Do you ever think about childhood or bygone eras and wonder why people seemed happier back then? Even without many modern conveniences we “couldn’t” (don’t want to) live without, life somehow seemed easier 20-25 years ago.
But we all know life wasn’t actually easier:
- You had to wait for your mom’s phone call to end before you could dial into AOL to check your email
- You couldn’t be reached by friends, family or coworkers with important personal or professional updates if you left your house
- You didn’t have a smart watch telling you how poorly you slept the previous night
- You didn’t have multiple devices providing a running ticker of important tragedies happening around the world in real time
- You didn’t have a constantly updating and optimizing personal feed of all of the things you like to see, hear, and read
How’s a person supposed to live like that? How did we get by? Why weren’t suicide rates at all-time highs as we were forced to live in that informationless, unconnected era?
Could it be that our current definition of “connected” is the real problem?
The Inconvenience of Convenience
I’m an optimizer at heart, and having to deal with inefficiency just about kills me. With that said, I hate what we’ve become as a society. The push to remove all struggles in our lives so we could thrive has had the exact opposite effect: now we’re struggling to survive, because we’ve over “corrected” on route to utopia. Suddenly, we find ourselves with a complete lack of balance in life, and no recollection of how to just deal with (and grow from) difficulties.
Sometimes, removing obstacles causes a ripple effect of different problems. Oftentimes, what’s billed as a solution that will buy you more freedom actually becomes a new albatross around your neck making you feel worse than before.
Here are some examples:
- Email on your phone means you’re no longer shackled to your desk from 9 to 5!
- Now you’re expected to read and respond to work emails 24/7 with no defined end to the workday.
- Streaming services mean you no longer turn the TV on, see there’s nothing to watch, and find something else to do!
- Now you’re spending 3.1 hours a day “watching” TV while you read and respond to work emails on your phone.
- Social media means staying connected to friends and family!
- Now you’re doom-scrolling through a feed of ads and algorithm-driven content from influencers you don’t know.
All this convenience has somehow left us more busy than ever before. Everyone knows that you’ve got your phone in your hand 24/7, so there’s no excuse for not being instantly available to any and everyone who tries to reach you. Because you can work so efficiently with modern tools like ChatGPT or even Zoom, for that matter, you’re expected to accomplish more per day than any other era in human history. Suddenly, you don’t have time for things like taking a walk, breathing fresh air, and just unplugging for a few minutes. The burden of busyness becomes a crushing weight.
The fact is, we’re staring down the barrel of a very real mental health crisis in this country, and I can’t help but believe this constant “push to produce” and expectation of availability is contributing to the issue. Not only are we being burnt out, we’ve removed all minor struggles from our lives that helped us learn how to handle struggle in a more controlled environment. Now we’re learning on the fly while the stakes are sky high.
The Benefits of Struggle
Struggle is a fact of life, no matter how you slice it. Either we deal with the little day to day struggles of inconvenience, or we deal with the fallout of removing those struggles (see above). Personally, I think building up from crushing little struggles head-on is the recipe for long term success.
Anyone who’s ever lifted weights knows that struggle begets strength. You start out with a little struggle, and progressively overload until a weight that could have killed you when you first started suddenly feels more like a moderate inconvenience to lift.
One of my favorite TV shows of all time, Lost, included a scene that I think very poignantly tackled the concept of beneficial struggle. In the scene, John Locke explains to an in-heroin-withdrawal Charlie Pace that struggle is nature’s way of producing strength.
“Inconvenience” is a struggle that has been equated with discomfort, and discomfort with something to avoid. But really, discomfort breeds strength. Struggle breeds growth.
How Can I Get My Life Back
There’s kind of a two-fold issue at play here: removal of struggle making us weak, and increased “convenience” leading to spinning our wheels with busyness.
Ultimately, I think we can get to a point where the overwhelming workloads caused by convenience can be adapted to. But back to the weight lifting example, you’re much more likely to encounter a massive injury/setback by jumping straight into the high stress tests rather than building up your tolerance and stamina with lighter (warm up) stresses. Considering the speed at which technology moves, though, I think we’re much better off building up slowly rather than hoping to make these massive leaps alongside technology.
As far as reclaiming your life, I have a few ideas:
- Take your email off your phone
- Get off of social media (or at least get it off your phone, but seriously – stop using social media)
- Start weaning yourself off your phone altogether – work on going 30 minutes at a time without checking it. Got that mastered? Go for 60 minutes.
- Make yourself go outside. Go take a walk around the block or do some gardening in your yard.
- Pick up a hobby. Start learning an instrument, a craft, a skill – just do something that isn’t strictly related to work.
Everything listed above is likely to be a struggle for most people reading. But these struggles are the good kind that both help you reclaim your life and learn how to overcome obstacles in a controlled environment.
Ready to change your life? Let’s get busy.