Tension and Resistance

Picture this: a bright summer day, a room buzzing with anticipation, and a workshop led by the charismatic Andrew Hefler. Little did I know that this improv workshop would become a profound life lesson.

As I walked into that room, I was ready for a fun day of improv. But, what transpired over the course of the workshop was far more than regular improv antics. It was a journey of self-discovery and learning. Andrew was about to teach us more than the art of improvisation; he was about to teach us about the art of living.

A quest for comfortable life

In our quest for a more comfortable life, we often find ourselves seeking the path of least resistance. Convenience, after all, is designed to make our lives easier, to save us time and effort. But, as it turns out, there’s a catch to this apparent convenience. It’s a double-edged sword.

By definition, convenience is easy. It’s the effortless choice, the quick solution to everyday dilemmas. While this can save time and have its benefits, it might also lead us into a subtle trap. Consider how often, in making decisions, we gravitate towards the convenient, easy way out, without much thought. We externalize our decision-making, opting for the path of least resistance, and in doing so, we unknowingly set ourselves on a course that might not align with our true desires.

Each day, we make countless decisions, but how often do we reflect on the outcomes of those choices? A pivotal shift in perspective occurs when we stop to contemplate whether a decision was automatic, a result of fast thinking (read Kahneman Fast Thinking - Slow Thinking), or a product of mindful consideration. Mindful decision making may not always guarantee we’ll reach the perfect destination, but it is about more than the endpoint; it’s about the journey itself.

Think about it. If we pad our lives with cushions, ensuring there’s no challenge involved in achieving our goals, what happens when we finally reach them? There’s no spark of joy, no sense of relief or accomplishment. We don’t get excited by neither success or failure. It’s as if we’ve missed the point of it all.

I’m not suggesting we should all set unreachable, unrealistic life goals. But we can infuse our lives with the kind of challenge that keeps us engaged and fulfilled. The question then becomes, “How do we make things hard?” It’s easier said than done, so let’s explore some practical steps together in this post:

  1. Be Suspicious of Convenience and Boredom: Embrace a healthy level of suspicion when it comes to convenience and routine. Challenge yourself to be mindful wehn you are feeling tension.

  2. Aim for Precision: We must be interestend in precision and to striving for excellence. Embracing a Optimalist (not perfectionist) lifestyle requires effort and intention, but it leads to results that are truly rewarding.

  3. Aim for Clarity: Live in the present, acknowledge past mistakes, and focus on meaningful action to create a more fulfilling life.

1. Be Suspicious of Convenience and Boredom

The only problem in your life is your mind’s resistance to life as it unfolds. - Dan Millmann

We’ve grown accustomed to immediate gratification and ease, but this comfort comes at a cost – a potential detriment to our personal growth and fulfillment. It’s time we reevaluate our relationship with convenience and also consider how boredom plays a role in our lives.

The Seduction of Convenience

We often find ourselves faced with choices, and at the heart of each decision, there are two paths. One may appear as the convenient, comfortable, and easy route. The other often invokes resistance, tension, or emotional turmoil.

Choosing the path of least resistance might seem like the logical choice. But it’s a choice that leads to a lack of challenge and hinders our learning. Trying to find “the best option” or trying to control the outcome is counter productive. It’s essential to remember that true change begins with us and our mindset, and our actions define us only if we repeat them, whether they’re positive or negative.

But what about excessive tension? Is it harmful? Certainly. However, too little tension can also be detrimental to our well-being. There’s a sweet spot to be found between order and chaos, and it’s up to each of us to discover it. Convenience and routines bring order, while emotions, creativity, and gut decisions bring chaos.

Research has shown that seeking out and confronting new challenges is crucial for maintaining cognitive flexibility, creativity, well-being, and happiness. Thus, our suspicion of convenience should extend to being suspicious of routines and boredom.

(Not) Giving Up

When in the midst of a challenging task, we question whether to persevere or give up. Growth and learning occur when we venture beyond our comfort zone, so quitting because something is difficult is counterproductive. Instead of constantly questioning whether you’re on the right path, maintain an optimistic dialogue with yourself. Otherwise this combination of Loss Aversion and trying to keep all your options lees to Analysis Paralysis, where you don’t want to try anything. We think hard about all the different options we might like, dream about our future self, but we dont do anything. As long as you are doing something you are learning, even it is only what works or what does not work for you right now.

Someone who is optimistic expects the best while actively working to bring it about. Wishing externalizes responsibility and hopes that everything lines up according to plan, but doesn’t do anything to actively bring about the desired change. Someone who operates from a place of wishful thinking is - in essence - a closet pessimist. - Todd Henry

In many instances, there’s a natural stopping point, and you’ll instinctively know when it’s time to pause or continue. It’s the discomfort and tension that often indicate you’re on the right track.

The emotion of boredom is always self-concious, but when your attention is attracted to a new activity you may have little reflective appreciation. - Angela Duckworth

On the other hand, boredom is a telltale sign that you’re not challenging yourself enough. It’s a symptom of avoidance tactics, whether you’re seeking instant gratification or avoiding discomfort, responsibility, self-reflection, or change. The emotion of boredom is self-conscious, while the allure of a new activity often lacks that reflective awareness.

The Flow State

One way to combat the pitfalls of convenience and boredom is to seek the state of “flow.”. Flow represents optimal engagement and heightened focus that arises when your abilities match the difficulty of a task. It acts as a beacon, guiding you to actively seek out challenges and foster your personal growth.

Orders of Fun

Consider the concept of “Orders of Fun.” First-order fun is the immediate joy experienced while doing something, like savoring a slice of chocolate cake. Second-order fun is the enjoyment that comes after completing an activity, like the satisfaction of cleaning your house. Third-order fun is more complex, where happiness is derived neither during nor after the activity, and it might not be immediately apparent, such as the sense of achievement after running a marathon.

In summary, when you feel tension, suspicion, or boredom, take a moment to introspect. Ask yourself why you want to say yes or no, and identify the patterns of your behavior. Learn when you’re tempted to give up and why. Embrace challenges, step out of your comfort zone, and aim for that balance between convenience and chaos. This is where true personal growth and fulfillment flourish.

2. Aim for Precision

With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be. [Instead] we rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of ground like magic - Nietsche

We must be interested in precision.

But in our quest of precision, we often fail to appreciate the journey that leads to excellence. Greatness is not innate talent but a product of training and discipline. We are all interested in precision, and we often mistake it for natural talent in others, but what we perceive as ease and effortlessness is, in fact, the result of hours of deliberate practice. When we think about success, we often only focus on the end results. Extraordinary achievements stem from ordinary effort repeated consistently over an extended period.

We are all humans in training, and it is our actions that mold our destinies. Whenever expectations are not met, tension arises, and this tension is, in fact, a catalyst for growth. When faced with unmet expectations, we have three options: we can lower our expectations and settle for the status quo, we can embrace the need for hard work and resist the temptation of the easy way out, or we can consciously decide to pivot and pick a different path.

Focus and Motivation

The term “concentration” literally means “to put at the center”, in our fast paced world with many distractions this is becoming hard. The discomfort of constantly pushing our skills to their limits is an inevitable part of the journey. When we’re children, we begin learning through play, but as we grow older, we develop a more systematic approach to training with the help of experts like mentors, teachers, and trainers. Deliberate practice describes a manner of self-training, where with high challenge, effort and concentration you train yourself in a planned manner. Research has shown that Deliberate Practice, has the most significant impact on skill improvement. Factors of successfull deliberate practice are motivation, effort and resources available to the individual.

To ensure productive Deliberate Practice sessions, a few quick rules come into play:

  • Produce value systematically.
  • Define clear goals.
  • Engage in full concentration and effort, reaching beyond your current capabilities.
  • Seek immediate feedback.
  • Repeat with reflection and refinement.
  • Limit sessions to a maximum of 90 minutes.

Mental load, or cognitive load, is a phenomenon that occurs when we switch between different tasks or activities. When we shift our attention from one task to another, our brains must adapt to new demands, and this transition incurs a cognitive cost. This mental load can manifest in various ways, such as a decrease in productivity, a rise in stress levels, and a potential decline in the quality of our work.

To manage and reduce this mental load, strategies like time blocking, batching similar tasks, and setting boundaries for digital distractions can be immensely helpful. These approaches allow for more focused and sustained attention on a specific task, ultimately leading to improved productivity and reduced cognitive fatigue.

Therefore esisting the urge to revert to our lowest impulses and desires is key. This requires establishing routines, embracing discipline, and building a system that supports our quest for excellence. Grit, or the ability to sustain effort without quitting, becomes our guiding light. By finding systems that enhance productivity and promote disciplined practice, we can make more intentional and effective use of our time. Without these systems, we risk falling back to the lowest common denominator. It is crucial to cut distractions for example social media, constant emails, and messaging notifications. Always ask yourself if immediate response and distraction are necessary or if you can transform these into routine proactive session.

Motivation Equation

If you never get started nothing will happen, motivation is key. There are many formulas for motivation, I like Brian Johnsons motivational equation:

Motivation = Energy x (Value x Expectancy / Impulsivity x Delay)

Let’s digest this:

  • Energy: Energy in this equation refers to the physical and mental energy or stamina you have available to pursue your goals.
  • Value: This variable represents how much you value or desire the outcome or goal you are trying to achieve.
  • Expectancy: Expectancy here refers to your belief or confidence in your ability to achieve the desired goal.
  • Impulsivity: Impulsivity refers to the tendency to act on immediate desires or urges without considering long-term consequences or short how easily distracted you get. In this context, lower impulsivity indicates that you can delay immediate gratification for a long-term goal, which is essential for motivation.
  • Delay: Delay represents the time it takes for you to achieve the desired goal.

3. Aim for Clarity

Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it. - Daniel Kahneman

Aiming for clarity takes us out from the relentless pursuit of an unknown future and a recognition that nothing in life is as important as we make it out to be when we’re caught up in the moment. As the renowned psychologist Daniel Kahneman points out, our mood is shaped by what captures our attention, and our experiences of pleasure or displeasure arise from what we dwell on.

In our daily lives, we often find ourselves trapped in defensive and deflective behaviors, suspecting the intentions of others. This hyperactive intentionality, ingrained in our evolutionary history, compels us to see intention and acting agents even where none exist. It’s a survival instinct that still lingers within us, a remnant of our hominid ancestry.

Acknowledging our mistakes and correcting them constitute a critical aspect of clarity. This process may be uncomfortable, as it challenges our comfort zones, dispels illusions, and forces us to confront reality. Clarity compels us to face the present, pushing us to take action instead of idly waiting. It means relinquishing the mental gymnastics of crafting elaborate rationalizations and justifications for our inaction. Doing something - anything - means taking meaningful steps toward progress.

Pressure can be both a motivating and paralyzing force. When we focus on our goals and the future and lose touch with the present and the past, we risk disconnecting from the now. Being in the present means not waiting for something to happen but participating in making it happen. It’s not about washing a dish to have a clean plate but about finding moments of clarity in which we invest our full attention and intention.

The search for new interests cannot be confined to introspection and reflection. True discovery comes from actually engaging with the external world, not solitary contemplation. To unearth fresh passions and pursuits, we must interact, explore, and engage with the world around us.

In this quest for clarity, it’s essential to remember that shame does not constructively drive self-improvement. Instead of dwelling on past mistakes with shame, we should channel our energies into learning, growing, and embracing the clarity that comes from making decisions and doing something. It’s through these principles that we uncover the transformative potential of living in the present.

Sensitivity Hurts

In the intricate dance of life, sensitivity is a double-edged sword. With heightened sensitivity, we gain the remarkable capacity to discern both the beauty and the painful aspects of the world. However, it comes at a cost.

In imagination we feel sure that it would be lovely to live with a full and rich awareness of the world. But in practice sensitiveness hurts. It is not possible to develop the capacity to see beauty without developing also the capacity to see ugliness, for they are the same capacity. The capacity for joy is also the capacity for pain. We soon find that any increase in our sensitiveness to what is lovely in the world increases also our capacity for being hurt. That is the dilemma in which life has placed us. We must choose between a life that is thin and narrow, uncreative and mechanical, with the assurance that even if it is not very exciting it will not be intolerably painful; and a life in which the increase in its fullness and creativeness brings a vast increase in delight, but also in pain and hurt. - John Macmurray

Conclusion: Embrace the Challenge for a More Fulfilling Life

In our journey through the paths of convenience-suspicion, precision, and clarity, we’ve explored the profound impact that these concepts can have on our lives. It’s clear that embracing challenge and stepping out of our comfort zones is the key to a more fulfilling existence.

Convenience, while alluring, can often lead us away from the very growth and learning that can make life exciting. We must be suspicious of the easy way out and instead welcome tension as a catalyst for personal development.

Seeking precision doesn’t mean looking for innate talent; it means embracing deliberate practice and hard work. It’s about understanding that excellence is built on ordinary actions repeated consistently over time. Lowering expectations, embracing hard work, or choosing a different path can help us navigate the tension between effort and ease.

Finally, the quest for clarity encourages us to live in the present, acknowledge our past mistakes, and take meaningful action. It’s about letting go of the mental gymnastics that hold us back and actively participating in shaping our lives.

In this journey, we must remember that sensitivity, while a double-edged sword, allows us to discern both beauty and pain in the world. It’s a reminder that a life filled with challenge, although it may bring its share of discomfort, also promises a wealth of delight and personal growth.

As we navigate the tension of self-optimization, let’s find that sweet spot where convenience meets challenge, where precision meets effort, and where clarity meets the present. In doing so, we unlock the transformative potential of living a life that is truly fulfilling.

So, what do you think? How will you balance these elements in your own life to find that perfect equilibrium between tension, clarity, and challenge?