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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 July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

    More About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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