How to Level Up: Seek Discomfort

· mindset,skill

In high school, a friend and I got really into drawing. We spent roughly the same amount of time practicing. Over time, my drawings improved enough that people offered to pay me for my work. My friend’s drawings didn’t improve. I attributed this to her habit of drawing only what she was already good at drawing. She attributed my progress to some sort of gift that she lacked.

She didn’t buy it when I told her that the only reason I could draw more difficult things (for example, hands or feet) was because I deliberately practiced drawing the things I couldn’t draw. It wasn’t a fun way to practice; it felt hard. The things that already became muscle memory and don’t require effort are fun. Drawing hands and feet is painstaking, confusing, and humbling because of the focus needed and the frequency of failure. Only after months of practice did these sessions start to feel like drawing any other part of the human body.

Seeking out these hard aspects of drawing are uncomfortable and can make anyone feel talentless. This is a typical example of fixed vs. growth mindsets, where the latter seea  challenge as an opportunity to improve rather than proof of incompetence. My friend seemed to have growth-mindset for other aspects of life, but not drawing.

People who apply growth mindset to major aspects of their life might still apply a fixed mindset to other aspects - and it's hard to figure out whether this is going on in your own life. 

There are two reasons this seems to happen:

1. We don't dive into the most difficult, uncomfortable part of skill-building. We rarely experience the uncomfortable feeling of rewiring our brain, partly because our brains prefer to avoid this.  But these uncomfortable moments are where we see the largest marginal returns. Since we’ve done less work in this area, we’ll get huge gains.

2. We don't realize a difficult part of life can be approached as a skill that can be built.  There’s an internet trope of socially awkward Silicon Valley tech engineers (who likely applied growth mindset to their coding skills) who struggle with social awkwardness and so shy away from social settings. My brother experienced something similar until he decided to treat shyness and social awkwardness as a skill that could be improved, albeit uncomfortably and painfully.

So seek out and notice what’s uncomfortable, difficult, or seemingly impossible. Actively seek out the fixed mindset holding you back. When you try to improve and practice, notice your brain flinching and giving you an overwhelming feeling tha tmakes you want to stop. Make a conscious decision to devote more time to that. Seeking this out is one of the best ways you’ll reach the next level of that aspect of your life.


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