore. It’s simply washing hair — like we all do quite often; painless.
Example 2: Playing Poker; The hand and the play
Poker is fascinating as it represents the convergence between these two seemingly opposite factors; random chance (circumstances, the road) and non-random choice (the shock absorbers, the car).
Success in Poker does not depend on luck alone, nor does it depend on skill alone. It depends on a combination of both, and knowing when to play in which way.
A successful Poker player can beat a novice almost regardless of the hand he’s been dealt; because he learns to read the other players and reason with the knowledge he acquires.
- It would be unfair and inaccurate to claim that a skillful Poker player is perpetually lucky — he just plays well with the hand that has been dealt to him.
- It would be inaccurate to claim that a non-skillful player is always unlucky — he just plays badly with the hand he’s been dealt, and has a rough ride playing the game as a result.
So how do we improve our ride in life?
As we drive on the road of life, we go to different places and experience different things. Of course, unlucky and unfortunate experience will naturally occur at some points — the road will get bumpy. So how do we proactively make our ride better?
Step 1: Install better shock-absorbers
The first step is to improve the subjective part of our experience, by installing better shock aborbers. There are a large number of ways this can be done — it’s beyond the scope of this article to write them all. But briefly, Steven Covey’s “Sharpening the saw” is very appropriate:
- Physical dimension (exercise, sleep, diet, etc.)
- Emotional dimension (friendships, processing life events / journalling, etc.)
- Spiritual dimension (meditation, clarifying our values, goal setting, integrity, etc.)
- Mental dimension (reading, studying, researching, challenging our minds)
And many others. Improving the quality of our “shock-absorbers” in life can dramatically improve our experience and effectiveness in our circumstances, even if they are tough, because we are sharper.
Step 2: Choose better roads
Finally, although many circumstances of our lives are out of our control, many other circumstances are actually, as James Allen suggests in his book “as a man thinketh”, the final results of our personal habits:
“Men imagine that thought can be kept secret, but it cannot; it rapidly crystallizes into habit, and habit solidifies into circumstance.“
I strongly believe that so many of our circumstances in life are chosen as eventual results of our personal habits. Hence; the roughness of the ride we force our cars to go through often has a lot to do with our choice of roads to travel on. Surely, not all, as we are all subject to external circumstances completely out of our control, but many are.
Smoothing the ride
I think the most empowering thing to understand is that we have the choice to choose our own destiny in life. While the entirety of the experience of life is not all a choice; much of it is.
As we raise our awareness of the variables impacting the roughness of the ride, we can improve it to our own personal happiness and effectiveness.