I want to start out today by having you visualize something that you really want, something that’s super important to you. I want you to take a second, pause the podcast if you need to and really think about something that…a goal in your life, something that’s super important.
All right, good, you’ve had a second to do that, to pause and reflect on something that’s really, really important to you, something that you visualize this thing and really feel it. Now I want to share two quotes with you. The first is from Jack Canfield, the author of Chicken Soup for the Soul: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear”. The next one is from Tim Ferriss, the human guinea pig blogger. I’m a huge fan of Tim. If you haven't checked out some of his stuff, he’s awesome but, he has a quote: “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations they’re willing to have”.
So, today we’re gonna talk a little bit about discomfort and how to deal with discomfort and to cultivate discomfort in your life. And I wanted to start with a story of Josh Waitzkin. You may not know who Josh Waitzkin is but, he is an eight-time national chess champion and he’s a two-time world champion Tai Chi push hands fighter, and he’s one of the foremost Brazilian jujitsu experts in the United States, and Josh has a fascinated story. He was actually a child chess prodigy and he was the subject to the movie Searching for Bobby Fisher, and he had some sort of meteoric rise in the chess world starting at a very early age, and Josh’s experience in chess taught him a number of things. He actually wrote an incredible book which I highly recommend checking out called The Art of Learning, that's all about all of the lessons about sort of performed psychology and his journey from a chess prodigy to then transitioning into martial arts and other things. But, what’s really fascinating about Josh’s sort of success and his meteoric rise even as a child chess prodigy was that he actually had a total breakdown and ended up quitting chess for a number of years, and that was in many ways was because he was psychologically frail, he was brittle, he hadn’t cultivated mental toughness, mental resilience, he hadn’t built and developed that really critical mental strength. And so, I’m gonna actually just give you an excerpt from Josh’s book were he talks about cultivating mental resilience and how important that is to him. “My whole life I’ve worked on this issue. Mental resilience is arguably the most critical trait of a world class performer. It should be nurtured continuously. Left to my own devices I am always looking for ways to become more and more psychologically impregnable. When uncomfortable my instinct is not to avoid the discomfort but to become at peace with it, when injured, which happens frequently in the life of a martial artist, I try to avoid painkillers and to change the sensation of pain into a feeling that is not necessarily negative. My instinct is always to seek out challenges as opposed to avoiding them.”
This type of internal work takes place in the little moments of our lives. I mentioned how my style over the board was to create chessic mayhem and then to sort my way through the chaos more effectively than my opponents. This was a muscle I built up by training myself to be at peace with the unclear and tumultuous. And, most of the training was an everyday life and I think that’s a really, really critical take away from that piece of text, most of the training was an everyday life.
In fact, there’s all kinds of different ways that you can cultivate and embrace discomfort in your daily life and it’s an incredibly important skill to constantly… instead of sort of fleeing from uncomfortable situations, to lean in and embrace and kind of face and really become at peace with things that make you uncomfortable.
And cultivating discomfort is kind of like building muscles. It’s one of the tools that you can use to develop mental resilience, to develop mental toughness and to become psychologically impregnable. And the first step to cultivating discomfort is to be aware when you’re uncomfortable, right? You have to be present of your discomfort. Most people when they encounter something uncomfortable they almost at a subconscious level, they sort of move away from it, they push away from it, they go in the different direction, they don't want to have to deal with whatever this thing that’s really uncomfortable is, and so you have to be able to intercept that message. You have to be present enough to your own thinking and your own thought patterns to be able to say, “Hey, I just felt uncomfortable. I just felt discomfort,” and then, “Should I continue to act in this path of moving away from the discomfort or is this is an opportunity potentially to lean into this discomfort to really embrace it or to force myself into a situation that I know is going to be really uncomfortable?” And the way to cultivate that mental presence... There’s a lot of different ways to do it, one of the most effective is with meditation, which is something we're not gonna talk about today. But something that we can delve into and give you a really practical and simple and easy toolkit to use if you wanna start meditating without having all of this sort of confusion about what is meditation and all this woo woo stuff, there's really simple ways to get started that are rooted in science but that's a discussion for a future podcast.
So, being really present to your discomfort is the first key piece of cultivating it. The second step is, once you're aware of this discomfort you're have to catch yourself, and you have to push into it and you have to embrace it and the reason that being present is so critical, as Josh said, is not…you know, there's not this... There are sometimes water ship moments, but what really builds up the ability to embrace discomfort is having all these little experiences in your life where you gotta catch yourself and say, "Mm, that’s really uncomfortable", and instead of running away from it you push into it head on and you really kind of accept it.
And I'll tell you… I'll give you two specific kinda tools, or examples, or ways that you can lean in it discomfort. One of them is a really simple test. It’s from a guy named Noah Kagan. Some of you are may be familiar with Noah. He's an entrepreneur internet market genius. I highly recommend checking out some of his stuff. But, he has a test that's called the coffee test, and it’s really simple and it sounds really easy and I guarantee you, if you go try to do it, it is terrifying. And all you have to do is go into your local coffee shop or any coffee shop and whatever you order ask them for ten percent off.
Don't give them a reason, don't justify it just go on and say “Yeah, I'd like a large coffee and can I take ten percent off on that?" And you're probably thinking right now, "Oh, that doesn't sound so hard." But, as soon as you step up into the counter it’s a completely different sensation of fear, and discomfort, and "Ugh, I don’t wanna do it." And most of the time you back down and it takes two or three tries to really try, to really cultivate that. But, that's a very micro example of a way to kind of simply and easily in your own life, cultivate discomfort and kind of implement the ability to actively go out and seek things that are uncomfortable.
The second way to do that is through a process called social skydiving. You may have heard of that term but if haven’t basically what social skydiving is, is just walking up to a conversation specifically, usually with a group of people that you don't know at all. And the more intimidating the conversation looks, the less it looks like you should barge in, the better it is. And you just barge into the conversation not in a rude way at all, but in a way where you just kind of join the conversation and, immediately insert yourself into it and start talking to people engaging them, you know, introducing yourself all this kind of stuff.
And the key to social skydiving is that when you're entering into this situation, you don't know what you're going to say, you don't know what they're talking about, you just throw yourself into this situation where most people are sort of mortified of walking up into a circle of strangers that are all talking about something, bursting into the circle and just injecting yourself into the conversation. And it’s really hard to do it but, the more you do it, the more you sort of cultivate and build this muscle and it’s something you could do anytime. You could walk on right now and go social skydiving on somebody's conversation and continue to build and cultivate that muscle of being able to tolerate and kind of handle and…you know, what ultimately you become sort of immune, or resilient to uncomfortable situations.
So, those are two very practical ways that you can cultivate this discomfort, and I challenge you to implement or try at least one of those within the next week. And I bet you're probably not going to do it, but I think you really, really should. And it sounds really easy but when you're actually gonna do it is going to be really hard, but pushing into and really leaning into that discomfort you'll start to cultivate an immunity to it where you can social skydive in all kinds of situations and actually like… I'm an introvert and so, it was something that was sort of terrifying to me to do for the first time. But, having done it many times I can tell you now that Is almost a fine activity Is almost enjoyable.
And that's kind of a segue into the next keys of understanding discomfort that I think is a critical thing to understand, and this is the idea of what I call the sphere of discomfort, and this goes back to Jack Canfield's quote about everything you want is on the other side of fear. So, everybody sort of lives in a comfort zone, right? Is sort of a bubble that surrounds you and it’s everything you are comfortable with, everything you are comfortable doing, everything you're comfortable talking about, all of this things and whenever. And this is usually a subconscious process, which is why sort of being present and aware is so important. But whenever you bump up against certain walls of your comfort zone, you subconsciously and kind of intuitively turn away, you turn back, you leave from that discomfort, and so what happens is most people live their lives in sort of this little bubble where anything that's uncomfortable to them they never do it, right? They never want to do it. And a really simple way to think about that would be of somebody who's afraid of flying, right? And everybody knows somebody probably. Think about all the things they're kind of limiting out of their experience in their life by being afraid to get on an airplane.
If they would become comfortable with that, pushing to that discomfort they’re literally opening up the world for themselves to experience. And so, what happens is similar to sort of social skydiving or the coffee test, every time you get to the edge of your comfort zone if you just push into that discomfort if you just kind of step into it and really go headfirst, the first time you do something that's really uncomfortable it’s scary, right? The second or third time it’s still nerve-wracking but you know that you've done it once before and it gets a little bit easier.
The hundredth time that you do something it’s almost...you know, it starting to get fun and easy and it's almost enjoyable because you've done it some many times. The thousandth time that you do something its boring, right? You know there's people who fly every week for work and, to them, flying is nothing, it’s not scary at all. So, you see these patterns again and, again and again with all kinds of experiences in people's lives but, so many people wants you sort of build that muscle, right? Whether it’s flying, or social skydiving, or selling, or whatever it might be, whatever...once you build that muscle, things that once seems scary and uncomfortable now become…first sort of less scary, less scary, you become good at it and then almost becomes boring ultimately, and what happens is that bubble around you that comfort zone? It grows and expands. And once that comfort zone has kind of bubble up and expanded, and you broaden your comfort zone beyond it what you ever thought it was possible.
At the frontiers of your new fear of discomfort you now have all of this other things that seemed uncomfortable. But, these are the kind of things that you'd never could have seen or perceived in the world where you were sort of limited by your original fears, your original things that made you uncomfortable and it's kind of an iterative process because now you have all these new frontiers you can explore, you have an even broader array of things that you could do, right? And that goes back to the Tim Ferriss quote that we opened up this podcast with: "A person’s success in life can usually be determined by the number of uncomfortable conversations they're willing to have", right? And the more you have those uncomfortable conversations, the sale pitches, the tough business negotiations, whatever that may be, the better you get and the broader that sort of sphere of comfort expands to, and to tell a story within my own life even about this podcast, this podcast started out as a PowerPoint presentation that I had made for one particular friend who wanted me to share some of his ideas with him.
He knew that I loved psychology and performance and all that stuff and he said, "Hey Matt, can you just take some of this stuff and share it with my corporate team?" And you know I was a little bit hesitant because some of this stuff is kind of out there and, you know, they're gonna think I'm a weirdo or whatever but, I pushed into the discomfort and made the PowerPoint and I shared with them and I had a great time. And then about six months elapsed and didn't tell is all or show is all anything about this PowerPoint, and eventually one day I was talking to someone and they were like "You really have to share this," it was like "Do you think these ideas are really important?" And I was like, "Absolutely." He was like, "You have to share this with the people that you work with, you have to share this with your team and your employees, the key people in your business." and I was like, "[Laughs] Absolutely not! They're gonna think I'm a weirdo. I'm gonna sit down and talk to them about…you know, about their subconscious and this fear of discomfort and all of these things and they're gonna say ‘Man, I thought he was kind of out there but, now I know he's out there,’ right?” But eventually, I overcame that sort of uncomfortable emotion and cultivated…you know, a series of one on one, really, really enriching conversations with all of my key team members and it really took our relationships to a level that I never thought was possible, and we can now have conversations about things that I couldn't even imagine before, looking back to having...you know, been terrifying sharing this all, let alone to all this other people.
Fast forward another six or eight months and I started to say, "This is something that I need to share with people who I value and people who I think would really enjoy some of the lessons in this presentation". Eventually I stumbled across sharing this with a friend of mine and that led ultimately to this podcast to what I'm now sharing this with everybody who is listening. Which is amazing to me that it’s a very sort of small example but, it’s also a very concrete example of leaning into that discomfort. Something that I was very terrified of sharing even with one or two people has now kind of morphed into something that I'm thrilled to be sharing with an audience of people and really helping them to understand all of these concepts that I think are so critical and so important.
So, that's kind of the lesson for today, is understanding and embracing discomfort and leaning into it and being aware when you feel something that's uncomfortable and actively cultivating, and embracing of discomfort instead of a fear and running away from discomfort.