Why things are difficult

The famous and brilliant philosopher Seneca claimed that “it is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult”. This is without a doubt a beautiful and very inspiring quote, but is it also true?

When we are facing new situations, things we not familiar with or unusual circumstances, we are usually required to change our habitual way of acting. We have a set of behaviors that we developed throughout our lives as reactions to recurring situations – some conscious and some subconscious. It is as simple as “when A, then B”. If everything happening in our everyday life falls into this pattern or at least comes close to it, we can comfortably respond with our usual behavior. This scenario, nevertheless, changes when we face a situation that is new or unfamiliar .

We are ancient minds, living in a modern world.

Facing a new situation, we can assess, more or less accurately, the difficulty of the steps we are to undertake. But let’s be clear right from the start: it is always a purely theoretical and imaginary assessment! Our assumptions are based at best on experience, common knowledge and facts, and at worst merely on irrational thought and fear. So, what is it then, that makes us categorize certain endeavors as “easy” and others as “difficult” when we have no prior experience of either? Numerous variables play fundamental roles here. Your personality, your culture, your environment, your way of thinking, your experience, your knowledge and so on all contribute to your assessment.


What nature dictates

From the perspective of nature – of which we are, believe it or not, an integral part – there are two underlying theories that define our behavior.

  1. Everything new is potential danger.
  2. If something has repeatedly happened a certain way, it will continue to do so.

Let’s look at the latter theory first. No one would, in their right mind, question the fact that the sun will rise again tomorrow. It has been doing so for as long as we can remember, hence it will continue to do so “forever”. This may hold true for the course of our lifetime but, strictly speaking, we have absolutely no guarantee. We humans (and not just us, but animal species in general) have the tendency and the necessity to generalize. This is not a bad thing, quite the contrary. This helps us survive and learn very quickly which objects or beings to trust and which ones to avoid; a basic need for survival. Yet it is this same innate behavior that makes us become suspicious to virtually anything unfamiliar; again, a basic instinct for survival. This is what the first of these two underlying theories claims. Rationally, the unknown can be a chance to thrive; but by nature, it will be always appear as a potential threat. And wherever you have opportunity competing with safety, safety will always instinctively have the upper-hand. Unless we do something to turn the tables!

Rationally, the unknown can be a chance to thrive; but by nature, it will be always appear as a potential threat.

Potential danger is merely a theoretical threat created in our mind; often not based on tangible facts, but much more on the fear of the unknown. One of our powerful innate forces is self-preservation. And you certainly do not need excitement and “new things” for self-preservation! What you need is safety and security. Our mind has the tendency to transform “new things” into “difficult things” in order to keep us away from potential danger. The “newer” or the more unfamiliar any given situation, the more difficult our mind will make it appear.

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult”. –Seneca

There are certainly situations or endeavors that appear difficult and turn out to be even more difficult than we expected, which would – in a way – prove Seneca’s statement to be wrong. But let’s look as the clear majority of new situations. How often have you not even started something, because the thought of it being difficult kept you from even taking the first step? How often have you pledged to follow through with a given action, once certain things were in place, only to keep waiting ad infinitum?

Courage and determination can turn fear into opportunity.


“Daring” is often the hardest step

If Seneca is right – and personally I have experienced this to be the case many times over – then rather than thinking about how difficult something is, we should just give it our best shot! Go for it! Try it out! What could possibly happen? Our modern society has come so far that true life-threatening situations are no longer part of our daily lives (for the vast majority of us at least). Yet our minds and our instinctive nature, have not undergone the same changes. We are ancient minds, living in a modern world – let’s help our minds catch up! Thus, next time you are facing something new that seems too difficult, dare to try! You may soon find that courage and determination can turn any fear into opportunity.