Pain Is Not Punishment
A universal emotion that everybody experiences is pain. It is so variable person by person, moment by moment, case by case, but nonetheless it’s something we all deal with in our own way.
A perspective I’ve learned from my mentor David Meltzer is the role that pain plays in your life. We’ve been taught to avoid pain at all costs but that might be too dismissive of it to extract the value from what it’s trying to communicate to you.
Pain is always there for a reason. Physical pain tells you that something is wrong with your physiology. Emotional pain tells you that you had a bad experience. In all forms of it, pain is a signal telling you that something went wrong.
In other words, pain is an indicator providing feedback. Improving anything in life requires feedback so it’s imperative that we understand what our pain is coming from, and why we’re experiencing it, in order to improve that area of our life.
As David Metlzer says, pain has two purposes. It is not there to punish you, rather it’s there to promote you and protect you. It’s meant to steer you in a direction that sets you up for more success in the future. The short-term suffering has a role to promote and encourage you to something better. The negative experience teaches you what you should specifically avoid moving forward as to not put yourself in harms way again.
Pain is an indicator should you listen to it.
And in order to tap into the value that pain has to offer, you need to make yourself conscious of it. Instead of unconsciously and emotionally reacting to the presence of pain, you can choose to assign meaning to it, approach it with curiosity, and uncover what it’s trying to tell you.
This is so much easier said than done, but the transformation always starts with awareness. Now you’re more aware of the depth your pain has to your experience, and hopefully you’ll be more open to exploring it.
Of course I don’t wish pain upon you, or anyone, and I certainly don’t want to discredit the pain you’ve been through. But I do hope that you can see more purpose in it so that you can find a better way.
What's Right Not Who's Right
As ambitious, high–performing humans there’s a lot we want to get done in a day. We hold ourselves to high standards and expect that we give our very best as often as we can. Ultimately what this means is we want to play a part in creating the best outcomes possible, whether that be in the impact of our own lives or in collaboration with others.
With that end goal in place, we need to recognize the very human elements of ourselves....
We all have an ego that is constantly trying to make things about ourselves. We want to establish and confirm our place in the tribe, and feel better about the quality of our existence relative to others.
That’s why we find ourselves constantly comparing, criticizing, and judging. It’s the ego's natural state.
One of the challenges of the ego is that it gets in the way of us achieving the outcomes we’d like to see. We want to hit our new fitness goal as we’re getting back in the habit, but we’re influenced by someone else who's in better shape and set goals that are unsustainable. We want to find the best fit solution at work but we’re holding on to our idea or our way of doing it, delaying progress.
To clarify the role of the ego in this - In order to feel better about ourselves we unknowingly make decisions that don’t lead to the best outcomes.
In the face of the ego and the emotions it arouses, we can commit to a simple intention. It’s about what’s right and not who’s right. In other words, it’s about doing what’s best for the desired outcome rather than what you want to do, knowing that what you want to do is biased by the ego.
So the next time you find yourself emotionally invested in something, pull out this intention and remind yourself of how you want to show up in the moment. It’s about what’s right, not who’s right. Build that into your personal culture and you’ll start making decisions that are in integrity with who you want to be more often.
While we’re on our individual pursuits to become the best versions of ourselves, it’s important to recognize the limitations we have. If you want to join me in leading this space forward, share this article with a friend, boss, co-worker, or family member that you think would find value in it!
Collect The Right People
When you think of the idea of collecting people you might have a negative reaction to it. That it feels too transactional, impersonal, and possessive to line up the humans of your life. But I’d argue that just like coveted collectibles, that mean so much to you, the people you collect and keep were chosen for a very specific reason.
You have different people for different occasions. Your high school friends might remind you of being young, naive, and the challenges of discovering yourself. With college friends it’s always a good time when you reunite, picking up right where you left off.
Then there are those deeper relationships you collect where you feel connected to them on a soul level, knowing that there’s something about them that gets you like no one else. And there are the people you collect that you know will always be there for you unconditionally because of the history you have.
Just because people are part of a larger collection does not take away the importance they individually have. There’s a story and intention behind everyone that you encounter in life. Some people play a small passing role, and some people you build a life around.
When you find the good ones, make sure you keep them. You have a wide variety of needs to be met, and when you collect the right people and engage them to play the right role, you’ll have an incredible foundation of support.
When it comes to the arguments of quality over quantity, it never rings more true than in relationships. Yet we’re enticed to meet new people, expand our network, and pursue more because it’s baked into the fabric of everything we do.
So my recommendation is to resist that inclination, slow down, and strengthen your connection with the incredible people you already have right in front of you. Your life will feel so much more full when you collect the right people.
"Waking up is the first thing to be grateful for."
I don’t mean to be morbid, but I’m going to touch a little bit on the imminent reality that is death. It’s nothing to be afraid of, in fact the best thing we can do is embrace it.
A classic stoic philosophy is “Memento Mori” which translates to “you will die”. Once you embrace that truth and understand that your days are numbered, without fear, you’ll feel liberated to start living.
And that’s why for today’s quote I want to tie death to gratitude - “Waking up is the first thing to be grateful for.”
This hits in two different ways. There are people going to sleep tonight who won’t be waking up. They’re old and sick, and they’ve lived their last day, breathed their last breath, and moved on to whatever’s next. What they wouldn’t give to have another youthful, care-free morning to wake up with the world ahead of them. That’s what you have today, even if it doesn’t necessarily feel like it. So take advantage of it!
And then equally important, there are people waking up this morning for the last time and they have no idea. Accidents happen, it’s just the way things are. Imagine if they knew that this morning was the last time in their life they’d be opening their eyes to start a new day. They’d treat it much differently wouldn't they? We feel invincible in the face of these tragedies and figure it would never happen to us. But it could. Anything is possible. So let’s live like there’s something on the line because every day, there is.
So every morning when your alarm goes off get in the habit of rehearsing two words - “Thank you”. Thank you for another opportunity to experience a new day. Thank you for the miracle that is life and a fully functioning body. We have so much to be grateful for, not the least of which is the chance to live out another 24 hours.
While this isn't necessarily a new perspective, sometimes we need to be reminded of what we already know to really understand its meaning.
Don’t Be Seduced By Excuses
One of the fatal flaws of humanity is that we are hard-wired to do what feels good in the moment. We fight this daily battle between the pleasure of the present moment (instant gratification) and the payoff of delayed gratification. Unfortunately, the way this usually works is that the things that are less pleasurable in the immediate are better for us in the long-term.
One of the many ways that the mind tries to seduce us into short-term pleasure is by making excuses and exceptions. This is an irrational story our brain tells us to influence our decision making to do the comfortable thing. To stay warm and cozy instead of getting up and going to the gym because “you need the extra rest today”. To put off that difficult conversation for another day because “you already have too much going on.”
These logical arguments all serve to do one thing - Keep you from taking uncomfortable action.
The other fatal flaw that impacts our good intentions on a daily basis is how we’re also hard-wired to conserve energy and take the path of least resistance. Making excuses is a the permission to do exactly that.
The problem with this is you later regret the decisions you made, making you feel like you lack discipline in key areas of your life. This evolves into feeling less self-confident and a sense of less self-belief, ultimately making it even harder to take corrective action. It becomes a slippery slope where it’s easier to compromise on your standards the next time and demands more of you to do the same amount of work.
The antidote to making excuses, and the way to interrupt this spiral, is to be clear on your intentions and feel accountable to enforcing them. It’s less appealing to sleep in and not go to the gym on a Wednesday morning when you’ve made a commitment to work out on Wednesday mornings, especially if that’s a decision you know you’ll need to answer to.
If you want to become more self-disciplined, and have a way to be greater than that voice in your head making all those excuses so that you take positive action anyway, you'll want to check this out!
There’s an expression in the military that goes “Stay ready so you don’t need to get ready”. For them, it’s a matter of life or death but for us it’s an opportunity to seize the moment.
You never know when you might get your “lucky break” or that “once in a life-time opportunity”. As ambitious, growth-oriented people we’re always looking for our breakthrough that takes us to our next level.
What a shame it would be if you missed out on it when you had the chance.
That’s why it always serves you to be ‘on’. To be ready, to be alert, and to be prepared. The amount of energy it takes to get yourself ready is significantly more than it takes to maintain your readiness, not to mention how much more unreliable it is that you’ll be able to arrive at the desired state when you need it.
This reminds me of the classic example I share that’s about pumping the well. It might take a while and a number of pumps to get the water starting to flow from the well, but once it is all you need to do is keep pumping and the water will keep pouring out.
So the task is to keep pumping the well of your life, to stay ready so you don’t need to get ready.
In my opinion this involves two things. One is that you need to make sure you’re mastering the fundamentals. You’re consistently taking care of your mind, body, and spirit so that you maintain a heightened capacity. This involves basic health routines like exercise, healthy diet, quality sleep, and mindfulness.
Then the second is, as Abraham Lincoln puts it, you’re always “sharpening the ax”. It’s continuing your education and learning to broaden your perspective. It’s practicing your pitch or skill so that it’s primed and ready to go. It’s all about being proactive so that when the opportunity arises, you can give it your very best.
Staying ready is a daily process. It’s a ritual. And if you want to make the most of the moment, you need to be ready to go at any given moment. And that separation is in the preparation.
You Get Used To It
I’ve had a really incredible lesson hit me from a few different angles recently. I’ve been working on a project to interview my grandma and record it to capture her life story. At 89 years old she’s telling me what her life was like at different timestamps of history and technology, and it has really been making me think.
Then alongside that I just finished a TV series called “The Men Who Built America” that talked about how certain innovations like electricity and cars permanently changed the way people do things in the late 1800s.
The similar conclusion I’ve drawn from both of those influences - People are resilient. They figure it out and accommodate to the circumstances and environment they find themselves in.
Darwinism or ‘survival of the fittest’, which is the mechanism for evolution, teaches that it’s not the strongest or most powerful species that survives, it’s the most adaptable. And humans are highly adaptable.
This lesson plays in a few different fields. Let’s say someone experiences a traumatic injury - a limb is amputated, something causes blindness, whatever it might be. That new circumstance becomes the new normal very quickly. That’s not to say that things are the same, they certainly aren’t, but they become normal. The same goes for the world around us and how we adopt new technologies and standards of living.
And therein lies the opportunity - You can manufacture your environment and establish new standards to create your new normal.
This reflection also makes me think about what unimaginable inconvenience we are tolerating right now. Similar to how before kerosene and electricity night time was basically dark (and that’s just the way it was), what realities of life are we experiencing now that will be inconceivable in the future? It’s just another example of how we get used to whatever is around us.
At the end of the day it’s all a matter of awareness. We don’t know what we’re missing out on. We don’t know what difficulties we’re currently experiencing. And pursuing that perspective gives us new eyes to see where the world is headed, and how we can make the most of it, and make a difference.
Learn To Use The Tools You Have
We’ve been seduced in today’s society that we need more things to solve our problems. Having trouble at work? Try this new software and automation. Feeling lonely? Join a new gym or social club and meet new people. Want to have a healthier diet? Buy the latest nutrition program with all the gimmicks and guarantees.
The truth is, you probably already have everything you need to overcome that challenge at work, to strengthen your relationships, and to prioritize your health. You already have the tools, knowledge, and ability to make progress on whatever it is that needs to be addressed. Yet still we look externally to solve our problems.
This is where I want to make an important point - It’s not that we need new tools to make advancements, we need to get better at using the tools we already have.
It’s unfair to say that a software isn’t working for you if you’re only using a fraction of its functionality. It’s premature to move on from a strategy before you experimented with different ways it might work. It’s silly to throw away a book because you’re trying to read it upside down.
The value is there and it’s in plain sight, nothing about what we have access to needs to change. It’s our ability to use it that does.
So in order to overcome this hurdle, I have a recommendation - Understand that you need to invest time to get something to work better. Even though you want instant results, you need to invest in your ability to produce those results sustainably.
This is one of the primary points in Steven Covey’s book “The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” where he talks about the difference between ‘production’ and ‘production capacity’. Sometimes things need to get worse or delayed before they can get better and more efficient.
Known as a learning curve, once you overcome that threshold of ability you can start scaling and exponentiating the output you get from any given input. That’s what leads to efficiency, predictability, and sustainable returns.