Tolerating Discomfort

The other day, a friend was praising me for my accomplishments.

I felt the praise was not justified. Contrary to my friend’s perception, I attribute my success to two things:

1) the ability to learn from my mistakes;

2) a high pain tolerance (that’s needed to tolerate making a great many mistakes).

Step back and think about this for a moment.

If you always learn from your mistakes, logically speaking, you will eventually succeed.

Whether or not you will succeed is no longer in debate. The only remaining question is timing.

This is where a high pain tolerance comes into play.

If you’re able to tolerate the discomfort in trying new things, stretching the limits of your skills, and working outside your “comfort” zone, you grow and enhance your skills at an incredibly fast rate.

However, there is one significant drawback to this approach. You will make a lot of mistakes, and those mistakes can be a bit painful.

When you have a high pain tolerance or a willingness to stumble as you learn new skills, you can greatly accelerate your career or life progress.

I once joked with a client that the main difference between him and me is that I made 100 times as many mistakes as he had in the past decade.

What I like about the willingness to learn from mistakes and to tolerate making a lot of them is that they are choices.

Anyone can choose to learn from their mistakes.

Anyone can decide to function outside of their comfort zone, which involves a lot of “growing” pains.

These aren’t inherent attributes with which you’re born. They are merely choices that anybody can make.

I’ll give you a personal example.

Earlier today, I spoke with a consultant I hired to help me with a specific facet of a new book I’m working on.

She was evaluating a certain aspect of the draft I was working on, and was trying to politely tell me it was terrible.

I finally asked, "Okay, exactly how bad is it? On a scale of 0 to 10 (with 10 being the highest), how would you rate my work?"

Her answer: 3

Ouch.

(That’s the moment when being comfortable with being uncomfortable comes into play.)

After licking the wounds of my bruised ego (of which I have had much practice in my life), I leaned into the discomfort and asked a pivotal question:

"Why?"

This then led to a series of follow up questions:

  • "Why is it only a 3?"
  • "What’s wrong with it?"
  • "What do I need to do to improve it to a 10?"
  • "Do you have examples of a 10?"

The best learning and the most improvement often come in the midst of the discomfort.

If you avoid discomfort, you avoid growth.

If you’re willing to tolerate discomfort, you get the opportunity to grow.

All growth involves some degree of growing pains.

How much growth you want and how much pain you’re willing to tolerate are not separate questions.

They’re essentially one and the same.

-Victor

P.S. Not all pain is beneficial. Pain that comes from stretching yourself is a useful “growing pain.” It is temporary pain, taken as a short-term cost of achieving a medium- or long-term goal.

In other situations, pain has absolutely no purpose. Permanent pain that’s incurred with no medium- or long-term goal is merely suffering.

If your legs hurt from training for a marathon, that’s growing pains.

If your legs hurt because you keep hitting yourself in the legs with a hammer for no productive reason, that’s just senseless suffering.

Don’t get the two confused.

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