Kicking Ass, Sustainably

Growth comes with pain. It can be a challenge to separate your feelings from the results. Having some objective measure of your progress can help to stabilize your work. Feeling great or feeling horrible are beside the point. You are trying to build something, working to make something happen.

Managing our resources matters more now than ever. As we rebuild our economy and enter back into an active social and work life, we are sure to experience some growing pains. The question is: how do we create a system for measuring our progress in this new world? Do we measure our results in Bitcoin?

Slow growth is the most reliable growth. As something you are working on becomes bigger it exerts more pressure on the system that supports it. That pressure can reveal any flaws in the design, which can then be addressed and improved. Too much pressure on a system that has weaknesses will cause the system to fail at those points. Growing slowly allows you to identify and address the weaknesses in the system.

Why does separating your feelings from the results matter so much in this process? Because there is going to be pain, your success depends upon a willingness to push through the discomfort that is a natural consequence of the work, but you also need to be able to withstand the criticism that is necessary to improve the process. You deal with the pain without it affecting your motivation. Easier said than done.

This is the real battle, the bigger challenge. It is wrestling with the negative feelings that are intrinsic to the process of growth and improvement. How do feelings impact growth? In immeasurable ways. Motivation itself is a mindset that has an emotional register. Being depressed is the same as having a lack of motivation, it is an emotional deficit. If we can intellectually understand the value of achieving our goal, then we can work through the pain much more easily. 

The trap is to try to use positive emotions to motivate the process. That is how we end up chasing dragons. If we are motivated by the emotional rewards of our work, then we get caught up in the same logic that can immobilize you when things don’t go well. If you don’t have that emotional carrot, what happens to the system?

The real goal is to see the work as a necessary part of the process that is paid for in pain. Exercise is important to physical fitness and working out makes you sore and tired. If you understand the value of it, you will do it. It really is as simple as that.

How do you make that shift so that you can decide to do the work and follow through on it instead of constantly reacting to pain or pleasure as motivations? When does this go too far? If we are too focused on achieving an objective, do we miss out on the process? Everything is a slider: too light or too dark and it’s up to you to find the happy middle.

The point is not to ignore emotions but to have trained yourself to be able to withstand temptation, to resist the will to quit. Like a dog with a treat balanced on its head, you are in this strange position of commanding yourself to wait. This is the secret of discipline. It doesn’t make feeling go away. If anything, it gives you occasion to experience emotions more deeply. Not only does the treat taste better after waiting, but the waiting itself is the sweetest taste. The feeling of being in control of your own actions is better than any baked good.

What do we do with those emotions? A big part of mental health is having a way of dealing with intense emotions. Everyone has some form of trauma they are dealing with and with algorithms hunting for our deepest emotional triggers we are sure to confront some things that provoke strong emotional reactions. Having a therapeutic practice helps to keep a healthy relationship with your own emotions.

Most of our physical sensations are a result of our lifestyle, particularly our diet and our exercise. We can choose to consume and to do things that make us feel good in the short term or the long run. Eating cake and watching movies in bed might be a spike of positive pleasure but it comes at a price. The same is true emotionally. We can choose things that will provide a sense of escape, or we can design a system that helps us to find constructive methods of coping that will improve our situation.

The era of trolling is coming to an end. We need engineers and builders to redesign our infrastructure. We are here to construct new bridges, not to sit underneath them. The task is much bigger and so cooperation with others is mandatory. This cooperation and collaboration will work better when we decide that the results of our work matter more than feelings. Neither shame nor pride will get us where we need to go. Instead, we need courage, hope and curiosity. When we lead with a desire to build and to do better, we turn down the volume on our emotions to a reasonable level. 

What kinds of practices help you to process your emotions? Do you keep a journal? Have you tried talking to a therapist? What kinds of activities are therapeutic to you? Spending time in the great outdoors, being by the water, getting exercise in a natural setting and laughing with friends helps me to reset my emotional clock, to process my feelings and to return to the work refreshed. 

Leave a Reply