Life is full of discomfort. There is even an entire religion based around this being an unavoidable fact of life. However, we as a species are wired to avoid discomfort at all costs. And though this helps in some areas—by keeping us from touching hot stoves and the like—the overwhelming majority of people are handicapped by this fact.
This is good news for people like you who would read content like this in the first place. It’s good news because it reduces your competition. There are only a few million of us out there who understand what I’m about to tell you:
Pain is your best friend. Discomfort is your closest ally. Suffering is your most ardent supporter. The ability to endure discomfort—as well as the desire to intentionally seek it out—is what sets apart those who achieve their goals from those who remain stagnant.
The average people on this planet do not consider this. They may have goals, dreams and aspirations, but they pursue them, more or less, on autopilot. Don’t get me wrong, your brain is a spectacular contraption, and your autopilot is a very robust piece of biological software.
But it will have you default to avoiding discomfort. And this will inevitably lead to complacency, stagnation and resentment.
This letter will discuss the importance of seeking discomfort and how to retrain yourself to stop avoiding uncomfortable situations. It will also provide the only mindset tweak you need to learn how to react skillfully—not foolishly—to pain.
Avoiding discomfort is weakness
Avoiding pain may seem like an instinctual response to protect oneself, but it inevitably weakens you and leads you to misery.
Humans are designed to suffer. For the entirety of our existence up to the last few hundred years, life itself and most of the things in it were trying, directly or otherwise, to kill us. We adapted to this harsh reality, and it made us into the dominant species on the planet.
Since the industrial revolution, it has become increasingly easy to coddle ourselves and put up walls against all the unpleasant parts of life. Air conditioners, pillow-top mattresses, motorized recliners and other physical inventions designed to make life as comfortable as possible are creating lazy beasts out of us.
Even our modern social inventions like outrage culture are crippling us mentally. We used to defend our camps from saber tooth tigers by night, and spend the days hunting and gathering food to ward off starvation for the next few days.
After that, we worked for entire summers trying to grow enough food to keep winter from killing us. And up until the last hundred years or so, we worked for most of every day to keep enough food on the table to feed our families.
And now, if you want to lead someone to unravel entirely, all you need to do is to say the right words in the right order. You don’t even need to be particularly creative—just say something they disagree with, and you’ve got them on their heels already.
Most people are miserable. They’re lonely, unfulfilled, lost and bereft of hope. They distract themselves from this hollow existence with entertaining content. Some use drugs or alcohol.
They drift through the mundane day-to-day of their lives on autopilot, like planes without instruments meandering through a thick bank of clouds, hoping to emerge into the blue sky at some point so they can find their bearings.
Some of these people don’t even know how dead they are inside because they’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel alive.
But hey, at least they’re comfortable.
This is what your comfort zone will do to you. It’ll keep you safe, warm and secure—but it will drown your ambition, your sense of wonder, your desire to grow and conquer. The very things that make you human.
Fortunately, even if this describes you…
All is not lost.
How to reclaim your courage
That title is actually not appropriate. You haven’t lost your courage. You might have lost your confidence, but you’ll NEVER lose your courage.
All you need to do to find it is to turn off the fucking autopilot.
It really is that easy.
The minute you decide to intentionally stop avoiding discomfort, you’re doing it. You don’t need to be Achilles to be courageous. All you need to do is be willing to endure discomfort, and intentionally seek it out.
The most successful people among us—the millionaires, the philanthropists, the war heroes, the genius scientists—have one thing in common. They turn off the autopilot and fly into the unknown in pursuit of their mission. They tolerate the profound discomfort that comes along with their mission, and they act correctly anyway.
This path begins with courage. But courage isn’t everything.
Achilles isn’t a hero whose name has been remembered for millennia because he was courageous. He is a hero because he combined his courage with supreme skills and a worthy mission. He spent decades of his life in training, as well as fighting smaller wars. During the Trojan War, he spent 9 years trashing the countryside, taking 12 smaller cities before the city of Troy itself fell.
To achieve the glory you want for yourself in life, you must be willing to do the same. To endure years of anonymity, constant effort, and scary conversations. Depending on your goals, this might also include more physical discomforts—spending weeks of every year in airports and hotel rooms, freezing in bitter cold or sweating in stifling heat.
Life itself is uncomfortable, however you live it. It’s uncomfortable to break your body on a daily basis working on a construction crew while you also study to get your general contractor’s license. It’s uncomfortable to make dozens or even hundreds of sales calls a day to earn your first clients as a freelancer. It’s uncomfortable to risk millions of investors’ money and to accept responsibility for numerous employees as an entrepreneur.
But it’s also uncomfortable to work 40 years of your life away in exchange for a modest salary and a benefit package to provide for your later years. It’s even more uncomfortable to work a minimum wage job so you can spend your weekends getting drunk with your friends or funneling your paycheck straight into your drug dealer’s pocket.
Discomfort is inevitable. If you don’t get off autopilot, society will choose your discomfort for you. And I promise, you won’t like it.
Odds are, you know what you’re avoiding. Breaking up with the wrong woman. Proposing marriage to the right one. Quitting your awful job. Taking the risk and starting your freelance business. Going to college, or dropping out.
Whatever it is, just fucking do it already. I promise you, it won’t be as horrible as you think it’ll be, even if it goes every bit as badly as you worry it will. In fact, even when it goes bad, you’ll feel a kind of strength and freedom that few will ever experience. And here’s why:
Even if it goes badly, it went badly because you took the shot. You took the risk and did the work under your own steam, and a failure on those terms tastes substantially better than a victory that you know you didn’t earn for yourself.
So quit avoiding the discomfort, stand up, and go do the thing.
Reacting skillfully to pain
So, you’ve decided to quit being a coward and pursue your mission. Excellent.
Now you must learn how to handle it when things inevitably go sideways, which they will.
Understand that I’m not talking about discomfort anymore—I’m talking about pain. When you pull a muscle and it aches dully for a couple weeks, that’s discomfort. But when you break a bone? That’s pain.
Once you enter the discomfort, painful moments are going to come. For some people, this can be scarier than the discomfort. What happens if I run out of money? What happens if I can’t get any funding? What happens if my best employee quits? What happens if I can’t pull building permits in time? What happens if, if, if, if, if.
Don’t even bother thinking about this crap for any longer than absolutely necessary. It’s pointless, and a gross waste of your mental resources. Don’t mistake my point—being proactive and having plans in place for likely contingencies is a part of any well-formed plan of action. But it’s a plan of action, not an excuse for inaction.
Challenges are going to arise. Painful moments are going to come. It’s impossible to prepare for all of them. But what IS possible is learning to react skillfully to them.
Most people simply run for the hills as soon as they arrive. Others just put their heads down endure the pain until it’s over. This is a better alternative, but either of these options will inevitably lead to a sense of powerlessness and a lack of control, both perceived and actual.
What the real killers do during these moments is twofold: first, they don’t let it stop them from doing the work.
I once knew a small town landlord whose tenant reported a flood in their driveway, coming from underground. The landlord rented a mini excavator and dug down to where the house connected to the city water supply at the street, 8+ feet down. He got down in the hole with a pipe wrench and a replacement fitting.
I watched him wrestle with the pipe for half an hour. Pressurized water shot out of the pipe. With no way to turn it off, in minutes he was halfway up to his knees in water that was barely above freezing. It was March, so the air around him was in the 20s. His clothes were soaked through, and his gloves had holes in them.
He lost mobility in his fingers after a couple of minutes, and then lost feeling. And he still didn’t get out of the hole until he’d replaced the fitting. He got the job done, then went home, ran his hands under warm water until they came back online, and changed into dry clothes.
This is what the real killers do. They get the job done, first and foremost.
Second, they view painful moments as an opportunity to practice their ability to respond to them. They know that every problem is a chance for them to apply the solution better than they did last time. They see every inconvenience and catastrophe as a way to get better, and they do so every time.
Every time I get on the phone with a prospect who is an asshole to me, I’m a happy guy. For two reasons. First, a prospect who is an asshole is more likely to close than a prospect who doesn’t want to talk at all. And second, I get to practice my sales skills. Once I get so good at selling my service that I can take a man from being cantankerous and belligerent to being a paying customer, I’ll be absolutely unstoppable. And every hard sales conversation I have gets me closer.
Remember: the people who win are those who can not only endure pain and discomfort the longest, but respond to it with the greatest skill.
Too long, didn’t read.
Most people avoid discomfort, often unintentionally. They do this by cruising on autopilot, allowing their brain to make unconscious and reflexive decisions. The brain will almost ALWAYS choose the option that runs the lowest risk of discomfort or pain. This is why people stay in their comfort zones.
The bad news: Your comfort zone will KILL you, slowly and horribly.
The good news: All you need to do to avoid this awful death is to turn off the autopilot and take the controls yourself.
The bad news? This requires courage.
The good news? People often assume that competence is required for courage. This is not the case. The most bumbling idiot can be courageous to great effect.
People also assume that courage is something one either has, or doesn’t have. This is not the case either. Courage is something you do, not something you are. All you need to be courageous is to see the reasons to avoid action and take action anyway. Nothing else is required.
To be successful at any pursuit in life, you need only these three things:
- The courage to risk discomfort and pain
- The willingness to endure discomfort long-term
- The ability to react skillfully to pain when it occurs
That’s all there is to it. And it begins with courage. So turn off the autopilot, take the controls, and move towards your mission. Endure the discomfort, and train yourself to react well to the intense moments of pain.
Do this for long enough, and your victory is assured.
Get out there and make it happen, friend.