“Anything that must yet be done, virtue can do with courage and promptness. For anyone would call it a sign of foolishness for one to undertake a task with a lazy and begrudging spirit, or to push the body in one direction and the mind in another, to be torn apart by wildly divergent impulses.”SENECA, MORAL LETTERS, 74.31b-32
Author Ryan Holiday seems to key in on the word “lazy” from the quote above, in today’s entry in The Daily Stoic book. However, I think the more important and more apt word is “begrudging”, because that’s more closely connected to the malaise of spirit which Seneca is speaking about here.
When we notice ourselves having a begrudging feeling or just an absolute reluctance to do something at the beginning of a task, we have to ask ourselves what’s driving that. We have to examine and respect those feelings that are hidden below the surface.
Obviously there’s something in us that really, really just doesn’t want to do the thing. But what is truly behind our begrudging spirit? What negative emotion or fear is bubbling underneath our grumpy facade and causing us to feel & act this way?
Here’s the answer: doing one thing with your body when your mind wants to do something else breeds resentment, because your soul is not aligned with your actions. Being required to do a thing that you really wish you weren’t doing essentially “tears [you] apart by wildly divergent impulses”, to use Seneca’s words. And that doesn’t feel so great.
So what’s the solution?
You have two choices.
The first choice is to not do the thing you don’t want to do. Even if it’s the right thing, you don’t have to do it. And anyway, doing the right thing when you don’t truly want to is neither noble nor beautiful. So that’s always an option — to just opt out for the sake of your soul. You might not feel great about it later, but it is an option.
The second choice is to change your perspective, or even try to view the thing you really don’t want to do as an opportunity to show what you’re made of. You could try to see the obstacle as a challenge to be overcome — a chance to test your mettle!
Of course, the second option is harder. It’s much harder, actually. It’s not easy to change your perspective like that. But it is the braver option, and the more introspective option, and it might be the option that makes you happier in the long run.
Look, I can’t pretend that I always choose the (braver) second option. Sometimes I have to admit that I can’t bring myself around to wanting to do the thing that I don’t want to do… and I have to just accept that and move on. But I’m trying to adjust my perspective more often these days, and view obstacles not as showstoppers but as challenges that I can overcome, and to view that positively. It’s not easy! But I’m getting better at it 🙂