How To Overcome Obstacles Without Wasting All Your Energy

“The impediment to action advances action.
What stands in the way becomes the way.”
Marcus Aurelius in Meditations

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We all face obstacles whenever we try to achieve anything, that’s just life. The universe has this cruel irony: It gives us an intense desire for something, puts it right in front of our feet and then throws the biggest rock it can find between us. It is within our reach but beyond our grasp as Geoff Thompson says.

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There’s one very important point about the introductory quote:
The obstacle becoming the way does not mean that it will be an eternal detour. You do not throw everything away, just to fix this one issue. It is not distracting you from walking on your path. The quote signifies that all obstacles already contain their solutions within them. As Einstein said

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

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If you know how to ask the right question, you already know the right answer. Ryan Holiday writes about this stoic philosophy in his book The Obstacle Is The Way. People have overcome obstacles throughout history, but they have rarely solved them. The only reason we know that something is not an obstacle is because someone has done it before. But the obstacle itself, be it body size, discouraging odds, lack of beauty or anything like that, is still there. The point is that you don’t have to change the obstacle, you just have to overcome it.

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Let me give you an example: Since last winter, I’ve started to shower with cold water, only. I was getting into the Wim Hof method at the time and started practising his breathing technique a few weeks prior to this.

I am not exactly made for this type of thing, I was always the first one to complain about the cold when winter came. I will not go into detail too much, but the way I have overcome this is pretty simple.

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As soon as I enter the shower and the first cold drops touch my feet, my body reacts to the stimulus. My mouth opens and by breath gets deeper. I don’t ignore it or try to get rid of it, but mentally oppose it. This way, the cold never catches me off-guard. My body becomes alive and I begin the shower.

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What is happening is this: The cold is the obstacle. The cold touching my feet is the stimulus. Me starting to breathe deeply and mentally opposing the obstacle is a specific action. Me doing this every day leads to a conditioned response.

What I have done: I’ve anchored the obstacle to the very thing that is required to overcome it. I use that as my template to overcome very persistent obstacles in my life. But, notice this: It’s still super cold! It does not go away! As Wim Hof, himself said “I fucking hate it, man! I like a warm bed.” So, realize that the obstacle has more time and patience than you have.

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In MeditationsMarcus Aurelius also writes this:

“That which makes the man no worse than he was, makes his life no worse:
It has no power to harm, without or within.”

How could an obstacle that does not make you worse, make your life worse? Think about that. If you are still the same person on the inside, then it cannot change your path, because you are not changed. That by itself tells you one thing: The obstacle will be overcome.

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Ask yourself this: If you had overcome a huge obstacle in moving forward on your path, would you still care if it lies behind you, unchanged? Why would you care? You could waste all your life and energy in trying to make it go away, just to wake up in old age and having achieved nothing.

The obstacle can never be solved on time, it can only be overcome with what is already available to you right now.

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That’s the test: Can you let go? Can you accept that this thing, which has hurt and stopped you, again and again, will never be changed but only left behind? Here’s something the musician James Rhodes said about Beethoven’s challenges (paraphrased):

You pursue what you love, not because of the pain. You pursue it, in spite of it.

The obstacle does not become a distraction from your path, it just acts as a milestone of how much you really want it. Whenever there is a wall, most people stop. The ones who have no choice but to proceed will proceed. Do not ask yourself who you are because of this.

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Always ask yourself this: Who am I, in spite of this? You are not here just to get some selfish reward and enrich yourself because that is not sustainable, neither emotionally nor psychologically. You have a purpose in life and only you know what it is. You have no choice but to overcome every obstacle that lies in your way. As Casanova said, you are the seducer seduced. You achieve because you have to achieve.

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