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Can You Transform Without Getting Uncomfortable?

Can You Transform Without Getting Uncomfortable?

    Here’s one of my theories on success:

    Hypothesis: There is a positive correlation between how uncomfortable an individual is prepared to get and their likelihood of success – irrespective of the field of endeavour.

    I came to this conclusion after decades of incidental and intentional research, exploration and observation.

    The Genesis of My Company

    I remember when I signed a commercial lease for the first time to secure a building and open my first training centre twenty years ago. Yes, I’m that old. I was twenty-six. I had no business experience, no assets (to speak of), owned no property and had zero experience as an employer. I put every cent I had into the business set-up and was left with less than a hundred dollars in the bank. I signed a lease committing me to a rent of six hundred dollars per week for the next three years. To me at that time, thirty thousand dollars a year was almost incomprehensible. I felt physically ill as I signed the papers. It may as well have been six million dollars a week – so nervous and stressed was I. To say I was uncomfortable is a massive understatement. I didn’t sleep properly for weeks. If there was another way, I would have chosen it. There wasn’t, so I got uncomfortable.

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    It worked out okay.

    Speaking

    I remember my first professional speaking gig. I was terrible. And terrified. Some of you have heard the story but the short version is that I sweated so much before my gig (yep before) that I had to dry my shirt with a hand dryer in a public bathroom before I could walk into the room. Classy, I know. I feel sorry for my audience (and the people who witnessed the shirt-drying fiasco) but I could never have delivered my thousandth presentation (which I did long ago) without doing that horrible initial one.

    University

    I also remember my first day of university as a thirty-six year-old who had never used a computer, never sat in a lecture theatre and who hadn’t studied formally for eighteen years. To be honest, I never really studied formally – even at school. I did more study in my first week of college than I did in thirteen years of primary and secondary schools combined. There I sat in an auditorium full of tech-savvy, computer-literate, fresh-out-of-school, eighteen year-olds who had never heard of black and white TV, Jackson Browne or the Eagles. Shameful. In my first class I had to ask the lecturer what a mouse, a hard-drive, a floppy disk (not what I pictured) and cursor were. He thought I was kidding. For two months I typed at the devastating speed of five words per minute. Unless they had more than two syllables – then I dropped back to four words. In the first week I actually paid a kid to give me remedial computer lessons between classes. She thought it was hilarious. And profitable. For the entire first semester I felt like a total fraud who should have been somewhere (anywhere) else. Socially, technically, academically and emotionally I was uncomfortable every day for most of the first year of my degree. Three years later I was a university lecturer. With a published book – typed by me! (Slightly faster than five words per minute too.)

    Being Full Figured. Thick Set. Stocky. Big-Boned… er… Fat

    Then there was my first ever run as an obese teenager. I was in year eight, weighed 90 kilos (198lbs) and was more suited to sitting or shuffling than I was to running. As much as it (and the subsequent hundred runs) hurt, I knew that nothing could be as painful as the social and emotional rejection that accompanied being a fat kid. So running it was. Discomfort it was. Five months after my first (painfully slow) jog and 30 kilos (66lbs) lighter, I was an endorphin junkie; addicted to the high that running gave me.

    Where there’s discomfort, there’s growth. Where there are barriers, there are lessons. And where there is adversity, there is strength to be found and potential to be explored.

    Building a Blog

    Being a person who writes for an audience can be both gratifying and terrifying. Nobody likes criticism but I get it every day. Not some days, every day. Most bloggers with a large readership do. Or maybe it’s just me. Have enough readers and someone will hate you or hate what (or how) you write; it’s unavoidable. While writing for a high-traffic interactive blog like this one can be a stimulating, challenging, exciting and rewarding experience, it can also be freakin’ uncomfortable. Putting your thoughts, ideas and beliefs out there opens you up for all kinds of.. er… feedback. The truth is that, in order to create one of the best personal development resources in the world (one of my goals), I need to get uncomfortable often. That discomfort might come in the form of less-than-desirable feedback from a reader. It might come in the form of physical pain (back and neck mostly for me) which comes with too many hours spent at a keyboard. Or, it might simply be the reality of having to sacrifice certain things (for a period of time) in order to build and maintain the kind of resource that’s representative of my philosophy and consistent with my standards. Is it all worth it? Absolutely. Is it easy? Nope. It is uncomfortable? Often. Do I know why most bloggers throw in the towel before their site is a year old? Yep – because creating a high-quality site (and getting traffic to that site) is more work and effort than most people would ever imagine.

    My Research Centre

    Working on a gym floor for decades has been the perfect ‘laboratory’ for me to test the above hypothesis. You don’t need to be a genius to realise that people who are committed to being ‘comfortable’ (versus productive) in the gym are also the ones who are committed to staying where they are (consciously or not) – metaphorically speaking. I’ve always been amused by people who pay for a membership and turn up at the gym regularly, only to go-through-the-motions month after month. It is their lack of willingness to get uncomfortable (not their genetics, age or physical potential) which stands between them and their best body. Or, at the very least, a better body. Why do you think Australians spend over two million dollars every day on weight-loss pills, powders and potions when they could simply eat less and move more to get the job done? Because they want the results without the discomfort; that’s why. After all, progressive exercise programs and controlled calorie intakes ain’t much fun – so pills it will be. For some.

    Major Discomfort

    And then there are those people who will deal with a level of discomfort that the rest of us wouldn’t even want to consider. Aaron Ralston is an adventure dude who famously cut off his own right arm to free himself after a tragic hiking accident. Here’s a snapshot of his story (as shared on msnbc.com):

    Ralston’s gripping story captured the world’s imagination back in April 2003. Known for being a daredevil, Ralston, now 32, went mountain-climbing in Canyonlands National Park in Utah. And not only did he travel solo – he neglected to tell anyone about his trip.

    Ralston fell into a crevice, dislodging an 800-pound boulder in the process, and the slab pinned him against a canyon wall. After five days trying to lift and break the boulder, he came to an agonizing decision: He had to cut off the lower part of his lifeless right arm. Ralston managed to snap the bones of his arm against the rock, and then used the dull blade of a multi-use tool to cut through the tissue around his broken arm. He used pliers to sever the tendons and finally extricated himself.

    Ralston then rappelled down a 65-foot wall. He had begun an 8-mile (13 km) hike back to his vehicle when a vacationing family met up with him on the trail and called for help. After months of rehabilitation, Ralston returned to an active lifestyle and even resumed climbing. Two years after his accident, he climbed 14,000-foot peaks in his native Colorado with the help of a prosthetic right hand.

    But…

    Now, I know what you’re thinking: “but Craig, he was in a life or death situation”. I agree, the circumstances were extreme but it’s my belief that the vast majority of people finding themselves in a similar situation would simply have perished out there. The prospect of cutting off any limb (especially one attached to our own body!) is simply something that would be too much for most people to deal with.

    Or perhaps I’m wrong?

    In that moment, that place and that situation, success (living) for Aaron meant getting very (very) uncomfortable. And not only did he choose to deal with the physical discomfort (discomfort doesn’t really seem adequate does it?), but can you even begin to imagine the psychological and emotional discomfort that would accompany such a decision and action? It’s amazing what we can tolerate (how uncomfortable we can get) and how much power, strength and ability we can tap into when we believe we have no other option.

    When we take away the safety net (the one we always give ourselves) it’s amazing what we can do.

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    While there are many variables which play a role in the transformational process (vision, planning, preparation, goal-setting, talent, knowledge, support, etc.), it’s my experience that the person with every ingredient except a willingness to get uncomfortable, is the person who will fail. Time after time. Once we acknowledge (and accept) that lasting transformation can only occur when we face our fears and choose to get uncomfortable on a regular basis, then we begin to move from self-limitation to self-empowerment.

    So, what is it you’re after – comfort or transformation?

    Image: mccheek

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    Craig Harper

    Leading presenter, writer and educator in the areas of high-performance, self-management, personal transformation and more

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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