I have noticed an interesting trend. In my life, I would engage in destructive behaviors until I see the consequences of my behaviors. I have technically failed forward in my life, because every major mistake and subsequent consequence would bring me the leverage to make a major life change.
Let’s take smoking. I have quit smoking for over a year. Yes, I have smoked now and then but I can say that I have smoked two ciggarates in the last six months. I’ve done that out of boredom than out of any real need to smoke. My body is generally as nicotine free as it can be and I have enough leverage on myself to not get into a cycle of addiction even if I will borrow a cigarette from you.
This was not always the case. For most of my life I was a heavy, chain smoker. Between the ages of 21 and 25, I have probably smoked one package a day. This is not the entire story. I used to smoke 5 – 6 ciggarates in a row (although many times, I let it burn while hardly touching it).
I knew smoking is bad for me since I touched the first cigarette. I never had the misconception that smoking will make me rich, handsome and smart. I saw what it did to my mother and even the friends who taught me how to smoke warned me against smoking and tried to make me change my mind.
Yet, it took real leverage to stop doing this. I have smoked until I’ve started to feel sick. To throw up. To have a very sour taste in my mouth at all times. To smell quite ugly from smoking. To have to go downstairs every ten minutes to smoke as to not trigger the smoke detector. To have $5 left in my pocket and to prioritize a pack of ciggarates over a sandwich.
At some point in time, I have realized that I’m nicotine’s bitch and that I’ve done quite a lot of damage to my body. I have realized the fact that I could not run more than 500 meters without panting and that climbing a hill was a supernatural challenge. Only when this happened I quit smoking. The huge wall in front of me disappeared. I understood the real consequences that smoking had over my body and that this is not a game, I’m killing myself slowly out of this. Not even my high level rationalization that dying at 80 instead of 100 made any more sense. I have realized that I’m decreasing my quality of life on a daily basis and that no matter if I do get cancer or not, I am paying a price, right now.
Today, I have borrowed a cigarette. I smoke it. It was interesting to smoke after over six months of doing so. I do not feel the need to do this again. Honestly, I’ve found it disgusting. It just made my head spin as I’ve developed a big nicotine sensibility. It reminded me why I have quit smoking. I wasn’t feeling cool. I wasn’t feeling relaxed. I was just feeling a sour taste in my mouth and it makes me wonder how I could have smoked thousands of packages and tens of thousands of ciggarates in my lifetime before.
It is a good thing that I’ve ruined a good part of my health before I’ve quit smoking? It depends on your perspective. Ideally it would have been to never smoke. Yet, without that damage, I would be still smoking today. If the effects were less visible, if the “overhead” over my life was more acceptable, now I would have a cigarette in an ashtray while I am typing this. I don’t. I don’t because I’m well aware of the pain that comes with smoking and maybe smoking once every few months is a good memento on why I have quit smoking to begin with.
This is the pattern that repeats in my life. I do something bad or harmful. It becomes a habit. I engage more and more in it. Eventually, I feel the consequences of my own actions, in some dramatic manner.
These consequences were many. Among them were:
- A complete emotional and psychological breakdown, akin to intense bipolar episodes.
- Having to leave my beautiful and comfortable apartment and having to live with my parents again.
- Entering in severe debt and practically, giving up on my dignity as a human being.
- Losing several key deals and key contacts in my life, deals that would have saved me years from my pursuit of my goals.
- Damaging my teeth significantly from sugar, leading to quite scary symptoms which made me eliminate sugar completely from my life.
- Unhealthy addictions that had cost me in terms of physical, emotional and mental health.
- Having everyone turn his or her back to me, in response to my destructive behavior.
And many other more.
The idea is that once I’ve seen how much it costs me to do something, I’ve took a 180 turn quite fast. I’ve found the leverage to make the impossible happen. The circumstances were the same, life had not become easier but when I’ve found my resolve, you would better not had stayed in my way.
I remember how at some point in my life, I have struggled from a professional point of view for months in a row. Things got so bad that I’ve had to move to the country side. I didn’t even had phone reception inside the house and I had to walk about one minute every time I needed to get reception. This made communication quite hard.
At some point, I’ve had my “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take this shit anymore” type of moment. In less than one month from that moment, I was back in the game, even if before this, the situation seemed hopeless.
Am I grateful to pain? No, it’s a love / hate relationship. Pain lead me to take decisions that lead to massive changes. I would not be an intelligent person if I wasn’t fed up with how little I understood about life. I would not treat people better (or good, however you want to take it) if I would not know how painful is to push everyone away.
I will probably never eat sugar again in my life. My teeth will recover. Then I will gain huge advantages due to eliminating sugar over the long term that have nothing to do with my initial trigger. This is a clear example of how pain leads to long term gain. Same is with smoking. The downsides of smoking are gone. My clothes smell nice and I can run five kilometers now without a problem. My lungs don’t give up. My legs do. But I’m also doing a lot of things that bring me a plus, like not looking for a tool or a hack to stabilize my emotional state.
If I take a pure mathematical perspective, where I associate a cost and a benefit to all outcomes that happened to me, then virtually all episodes of disaster helped me in some way. It made me stronger, it taught me a lesson, I’ve rebounded from them. This doesn’t mean that I love them but it means that the next time something really bad happens, that it is probably the leverage point for a massive positive change in my life, one that will change who I am to the core.