Premise 1: People must act
Premise 2: Life is hard sometimes.
Conclusion: People must act in spite of the fact that life is sometimes hard.
That’s not a self-help quote or inspirational slogan. It’s a logical argument. If the premises are true, then the conclusion is necessarily true. The only way you can avoid this conclusion is by denying one of the premises. You would have to either commit to the belief that it’s possible for a person to not engage in any kind of action whatsoever or you would have to reject the notion that life is hard.
For those who might be tempted to reject the first premise, you might want to consider the following point of clarification: The concept of “action” is not limited to dramatic expressions of physicality. Action can be subtle and overt, passive and active, boring and interesting.
If you go to sleep, you are engaging in a form of action. If you sit on the couch and practice Zen meditation in an effort to “do nothing,” you are still doing something.
Not only does action include passive and subtle forms of physical expression, but it also includes psychological experiences. If you choose to indulge in a fantasy about the glory days when you played High School football, you are doing something. If you choose to engage in positive self-talk in order to not feel so bad about a mean-spirited comment someone said to you, you’re doing something.
So when you really thing about it (which is another example of doing something), it’s simply not possible for a person to literally do nothing.
Whenever we say “I’m not doing anything,” we’re speaking loosely. What we really mean is “I’m not doing anything interesting, significant, abnormal, noteworthy, or worth talking about.” It doesn’t mean that we are literally making zero choices in the moment.
The second premise should also be pretty self-evident. We all have things we want and we all have to deal with some degree of pain, suffering, or frustration when reality says “no” to the things that are really important to us. Whether by death or abandonment, life will take away at least one loved one from every single one of us. Whether by personal mistake, random accident, superior competition, or unfair opposition, life will break your heart and crush one of your dreams at least one time before you make your final trip to the cemetery. So that is all I mean when I say life is hard.
If you consult your own experience, you’ll see all the evidence you need. Have you ever been let down by someone? Have you ever felt like you couldn’t go on? Have you ever felt like crying without knowing why? Have you ever been significantly inconvenienced by circumstances you couldn’t control? Exactly. Life is hard sometimes.
So if non-action is impossible and life is hard sometimes, then it logically follows that we must act in spite of the fact that life is hard.
So when someone says “keep your head up and don’t stop trying,” and you start to wonder how you can do that when everything in your life is falling to pieces, remember that you don’t have the option of being exempt from action.
It’s okay to feel hopeless and frustrated, but that doesn’t change the fact you are going to make some kind of choice no matter how you feel. I’m not merely saying that you should make a choice regardless of how you feel. I’m saying you will make a choice regardless of how you feel.
So if you’re going to make a choice no matter what, the question you have to ask yourself is this:
What kind of choice gives me the best probability of a healthy outcome?
The above question often gets confused with a very different kind of question:
What kind of choice makes me feel super duper awesome about every aspect of my existence?
That second question is a dangerous one because it’s almost impossible to find a satisfying answer. When you’re down in the dumps, you will probably not be able to think of anything that makes you feel super duper awesome about every aspect of your life.
The goal isn’t to find guarantees of success or magic bullets for happiness. The goal is to do the best you can do without pressuring yourself to feel ecstatic or excited about your options.
People often assume that in order to be constructive and creative during times of hardship, they have to force themselves to be happy about their hardship. That’s a fallacy that distracts and defeats a lot of people on their question to make positive changes.
Taking action in spite of hardship isn’t some kind of special activity reserved for motivational speakers and entrepreneurs. It’s something that everybody has to do no matter what they’re going through.
So if you’re going through hell, you might as well start looking for a way to escape it or a way to enjoy it. Because that’s what positive thinking is all about? For goodness sake, no! Do it because you have no other option.
If action is necessary, you might as well make it count.