Obstacles of Course

A part of the Overcoming Negativity series.

In the classic video-game, if Donkey Kong rolls a barrel down at you, do you stare at it, examine it, find displeasure in its appearance, perhaps hate it, curse its existence, wonder why such a thing would be thrown at you? No, you jump over it. Then the next one, and the next, and then the next barrel — until you reach the top. If you stop to ponder, you get crushed.

All the unpleasant, unappealing things you see in life are mere obstacles meant to be overcome and forgotten about. You’re not supposed to take time to examine a hurdle, you’re supposed to leap and move on. So by stopping to ponder, you’re impeding your progress along the path. You’re taking these obstacles too personally, despising them, when you should be appreciating them instead.

If Donkey Kong didn’t throw barrels, you’d simply climb up to the top and win every time. How long do you think you’d play such a game? How fulfilling would victory feel? It is the obstacles you overcome that give meaning to the game. Obstacles form the foundation of every game — and you’ll notice in any story, the central-character must always overcome something.

Your problem therefore, is not “problems”. Your problem is your negativity towards problems. You should want problems. Without problems, you’d walk straight to the top, securing a hollow victory of no significance. Why do we exist in this particular world? To overcome obstacles — that’s the enjoyment we seek as embodied beings within our avatars of flesh.

And your primary obstacle right now is negativity. Once defeated, a whole world of entertaining obstacles opens up for you. But to unlock them, you need the ability to appreciate the lighthearted-nature of the game. If you’re sitting there deathly afraid, then every merry adventure will seem frivolous and not worth the risk. To get to the good stuff, the pessimistic attitude towards problems must end.

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Challenge Accepted

Do you have a problem? Is it a problem that you don’t prefer to have? Stop focusing on it, don’t think about it. The problem dissolves. A new problem floats in and replaces it. Rinse and repeat until you find a problem you prefer, one whose solution interests you. Dedicate your time to solving it.

Because life is a virtual environment comprised of flickering pixels, what you do here ultimately doesn’t matter — this also means that problems don’t matter either — so you’re free to pick and choose amongst the bunch you’re presented with. Being the particular person you are, you’re provided with a range of problems that fit your specific character.

For example, I’m a suburban-dwelling American male at about mid-life. In this role, I have certain career issues I can wrestle with, family relationships from a husband/father persective, existential crises, my fitness and appearance, political/profession sports-team stuff, finding just the right movie to watch on Netflix, whether to play video-games, and seeking out delicious foods as part of a culinary adventure.

Previously, I was under the assumption that I had to acknowledge EVERY problem that presented itself — even those that weren’t mine. “Is there a problem somewhere in the world? Then I can’t relax until it’s solved!” That was dumb and it’s a great way to create a miserable experience for yourself.

But it turns out that not only shouldn’t you acknowledge every problem in the world, but you shouldn’t even acknowledge all of your own problems. You get to pick and choose. And yes, you still want “problems” — what else are you gonna do with your time? But if you’re doing it right, they’re not really problems in the painful sense, they’re challenges and obstacles for you to overcome simply for the fun of it.

In summation: accept the challenges you prefer, decline the challenges you don’t. So when a non-desirable problem shows up in the queue, repeat after me: “This is not a problem I choose to focus on. Next!”

Unfocused Details

Particular people or circumstances don’t cause dissatisfaction, life itself is the root of dissatisfaction. Focusing on something in particular only prohibits our realization that dissatisfaction is inherent to existence.

If we get rid of a particular person or circumstance, another takes its place, the dissatisfaction will persist. Therefore, our focus must be directed towards removing dissatisfaction from life itself, not on the particulars. The particulars are merely life’s attempt to draw us in, ensnaring our attention.