Why is it humans don’t always do the things they know would benefit them? Things like waking up (or going to sleep) a few minutes earlier to avoid rushing to start your day, reading that book that’s been sitting on your table, calling that now-distant relative or friend, going to the gym, watching less TV, eating better, etc.
Comfort in avoiding such life-improving changes can become part of a troubling long-term strategy. It may feel better right now to pick up the sweets or to sleep in longer. Over time, though, the consequences become evident whether physical, social, mental, or even spiritual. This tendency taken too far–such as for people with addictions–eats away at one’s life. Yet even for the range most others occupy, these corners we cut still dull and lull our life, preventing changes that lead to growth and new experiences.
I think there’s more reason for this than just not wanting the immediate discomfort of getting up on a cold morning, or exercising, or putting down the chocolate. I believe such seemingly simple actions represent adjustments to something more fundamental: the mode in which we exist, or the level of “out there” we put ourselves. This could be getting out there to exercise, join a club, learning a skill, or resist a vice. And increasing our exposure increases our vulnerability. This has us facing some deep-seated fear.
This is subtle fear that influences us to avoid such benefiting activities, and rather, to engage in distracting, lulling ones.
I recognize this in myself. It’s not my appetite wanting to eat something when it’s better I don’t. To apply this to the picture above, it’s not an empty stomach that saddens the mouse. It’s the general emptiness felt when not stimulating or distracting oneself. (To experience this discomfort directly, try a breathing meditation.) Similarly, it’s usually not an overworked body that has me resist exercise. Nor is it always the desire to see how the story ends that keeps me up watching YouTube past my bedtime. It’s something more fundamental. And yes, this means it can be harder than simply not picking up my smartphone before bed. The good news, though, is that to make these simple changes, then, is to realize benefits beyond the changed action itself.
I think this explains the Christian tradition of sacrificing something (sugar, TV) during the 40-day Lenten season. Giving up sweets or smoking or what-have-you can be a spiritual experience. Doing or not doing something to benefit yourself can release the hold this corner-cutting, deep-seated fear avoidance tendency has on your potential, removing a blockage from our view of the world and our life.