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Weekly 3: Embracing productive pain


Idea Journal Weekly 3

January 12 · Issue #121 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Look for lessons. Feel your fear. Make hard choices. (~5 min read)

#1. Seeing lessons in every outcome
In his book The Laws of Human Nature, author Robert Greene writes that although life inevitably involves pain and suffering, we have a choice in how we respond.
One response is avoidance. For example, we can try to muffle the effect of painful moments by distracting ourselves with drugs or engaging in addictive behavior. Or, Greene writes, we might restrict what we do: “if we don’t try too hard in our work, if we lower our ambitions, we won’t expose ourselves to failure and ridicule.”
Another, more productive response to pain and suffering is what the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche called “love of fate.” 
In this view, we accept that there are many aspects of life we can’t control. We will experience illness and physical pain. We will go through separations with people. We will take risks and fail.
But when we love fate, we accept these moments and even embrace them – not for the pain, but for the opportunities to learn and strengthen ourselves. As Greene puts it: “In doing so, we affirm life itself, accepting all of its possibilities.” 
In practice, this means we see events as fateful – everything happens for a reason, and our goal is to glean the lesson. 
For example, when we get sick we see it as an opportunity to slow down, to reassess what we are doing, and to appreciate the more frequent periods of good health. Or when relationships fail, we try to understand why the dynamic was wrong, and what we want from the next relationship.
Greene acknowledges that simply adopting love of fate won’t instantly turn negative experiences into positive ones. Converting painful blows into useful lessons takes time and practice.
But love of fate can lighten our burdens and alter everything we experience.
“Why complain over this or that, when in fact we see such events as occurring for a reason and ultimately enlightening us? Why feel envy for what others have, when we possess something far greater – the ultimate approach to the harsh realities of life?”
#2. “Your relationship with fear is the most important relationship in your life”
In an interview with entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, former professional skier and fear expert Kristen Ulmer says the habit that has most improved her life in the last five years is developing what she calls “a fear practice.”
For Ulmer, fear is a sense of discomfort in our bodies that is always there – whether we’re willing to admit it or not.
To deal with such discomfort, Ulmer notes that many people have turned to a forgiveness or gratitude practice. But she sees these approaches as turning away from a truth, often based in fear, that is trying to get your attention – “like putting a Band-Aid over a wound so you don’t have to look at it.”
Instead, Ulmer wants to move toward the underlying discomfort with her fear practice. Whenever she feels anxious or upset, she follows the below three steps:
Step One: 15 to 30 seconds affirming that it’s natural to feel discomfort. She may have a major talk or deadline approaching, and acknowledging that “you are supposed to be scared when you’re doing big things” can be life-changing.
Step Two: 15 to 30 seconds being curious about her relationship with the discomfort itself. For example, if the fear seems irrational, then it suggests that she’s been ignoring some underlying fear. When this happens, she asks what the fear is trying to tell her that hasn’t been acknowledged (e.g., “Write a new speech; the one you have sucks). 
Step Three: 30 to 60 seconds acknowledging and feeling the fear. Instead of trying to get rid of the fear, Ulmer sees embracing it as a key step to reducing its influence.
#3. “Easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.”
Entrepreneur and investor Naval Ravikant says in an interview on The Knowledge Project podcast that in most areas of life, “if you are willing to make the short-term sacrifice, you’ll have the long-term benefit.”
This trade-off is obvious when considering a person’s physical health. If you’re making the hard choices now about what to eat and how to exercise, then your life in the long-term will be easier. You’ll be less sick and more healthy. 
For Ravikant, a less obvious area of life where this trade-off is true is a person’s values. Working on your values and being ethical often involves short-term sacrifices, but is “long-term selfish.”
He tells the below story about his marriage to illustrate this point: 
“When I met my wife, it was a great test because I really wanted to be with her and she wasn’t so sure at the beginning. In the end, we ended up together because she saw my values. I am lucky I had developed them by that point. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have gotten her. Not that I own her or anything, there’s no attachment like that. I wouldn’t have deserved her. It’s like, as Charlie Munger says, ‘To find a worthy mate, be worthy of a worthy mate.’”
Quote of the Week
“Give vulnerability a shot. Give discomfort its due. Because I think he or she who is willing to be the most uncomfortable is not only the bravest, but rises the fastest.”
- Author and social work research professor Brené Brown in an interview, as captured in the book Tools of Titans
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