This is a little quip I ran into a few weeks ago on a podcast. It was a quick throw-away line, but upon further thought, it’s actually pretty profound. We run into pain and discomfort all the time, especially when we set out to accomplish something. It’s painful to hear the alarm going off at 5am, even more painful when you remember your alarm is going off so that you can wake up and hit the gym. It’s painful to call through that list of people who may or may not remember who you are, even more painful when you realize most of them don’t care. It’s painful to order non-milk-and-sugar-filled coffee drinks at your favorite coffee place because, you know, calories (do yourself a favor and don’t compare the calorie count of plain coffee and flavored lattes). It’s painful to learn a brand new skillset. It’s painful to bump up the dumbbell weight or add a mile to your run. It’s painful to block out time to write (my precise problem this morning).
I can’t speak for you, but my track record in dealing with these pain points is less than stellar. Often times I find myself wasting time avoiding pain, or settling for an easier path instead of attacking the pain. The issue is, when I avoid the pain of good things today I’m necessarily inviting the future pain of regret. There are a couple of things going on when I submit to my pain aversion: 1) I get stuck, it’s really hard to make progress without any pain. 2) I sacrifice integrity, whenever I don’t do what I say or even intend to do I’m out of integrity. 3) My identity changes, instead of a person who follows through I become a person who gives up. Tied up in all three of those is regret. If I can’t help myself when faced with tempting food, I’m going to hate looking in the mirror. If I never embrace the discomfort of making phone calls or block out time to write, I’ll face the severe regret of a fruitless career.
So which is worse? Embracing the pain of discipline or succumbing to the pain of regret? There is a right answer.
I’m not sure the art of discipline will ever get a lot easier, but it can’t hurt to recognize that the pain of discipline is about a million times better than the pain of regret.