Do you want to be successful? Don’t chase success, chase discomfort


We all know that “no pain, no gain” doesn’t just apply to weightlifting. If you want to get better at something or achieve a difficult goal, the process will almost certainly require you to get out of your comfort zone and suffer a little (or a lot).

But most of us see that discomfort as a by-product of the process, something we can expect and tolerate, but also try to minimize. That’s understandable, but it also holds you back, finds a new study from Cornell and the University of Chicago. Research shows that if you want to maximize your success, you shouldn’t really be chasing success. Look for discomfort instead. You will eventually reach your goals faster.

The more uncomfortable you feel, the faster you will get better.

For example, let’s say you want to become a famous comedian. As a first step, you can sign up for an improv class. When you walk in the door, what do you say to yourself? Many people’s first instinct would be to give themselves a pep talk about trying to be as funny or creative as possible. After all, that is the end goal.

But when researchers invited 557 volunteers to show up in a beginner improv class, those who were supposed to try to make themselves feel uncomfortable and uncomfortable performed better and more persistently than those who simply wanted to perform well in class.

Intriguing, you might think, but what’s that got to do with me? Comics, of course, have to get used to feeling like fools. Sorry to tell you, but so are entrepreneurs.

The research team also conducted a series of follow-up experiments. Whether the study participants studied current events or completed a writing task, those who were told to look up discomfort ended up doing better on whatever task they were given.

“Overall, the results suggest that we should seek out the feelings of awkwardness or discomfort often associated with personal growth and interpret them as signs of progress toward our goals,” says the Research Digest blog. of the British Psychological Society summarizing the results. Or, put simply, whether you’re a cartoonist, entrepreneur, or aspiring writer, striving for clumsiness will help you improve faster than just focusing on mastery.

Art and science agree.

The BPS blog points out that while this research is compelling, it only captures a snapshot. Do those who seek discomfort persist and excel in the long run, or does all the clumsiness burn them before they can achieve their goals? This study cannot answer that question. But there are reasons to expect that seeking discomfort can be a winning strategy in life, as well as short-term lab experiments.

There is a famous anecdote from the art world that ties in perfectly with this new research. The story goes that an art school professor once told half of his ceramics class that they would be judged by the amount of work they produced. The other half were told they would be judged on the quality of their best piece.

Who did better, were the students instructed to make tons of shaky bowls and crooked beakers, or those that were told to strive for excellence? Those who created more, probably embarrassing work, outperformed those who wanted to create a masterpiece. Embracing awkwardness trumped the focus on success.

“It seems that while the ‘quantity’ group was busy finishing piles of work — and learning from their mistakes — the ‘quality’ group had been theorizing about perfection, and ended up having little left to let go. see grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay for their efforts,” explain the authors of the book that popularized this story.

Those who embrace the messy, frustrating process of getting better exercise more than those who focus on success. As a result, they get better faster. That’s why many artists advise those learning their craft to just accept that they suck at the beginning (their word choice, not mine) and actively try to make bad art.

Science and art seem to agree. If you have bold goals or want to master something difficult, whether that be ceramics or starting a business, actively seek out the frustration and shame of being bad at your chosen pursuit. Those unpleasant feelings mean that you are doing and learning, and only by doing and learning do you really improve.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not’s.

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