Choosing the Pain of Growth

Say you strike up a conversation with someone you have never met before at a coffee shop.  You ask, “What’s a typical day like for you?”

They respond by saying, “I go to work.  I go to the gym.  I spend time with my family.  And I also make it a point to spend an hour a day doing something I really don’t want to do.”

This strikes you as slightly odd, so you inquire as to why and they say, “Haven’t you heard, ‘no pain, no gain’?  Haven’t you heard that discomfort is the only way to get beyond your comfort zone?  Haven’t you heard that all people who succeed constantly struggle to do it?”

How would this explanation seem to you?

The guy in the above example is coming from the idea that discomfort and pain leads to growth.

And it can.  Just think of the personal growth of a runner finishing her first marathon, a runner who two years ago doubted that she could even run two miles.

However, discomfort and pain can also lead to personal contraction.

For example, if I told myself, “Now, Jason, you have to write out each of your blogs longhand.  In addition, every time you see a new correction you want to make, you have to write the whole thing out again.  What you need to do, Jason, is write your blogs out longhand again and again until they are perfect.  Only then can you type them up.  This way you will learn to be perfect, Jason.”  (I’m finding it somewhat odd that I’m choosing at this point to talk about myself in third person.)

Now I’m much faster at typing than I am at writing longhand.  Writing blogs again and again longhand until they were perfect would probably take me sixteen hours a day and be very uncomfortable and even painful.

Would I experience personal growth of some sort?   There’s a chance.  But far more likely, I would experience personal contraction as I gave up yoga, social contact, cleaning my apartment, and basically the rest of my life in order to write-out blogs longhand.  Ridiculous, right?

To grow we need to become skilled at choosing discomfort and occasional pain that promotes our personal growth rather than discomfort and pain that promotes our personal contraction. 

When we were kids it was easy to tell if we were growing.  We grew taller.  This could be quickly measured with a yardstick.

For adults, personal growth is often harder to measure.  As we saw in the above examples, discomfort and pain can be associated with either personal growth OR personal contraction.

Maybe, the feelings surrounding the discomfort and pain could be an important indicator of whether or not we are in fact experiencing personal growth.

Although the marathon runner feels discomfort and pain during the marathon, she also feels the joy and wonder of accomplishing something she has never done before and then experiences the utter thrill of finishing.

Whereas, the feelings surrounding the discomfort and pain of writing my blogs out again and again until they were perfect would lead me to experience frustration that the process was taking all my time, loneliness from missing social interactions, and more frustration that my home was so dirty because I was devoting all my time to writing blogs out longhand.

Basically the pain and discomfort that the marathon runner experienced would help her to feel powerful and good about herself, whereas my hypothetical-harebrained-writing-blogs-out-longhand idea would lead me to feel powerless and miserable about myself.

As I write this, I’m becoming more and more amazed at how vast the difference between pains of personal growth and the pains of personal contraction can be.

So when you choose to experience pain and discomfort be sure that it’s actually taking you in the direction of your growth.

Game of the Day

How will you determine when you are experiencing pains of personal growth versus pains of personal contraction?

Jason Freeman is a professional writer, and a one-of-a-kind public speaker.  He is the founder and CEO of Heroic Yes! Productions. Jason has an MFA in Poetry from the University of Nebraska.  He knows the pain of perceiving one’s life through a lens of limitation and also the thrill of moving beyond that mindset.  For more information on Jason’s powerful message, or to book him to present to your organization, go to