Friday, November 23, 2012

Discomfort: The First Sign of a Breakthrough


Those who strength train are told to "lift to failure" because the required breakdown of muscle does not occur until the last couple of repetitions when one can lift no further. The pain, though miserable, is a sign of progress. This same rule applies to most areas of life. Pain and discomfort are signals the body sends to get our attention. How we react is what makes the difference in our outcomes.

In a recent TED talk, Beau Lotto uses optical illusions to demonstrate how what seems obvious at first, often is not so. How is this related to dealing with discomfort? Because discomfort is a sign of something different or misplaced. According to Beau's hypothesis, we are all hallucinating in real-time, but we only awake when our hallucinations fail to make accurate predictions - when we discover our certainty is unfounded. This causes psychological discomfort and our brains begin hunting for new information to make sense of the noise.

Put another way, so long as the patterns match our preconceived notions, we remain comfortable. Since we already know, we have no need to learn or discover. This comfort gives us the certainty we crave, and some of us will do anything to maintain this status quo. To those who think in this way, discomfort of any kind is unwelcome.

Achievers Welcome Discomfort

Scientists, artists, entrepreneurs, philosophers and peak performers prefer the opposite. Not only do they expect discomfort, but welcome it. Discomfort and uncertainty are opportunities to learn something new - to push toward higher levels of achievement. While the ordinary person avoids pain and discomfort, the scientist says, "Aha! Now we are getting somewhere."

This may be what Thomas Edison meant when he said: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

You Cannot Run from Yourself

Some deal with discomfort by pretending the problem does not exist. Others create alibis, which seem logical to them, but are ludicrous upon closer examination.

Consider an individual who is prejudiced against another race of people. One day they encounter someone from the "inferior" group who does not match the negative stereotypes. The inconsistency is so prominent that it cannot be ignored. Some react outrageously in an effort to get the other person to respond in a way that validates the prejudice. Those who are more mature reject the old views outright. Then, there are those who create alternative explanations to eliminate the contradiction. An example of this is the statement, "Well he's just one of the good ones."

Creating strategies and schemes to avoid discomfort robs us of vital opportunities for growth. Like the guy who stops short of lifting weights to failure, who then laments over his lack of progress.

Why can't I get ahead! Because you prefer the monotony of the status quo over the pain of achievement.

Understanding the Signals

Ours is to reflect long enough during times of discomfort in order to interpret the signals. We can either be the scientist who welcomes it as a step closer to a breakthrough, or the doped up junkie afraid of facing his own demons. Unfortunately for the ladder, the source of the pain does not go away, but only gets bigger.

So, make a commitment to yourself from this day forward to stop running from discomfort. Ask yourself instead, "What does this mean and what is it trying to teach me?"

Godspeed and I look forward to seeing you in The Players Lounge.

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