This is an experiment. I refuse to be limited by the tantalizing decree to write something perfect or fully fleshed out every time I have an idea. To be honest, I’ve spent months procrastinating on this piece because I felt like it had to be perfect, when something short and to the point would have sufficed.
When attempting something new, discomfort is unavoidable. From building an exercise routine to quitting a bad habit, discomfort is necessary. A system needs stress to grow and discomfort is the catalyst needed to incite meaningful change.
I’ve noticed that discomfort follows a predictable path in which the overall magnitude is constant with respect to the activity, while the variable you have control over is the time that the discomfort is present for. When spread out, it’s easier to stomach at any given time but the discomfort gnaws at you for much longer. Whereas if you just throw yourself into the deep end, it’s extremely uncomfortable for a few agonizing moments but you get used to it much faster.
With this in mind, I’d like to propose The Discomfort Index.
A few empirical equations to model this phenomena:
- The overall magnitude of discomfort ($d_m$) equals the discomfort at any given time ($d_t$) multiplied by the amount of time ($t$): $d_m = d_t * t$
- Over the same interval, the total magnitude of discomfort $d_m$ can be modeled as a constant $1$
- From $1 ≤ t ≤ ∞$ the function of discomfort per second $d_s$ can be modeled as $1/t$.
After leaving Florida, I’ve tried to maintain the habit of daily cold showers. A necessity in the sweltering summers and moderately refreshing in Florida’s version of winter, cold showers are both dreadful and invigorating. I found that no matter how gently you eased into it, there would always be some level of discomfort. In the masochistic world of cold showers, there are two options:
- Steadily tilt the shower knob counter-clockwise and feel the agonizing cold creep up slowly limb-by-limb.
- Go cold turkey and prove to the world that you’re certifiably crazy. Feel the flood of alertness and pain for 30 sec until it subsides and feels normal.
Beyond The Bathtub
Discomfort is unavoidable. By its very nature, growth necessitates some level of discomfort. You can however, control how this discomfort is introduced into your life. A few examples:
- To improve your fitness, you need to allow your muscle fibers to tear and stretch your heart to its capacity while exercising. Going too hard can cause injury that will damage your long-term progress, so the ideal strategy would be to introduce discomfort in the form of progressively more difficult exercises on a consistent basis. Run a 10 min mile before you shoot for a 6 min mile.
- The discomfort associated with giving an important presentation is all mental. When deciding the time to give the presentation, do it as soon as possible (with enough prep time, of course). The further out the date, the longer the insipid anxiety of the presentation will eat away at you. Whereas if you do it sooner, you won’t have any choice but to simply prepare and present without rumination.
The Discomfort Index is just one of the mental models that I’ve been using to make decisions. Let me know if this was interesting and you’d like to hear more!