There is this fundamental rule that applies to human beings.
Do the things you hate.
I’m not talking here about slaving away at your 9-5 job that you despise or hang out with people who bum you down. Do the things that you fear, that make you uncomfortable and give you that weird sensation in your gut.
People will always work harder to avoid pain than to gain pleasure. Human beings by default have a self-preservation mode installed. We are stuck it with since the times when we were ape men and a fun Saturday night for us meant trying to find a higher cave so the saber tooth tiger wouldn’t use us as toothpicks whenever he pleased.
This worked great and it’s mostly what allowed us to think critically and find solutions to our urgent problems back then. But since then, our conscious minds have developed and also our perspectives have changed. One of the main features that separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom is long term thinking.
While the worries of most animals are still locked in the stage of “what is my next meal and how to avoid becoming someone else’s next meal”, we humans have developed the abilities to create societies of individuals that share the same values or experiment if we can send another human to Mars (because you never know).
The problem lies in the harmony between desire and action. While it is very easy to take your hand off the stove if you are burning it’s not so easy to sit down and do your homework for 3 hours, even if that presents the possibility of a better future in the end.
Short term thinking is characterized by quick actions and instant gratification while long term thinking is characterized by tedious routine and a reward that may or may not be hiding beyond the horizon.
Humans, like water in a cup, move around just enough to achieve balance and take the shape of the cup. We nudge just enough to get comfortable. And when there is an inbalance, we just nudge a little bit more again until we are settled. It’s not like the water plans to jump out of the cup at any moment because there is the promise of a better cup lying somewhere on the same table.
Water doesn’t really care. But we humans care. And we become frustrated with our wants and needs for the future even though we forever delay in doing the hard work and going after our dreams.
People will always tell you: Do what you love!
But that just means being unfair with yourself.
Doing only the stuff you love doesn’t bring true self-awareness, fulfillment and it makes you hooked on the result. You don’t experiment anymore. You are not challenged. You don’t grow. You don’t become better. You are just stuck in this pool of self-indulgence, you become disconnected with the outer world.
Some people want to find true love, but then they are scared of talking with random strangers. They hate going through that anxiety. They are just hooked on the result, but can’t go through the daily struggle.
Some people want to become famous artists and make a gazillion dollars, but then they hate the idea of working on their art in every awake moment. Especially if they have a job, they will always find an excuse to postpone because they are tired or something similar. They are just hooked on the result, but can’t go through the daily struggle.
Some people want to have the perfect body but then they hate the idea of going to the gym 5 times a week and eating healthy. Screw long term thinking when you have Ben & Jerry’s Oreo flavor, F*ck yeah! They are just hooked on the result, but can’t go through the daily struggle.
Doing the things you hate is what improves yourself. It will develop your critical thinking, it will teach you to delay gratification, it will teach you patience and also how to be grounded in the present. Instant gratification ( aka let me finish these 3 cans of ice cream now) does not mean being present. That is just “numbing” yourself. Allowing yourself to truly live each day for the simple fact of knowing you are working your way towards a bigger goal one step at a time is what will keep you grounded.
Doing things you hate will teach you how to love the process of being. You are not anymore just a person that does, but a person that “exists” through all of his or hers daily actions.
Completing a marathon makes us happier than eating a chocolate cake. Raising a child makes us happier than beating a video game. Starting a small online business with your best friend makes us happier than binge watching all seasons of Friends in one weekend.
The irony in all these things is that all the activities above are exceedingly unpleasant and require setting high expectations and potentially failing to always meet them. But somehow they are some of the most meaningful moments and activities of our lives. They include pain, struggle, anxiety and fear, yet once we’ve done them we look back and get misty-eyed about them.
Because it gets us closer to our ideal self. It increases our self worth. Only pushing our limits do we allow ourselves to actually see “what our real limits are”.
The end results don’t define our ideal selves. It’s not finishing the marathon that makes us happy, it’s achieving a difficult long-term goal that does. It’s not having an awesome kid to show off that makes us happy, but knowing that you gave yourself up to the growth of another human being that is special and that all those sleepless nights and smelly diaper changes were worth in the end. It’s not the prestige and money from the new business that makes you happy, it’s the process of overcoming all odds with people you care about.
True happiness is actually hard to find. Because we do just enough to not be unhappy. Which is not necessarily the opposite of happy. It’s more like barely comfortable.
Humans thrive on challenges, from difficult plots that transform the hero in a wiser and better version of himself, from curiosity and experimenting.
How can you know what you are actually passionate about and truly love doing if you are just comfortable with being OK with a thing you are familiar every day.
If you always avoid what you hate, you can never get better. You might feel awkward at the beginning while learning a new skill or frustrated because you can’t get your head around a certain issue and you are sacrificing current gratification for a future pleasure, but the conscience choice of going through the grind is the force that will help you master the process and reap the bigger rewards at the end.
Sometimes you have to do the stuff you hate in order to learn how to love yourself more.