Ep #5: Does Success Require Discomfort?

We hear it all the time: If you want to get anywhere good, you’re going to be uncomfortable.

Successful people who were uncomfortable on their way to success are held up as examples that discomfort is necessary.

Is it really? Today’s show says no.

Welcome to R&T Radio, the only podcast that helps you create wealth by shedding the weight that’s holding you back. Today’s episode is for every listener who’s heard the rumors that success requires discomfort. I’m Kelly Hollingsworth, and I’m here to make a rebuttal of that idea, so if you’ve been hoping that the road to wealth might not have to be so difficult, this episode is for you.

To start off, let’s recall that wealth is about having what you want and getting out from under what’s weighing you down. This means that wealth involves things like: earning more, if we don’t yet have sufficient money to cover the things that we want in life. Weight loss, for those of us who are carrying extra pounds. It requires getting out from under debt, if debt is a burden that’s pinning us down. For most of us wealth also requires some security and a sense of possibility that we’re building toward the future, whether that’s saving for retirement or our kids’ college, and investing that money so it grows.

All of this, we’re assured, is going to be uncomfortable. At best it’s going to be uncomfortable and more likely it’s a miserable slog. This assurance about discomfort comes in various forms.

One way this assurance is delivered to us is “feel the fear and do it anyway.” To apply this advice indiscriminately would be plain crazy, yet I can’t tell you how many failed or struggling entrepreneurs I’ve spoken to who have told me, “Yeah, sure I was afraid. But isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Just keep going anyway?”

The answer is no. No, no, and absolutely not. Fear is a sign. Often it’s a big red STOP sign flashing right in our faces, and it’s never something we should ignore.

When we’re taking a risk, whether it’s an investment risk or a risk to our physical bodies or a business risk, that we can’t afford to take, fear is our friend telling us not to proceed.

No one should act out of fear. Fear is when we can’t see a choice. It’s when we do dumb things. Fear is where the bad deals are made, the money is wasted, and the mistakes happen.

So let’s put a very fine point on it. Fear is not a green light. It’s an invitation to look into your brain and your heart and your gut to see what’s going on there. What you’ll find is valuable information that can help you sidestep problems and point you in the right direction.

The other thing I’d like to point out about fear, or any other kind of discomfort, for that matter, is that acting against it is not sustainable. When we pretend that our emotions aren’t there, and go against what we’re feeling through brute force and exhaust ourselves in the process. We don’t like the client, but we pretend we do. We want to quit our job, but we keep slogging back and forth to work anyway. We desire cake or wine or a cigarette or some other drug with every fiber of our being, but we declare it off limits and abstain through sheer force of will. These are all different forms of white-knuckling, and no one can do them for very long.

This is not to say that we should just indulge in substances that don’t serve us,  or quit our jobs or tell our more troublesome clients to get lost. Rather, it’s to suggest that “I hate this job or that customer and I need a martini or a slice of cake are just thoughts, so if quitting and drinking and hating someone aren’t in our interests, these are thoughts we can change if we want to.

This brings me to my second point about discomfort. There’s a very popular idea in coaching right now, that as humans we’re going to feel terrible 50% of the time because we’re human, so if we want to use 100% of our time in a productive fashion, we’re going to have to just push through discomfort. Feel the fear and do it anyway. But the strange thing is that the coaches I see who are espousing this idea also are embracing the coaching philosophy that we are in control of our thoughts, and our thoughts control our emotions, so we’re in control of how we feel.

These two ideas don’t reconcile for me. If I’m in control of my thoughts, and my thoughts determine how I feel, why is it a given that I’m going to feel some percentage of the time?

But let’s look at this. Assuming for arguments sake that we are we destined to feel horrible a given % of the time, if that’s our fate and there’s no way around it, I don’t know that we have any reason to believe the % is fixed at 50%. Who says it’s 50%? People who feel bad 50% of the time? I don’t feel bad even close to half the time, and the more I manage my mind, the smaller that percentage becomes. I also notice that there’s a relationship with food and drink. Alcohol was making me feel depressed and terrible, so I fired it. Now I’m noticing that sugar is doing the same thing. It’s putting a ceiling on my happiness. After a few seconds of fun, when I’m eating the cake or ice cream or whatever it is, everything gets darker and more angst-filled. It’s like someone put the lights on dim. This lasts for a day or two, from one dose of sugar, and it lifts when I stay away from sugar entirely. I noticed similar things with caffeine, too, namely huge anxiety and inability to concentrate, so now I don’t ever consume it.

If we’re feeling unhappy half the time, I’d like to suggest that a good chunk of that is because we’re ingesting substances that we think we need for happiness but that are actually sucking all the fun out of everything. If you’ve suffered a notable hangover from any kind of substance recently, you probably have an inkling of this idea running through your own head as well.

In any case, I believe we’re far more in control of our own happiness than modern-day gurus would lead us to believe. This is an idea embraced in ancient Stoic philosophy. The stoics say that there is no struggle except that which we create in our own minds. This ideal has helped many people living through much more trying circumstances than most of us can ever imagine not just survive but come out of the experience stronger.

Ronda Cornum is a great example. She was a flight surgeon during the Persian Gulf War who was taken prisoner when her helicopter was shot down. She suffered two broken arms, a broken finger, a gunshot wound in the back, and other injuries.[5] After regaining consciousness, she said her first thought was “Nobody’s ever died from pain.”[6]

Then, with all this going on, one of her captors sexually assaulted her. In an interview with the New York Times, she said the sexual assault “ranks as unpleasant; that’s all it ranks….everyone’s made such a big deal about this indecent assault, but the only thing that makes it indecent is that it was non-consensual. I asked myself, ‘Is it going to prevent me from getting out of here? Is there a risk of death attached to it? Is it permanently disabling? Is it permanently disfiguring? Lastly, is it excruciating?’ If it doesn’t fit one of those five categories, then it isn’t important.”

This is the power of our minds. Mostly when we’re talking about something being uncomfortable, we’re talking about something that we can choose or not choose. There’s no physical pain. There’s no risk of disfigurement, death, or disability. Everyone’s going home for dinner. When we’re talking about mental/emotional discomfort (as opposed to physical pain), what we’re talking about is a muscle—our minds—that we’re not working in that moment. That’s it.

If Ronda Cornum didn’t have to feel uncomfortable during that experience, if she could free herself of it by managing her mind—I’d say this option is available to any of us who want to choose it.

It’s worth choosing, because this is where wealth happens. When we manage our minds to eliminate the discomfort that arises solely from our own thoughts, we become kind of unstoppable. There’s so much more we can do, because we no longer burn our energy white-knuckling against fear, reluctance, and all other forms of discomfort to get where we’re going. When you’re not swimming against a tide of negative emotion, you can cover a lot more distance.

Now here I don’t want to pretend that I never feel discomfort. I do. I mentioned in an earlier episode that I’ve been recovering from an injury, and what happened was that my physical therapist, who I’d been seeing for an entirely different problem, crunched my rib cage and gave me a completely new and unrelated injury that rendered me pretty much immobile. Plus it hurt so bad I couldn’t breathe.

The physical pain, though, wasn’t anything compared to the rage I’ve felt from time to time during this recovery. Where did this rage come from? From my thoughts. It wasn’t actually unpleasant to have this injury when I was managing my mind. When I told myself, look, this is the way it is. Take the pain meds, watch some Netflix, and enjoy your day. That was pretty okay. I’ve saw a lot of great movies this winter.

When wasn’t it okay? When I was thinking, “This shouldn’t be happening. He ruined my life.” That’s when I felt rage. And it’s when I found myself back in the Ben & Jerry’s, Cherry Garcia is my stress flavor, by the way, which I used to struggle with a lot but since I started doing this work I’d almost entirely eradicated from my life.  It reared its ugly head again because I wasn’t staying on top of my thought work.

To put this into the framework we’ve been using, the rib-crunching injury was the circumstance. It was neutral. It didn’t cause me emotional pain. I did that to myself, with the thoughts I was thinking. And then instead of feeling that pain, recognizing it as a product of my thoughts that I could let pass through me, I indulged in ice cream to numb myself from it. Rage, like every emotion, is a vibration, and it’s not one that most of us find pleasant. So what do we do? We want to use a substance to dull the vibration. Picture an empty crystal champagne glass. It rings when you tap it. If you fill it with Cherry Garcia, or any other substance, for that matter (insert your numbing agent of choice here), it stops ringing. It doesn’t vibrate anymore.

Our bodies are the same. If we don’t manage our minds, and cause ourselves unpleasant emotions and we’re not up to feeling those vibrations, that’s when we shunt the vibrations with food or alcohol or whatever our drug is handy at the time.

So now let’s again ask ourselves this question of coaching philosophy: must we feel bad 50% of the time? Is that our human destiny? I think Ronda Cornum would say no, and I’d emphatically agree with that response. Our discomfort comes from the thoughts we think, and, absent some rare physiological condition or illness, we’re in control of those.

I also know this: those of us who buy into the idea that it’s normal to be in emotional pain 50% of the time seem to be those of us who run away from managing their minds and headlong into pain. When we have this thought process going on, we embrace pain. We fondle it like a pet. As our friend Ed Seykota says, everyone gets what they want. If what we want is to find pain, that’s exactly what we’ll discover. It’s there for the taking for anyone who wants it.

I, for one, would like something better, and I’m guessing you do, too, or you wouldn’t be listening to this podcast. So here’s what I’d like to suggest. Let’s stop buying into the notion that the path to anywhere good is paved with discomfort. Let’s stop accepting the idea that it is our human destiny to balance our happiness with a 50% dose of misery. This idea, more than anything else I can think of, is the thing that’s keeping us on the couch, suffering in a bored but somewhat comfortable way, and away from the fun of doing what we actually want to do.

We’re better than 50%. If we burn our time running at 50% happiness, that’s a failing grade in my book. In my mind, our lives aren’t about balancing joy with misery. I don’t want to ride that teeter-totter. The only balancing I think we should be doing, if we want to live a wealthy life, is to balance our growth with our gratitude.

Here’s how I see it. If we want to live a wealthy life, a portion of our time, call it half, should be focused on growth. Growth means learning. We are born with an insatiable thirst for learning. It’s beaten out of us in schools that require us to memorize facts and regurgitate them in pointless bouts of intellectual bulimia, but we can get it back. Anything we do, any new thing we’re trying to achieve, becomes fun, and dare I say even comfortable, if we view it as an adventure and a learning experience. This is perhaps the mantra for every person who wants to create wealth. “I am learning something on this adventure.” The more fun you have, the more you learn, and the better you learn, and the more others want to be around you and learn what you’ve learned, that is where wealth comes from. Discomfort is not part of this recipe. It’s actually antithetical to this recipe.

So that’s growth. The rest of our time is about gratitude. On a fundamental level, gratitude is the recognition that nothing is our birthright. Not our ability to walk. Not our ability to see. Not our dear family and friends. Nothing. Whatever we have is a gift, and eventually it goes away. We won’t have it forever, so if we are to live a wealthy life we must thrill at the prospect of having it while we do, and rejoice in the memory of it when it’s gone.

If you balance your life, half to gratitude, half to growth, I promise at the end, and every day until then, you will declare yourself a wealthy person. I want this for you so let me know if I can do anything to help you get it.

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