What I’m about to say is sad, but not very controversial: most people would experience mild discontent with their situation than face the discomfort that’s necessary for improving their lives.
People just don’t want to tolerate discomfort, even if they have a guarantee it’s temporary.
Getting into shape is a prime example. Unhealthy people tend to know that getting into shape requires eating healthy, and physical exercise. The failure to act isn’t caused by a lack of information. It stems from an unwillingness to feel uncomfortable. Eating healthy is uncomfortable. Working out causes physical pain. Both of these are a struggle, and only when you choose to accept that the process is not going to be comfortable can you get into shape.
Most people make decisions based on how comfortable they think they’ll feel in given situations. This is why most people aren’t satisfied with their lives. Comfort is a terrible metric for pursuing a life of fulfillment.
Originally I intended to write about how you need to stop making excuses, but that’s not even it. The better advice is to stop letting the excuses you make prevent you from taking action.
Making excuses is normal. It’s a function of the human problem-solving mind.
What’s key is taking action despite those excuses. Don’t let excuses keep you in your comfort zone. People often think they need to be confident before they can face rejection or discomfort, but that’s backwards. First you do the thing outside your comfort zone, then you gain the confidence.
Especially when we’re talking about forcing yourself out of your comfort zone to improve your dating life, there is NO reason to hide any part of who you are from the world. You’re not doing anything wrong or shameful and you’re not violating the rights of others. You can make the decision to be completely honest and open with everyone. Vulnerability is tough, but it’s empowering. It’s how we grow. And if others are not upportive of your decision to improve your life, then the only thing they deserve from you is distance.
Get specific about your discomfort
When I advise that you should be willing to be uncomfortable, it might make sense but it’s still an abstract concept. To make it actionable, it’s helpful to put yourself in a difficult situation then ask yourself: “what sensations am I experiencing right now?”
When I feel anxious about approaching a girl, the main thing I feel is a racing heartbeat. Sometimes my throat gets dry and my hands get sweaty. It’s so much easier to approach if I can ask myself “Are you willing to feel a racing heart and sweaty palms for a couple minutes in order to get better talking to girls?” That’s an easy yes. When you can get very specific about what being uncomfortable means to you, it’s way easier to face than a big abstract concept like “approach anxiety.”
Emotional avoidance is an important idea to think about. When we do not want to feel our emotions, we try to push them away. It works in the short term, but emotions are like water in a pipe. You can block the pipe, but the pressure only increases until it eventually bursts.
Clean emotions versus dirty emotions
A great concept from the intersection of mindfulness and psychology is that of clean emotions and dirty emotions. Clean emotions are the feelings that come up for us naturally. Dirty emotions are what we get when you try to fight those clean emotions. The concept borrows from the Buddhist concept that while suffering is optional, pain is an inevitable part of life. In short, as turn our pain into suffering by resisting it, we turn clean emotions into dirty emotions.
For example, if I experience a rough breakup with my girlfriend, it’s natural and normal for me to feel sad. When we experience loss, we grieve the loss with a healthy sense of sadness, a clean emotion. However, if I were to fight that sadness by getting angry I feel sad, or worry about it and cause myself anxiety, that’s turning it into an unhealthy dirty emotion. One definition that distinguishes between sadness and depression is that when we fight feelings of sadness we become depressed. Depression is sadness plus avoidance.
An example from dating: it’s normal to feel fear when you’re approaching an attractive woman, but when you tell yourself that you shouldn’t feel that fear, it multiplies it.
Instead of classifying emotions as positive or negative, try classifying them as clean or dirty. Every emotion can be useful, even the painful ones. If you use your emotional intelligence then they can provide you with information about how you’re responding in your situation.
Research has shown that the people who are the most successful are those who have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative emotions. Seeking psychological flexibility and wholeness is always better than blind positivity. Attempting to be happy and positive 100% of the time is a recipe for delusion and failure. Remember the ratio: 80% should be your goal.
Along the same lines, a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology has shown that emodiversity, or a life in which one experiences a balance of different emotions, is associated with better mental and physical health.
Get better; don’t be good
Top performers and athletes from all kinds of endeavors or sports tend to have one psychological factor in common: a growth mindset.
A growth mindset is built on the goal to “get better.” The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset, which centers on the thought “be good.” When facing a difficult task, beginners often want to “do good,” coming at it with the mindset of worrying about how well they’ll perform.
There’s a great quote from Carlos Gracie Sr., one of the primary developers of modern Brazilian jiu-jitsu: “There is no losing in jiu-jitsu. You either win or you learn.”
Your challenge is to approach with the goal of “getting better.” Forget “being good,” because everything you do provides feedback. Every approach you make puts you one step closer to becoming a social beast. Every time you experience discomfort, you make it a little bit easier for the next time you’re in that situation.
The satisfaction, inspiration, and motivation that comes with going after your goals is an order of magnitude more valuable than actually achieving them.
What’s the point?
Connection and companionship are what bring purpose and meaning to our lives. If there’s anything in this world that’s worth experiencing some temporary discomfort for, it’s learning how to create genuine connections.