In his book Meditations, Marcus Aurelius talks about overcoming obstacles by changing our perspectives and judgements surrounding the difficulties that we face. In his view, we are not directly affected by challenges and obstacles in our lives, but our mental state determines how we are limited or impacted. For Aurelius, how we will respond to and handle the obstacles that we do encounter is entirely up to our own decision making power. We choose to see something as negative and detrimental to us, and we react accordingly. In Meditations he writes,
“If thou art pained by any external thing, it is not this that disturbs thee, but thy own judgement about it. And it is in thy power to wipe out this judgement now. But if anything in thy own disposition gives thee pain, who hinders thee from correcting thy opinion? And even if thou art pained because thou art not doing some particular thing which seems to thee to be right, why dost though not rather act than complain?”
This quote speaks to me because it becomes so easy to complain about or lives or parts of our lives rather than to take action to change our behavior or thoughts. What Aurelius is reminding himself in this passage is that we have the power to determine what our outcome will be when faced with a challenge, and we can take steps to achieve what we would like during struggles rather than complaining about what is in front of us.
We may not find the perfect solution to every problem and it may not seem that we are much better off after any particular challenge, but we can always grow and learn from our difficulties. Shifting our perspective helps us better understand the obstacles we face and gives us the ability to see the ways in which obstacle can help us grow. It is in our power to see what we do not like and to take steps to improve it. We can choose to complain and become cynical, or we can move forward, leaning into the obstacle and using it to help propel us in the direction we want.