How to solve any life problem: the athlete theory to life

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  1. It’s easy to solve your life problems.
  2. But life problems feel hard, so we expect a complicated solution.
  3. The only hard thing about solving life problems is keeping them solved (or habits).
  4. CONCLUSION: Think of yourself as an athlete, not a scientist.

It’s easy to solve your life problems.

Most of the secrets to solving all your life problems and living a happy life without (an unreasonable amount of) stress, fear, or sadness can be found in cliché wisdom.

If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
You’ll find love when you stop looking.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Live every day like it’s your last.
Be the change you wish to see in the world.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
Shoot for the moon, and even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

These cliché sayings (and ones like them) solve almost all of your life problems. Why?

Cliché sayings have been tested and adjusted over 1000s of years of trial and error.

Think of cliché wisdom as the products of 1000s of years of social evolution and survival of the socially fittest. Just like how some animals survive better than others in their environment and so are more likely to pass on their genes (genetic evolution), some practical ideas about how to live tend to make us happier and healthier and so are more likely to be passed on through teaching (social evolution). Over 1000s of years, some of these practical approaches to life become so helpful that they are crystallized into deep truths, what we now see as clichés.

All we have to do to solve our life problems is to listen. Most of the answers to life’s problems are right in front of us. We’ve probably heard them a million times from our peers, friends, parents, teachers, or grandparents. That’s social evolution doing its work for us. Millions of our ancestors had to test out different ways of life to come to a small set of deep practical truths about how to live. Just listen to these clichés, and you’ll find you can solve almost any life problem you have.

I came to realize the importance of listening to cliché wisdom when one day I felt really sad and lonely. After a lot of thought, I realized the solution to not being sad and lonely anymore: connect with other people. (Sarcasm) What a revelation, right? That’s when I saw how simple most solutions to life are. Here’s the article I’m referring to: A meditation on isolation, emptiness, and feeling like a nobody.


But life problems feel hard, so we expect a complicated solution.

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The funny thing about life problems is they hit us right where it hurts: our hearts. Breakups, loneliness, estranged family, having no one to talk to, not feeling accepted, unresolved arguments, cheating, betrayal, death. These all really hurt—like really, really hurt.

Sometimes it even feels like the world is coming crashing down—like all color is fading, and the world seems bleak.

In such a high emotional state, our life problems feel hard, so we feel like the solution must be hard. Difficult problems have difficult solutions, right?

Not life problems. If you’re going through a horrible breakup, I can guarantee you that a million people have gone through it before you, and they’ve already figured out how to solve it. It’s not hard. Leverage the power of social evolution, and listen to the cliché wisdom you’ve heard about breakups. If cliché wisdom didn’t work, people wouldn’t be saying them over and over. Like this one:

I think we’re so mistaken about the difficulty of life problems that when we finally work through a life problem, we call the things we learn “breakthroughs” or “epiphanies”—as if we somehow broke through some impenetrable wall of struggle. In truth, when we’re “working through” our life problems, what we’re really doing is just venting out our emotions, so we can calm down from our high emotional states, so we can be clear-headed enough to see what we deep down already knew: the cliché wisdom we’ve heard millions of times.


The only hard thing about solving life problems is keeping them solved (or habits).

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The only hard thing about solving life problems is our own tendency to get stuck in old patterns of behavior. When I felt really lonely, I had a horrible habit of just not talking to anyone ever and instead resorting to movies and games and porn to numb the sadness. It didn’t even occur to me that I could reach out to people. That was a new habit I had to learn (and am still learning).

So, when I realized that the cure to my loneliness was connecting with other people—the cliché wisdom I always knew in the back of my mind—I knew I had to start to reach out.

New habits take roughly 66 days to adopt—and that’s assuming you even make it that far. Most of us give up pretty early and just go back to our old ways of life.

There are 2 main reasons we can’t make a habit stick:

  1. The change is painful, and/or
  2. Other people discourage us.

Either the new habit kind of sucks to start (e.g. exercise), or we’re scared our friends and family are going to hate us (e.g. coming out as gay and expressing our true selves).

That’s where cliché wisdom becomes difficult: although we already know what to do, it takes work to actually do it. In other words,

Life problems are easy to solve, but they require commitment to keep them solved.


CONCLUSION: Think of yourself as an athlete, not a scientist.

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When you walk through life, don’t think of yourself as a scientist seeking out truths about how to live and how to find happiness. The answers are already there in the form of cliché wisdom. We all already know them.

Instead, think of yourself as an (emotional) athlete who has to show up to the game called life every day and put in the hard work to commit to and live by that cliché wisdom.

Be an athlete, not a scientist.

 
 

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