Pain + Reflection = Progress

One item that’s long been on my reading bucket list is Ray Dalio’s Principles, a 3-part 100+ page living document that outlines: the importance of principles, Dalio’s most fundamental life principles, and his management principles.

Ray is probably most well known for founding Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest and best-performing hedge funds, known for it’s cult-like culture.

Empathy and kindness aren’t a top priority there, says a former Bridgewater employee. The firm’s culture of absolute candor is designed to strip out emotional considerations and emphasize cold, Vulcan logic in all decision-making—the thin-skinned need not apply.

-Quoted from an NYMag piece

If you’re curious, you can read more about Ray and Bridgewater in this Fortune piece here.

A few weeks ago, I finally started digging into Principles and a few pages in, one particular section stood out almost immediately. I’ll paste it in its entirety here:

It is a fundamental law of nature that to evolve one has to push one’s limits, which is painful, in order to gain strength—whether it’s in the form of lifting weights, facing problems head-on, or in any other way. Nature gave us pain as a messaging device to tell us that we are approaching, or that we have exceeded, our limits in some way. At the same time, nature made the process of getting stronger require us to push our limits. Gaining strength is the adaptation process of the body and the mind to encountering one’s limits, which is painful. In other words, both pain and strength typically result from encountering one’s barriers. When we encounter pain, we are at an important juncture in our decision-making process.

Most people react to pain badly. They have “fight or flight” reactions to it: they either strike out at whatever brought them the pain or they try run away from it. As a result, they don’t learn to find ways around their barriers, so they encounter them over and over again and make little or no progress toward what they want.

Those who react well to pain that stands in the way of getting to their goals—those who understand what is causing it and how to deal with it so that it can be disposed of as a barrier—gain strength and satisfaction. This is because most learning comes from making mistakes, reflecting on the causes of the mistakes, and learning what to do differently in the future. Believe it or not, you are lucky to feel the pain if you approach it correctly, because it will signal that you need to find solutions and to progress. Since the only way you are going to find solutions to painful problems is by thinking deeply about them – i.e., reflecting – if you can develop a knee-jerk reaction to pain that is to reflect rather than to fight or flee, it will lead to your rapid learning/evolving.

So, please remember that:

Pain + Reflection = Progress

When I first glanced over that 3 word formula, my mind immediately raced through all of the recent painful junctures in my life. While I hope to never revisit any of those specific situations again, I can’t help but agree that those times of pain spurred some of the most pivotal changes that positively influenced my well-being.

Ironically enough, now that life has re-stabilized towards a healthier baseline, I sometimes find myself worrying that I’m not creating enough pain in my life to push through existing boundaries.

As my friend Ray and I often jokingly say to each other, “You can’t get out of bed if you’re sleeping in silk sheets.”

Tim Ferriss, one of the world’s leading self-development gurus, has previously recommended that everyone should intentionally re-create painful situations every once in awhile, whether that be intermittent fasting, or sleeping on the sidewalk outside your home for the night.

The thought process of creating these mini-scenarios is is 2-fold:

1) You’re forced to leave your comfort zones which drive you to be more resourceful and think creatively.

2) You break the cycle of hedonic adaption (the observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes) and become more appreciative of your present situation. Additionally, you are less likely to feel as negatively impacted when something “bad” happens in your life.

It sounds masochistic but one thing I’d like to explore more of this year is how I can methodically create more pain in my life.

Smells like a potential side project idea…