Added On: Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Improvement Usually Requires suffering

We all want to be better people. We want to be smarter, wiser, stronger and more beautiful. Look at any magazine rack in any supermarket, and you'll see that self-improvement is on a lot of people's minds. Given the choice, we all have things about ourselves we'd like to improve.

But there's a catch, and it's one we try all sorts of tricks to avoid. Put simply, it's that improvement usually requires some form of suffering.

You're not going to learn that foreign language without hours of boring study. You're not going to get that perfect body without painful sweat-sessions and diets. You're not going to become a great conversationalist without going through a few embarrassments on the way.

This is the deal, but a lot of people want to avoid it if they can. That's why when people hear about "weight-loss without giving up what you love to eat", "get rich effortlessly" or "become an expert in only 24 hours", they get so easily seduced. The idea that you can vastly improve yourself without any of the usual suffering and sacrifice is something we all want to believe in.

But it's usually a lie. Improvement requires suffering. Indeed, the very things we want to improve are so much on our minds because they are so difficult.

Take riches, for example. Even poor Westerners are pretty well off historically speaking. Sixty years ago, televisions, refrigerators, and even electric kettles were considered luxury goods. Nowadays, not being able to afford to own one puts you squarely in the poverty-stricken camp.

Sadly, it's how we're doing relative to our peers that determines how "rich" we are and not our absolute level of wealth. A Lexus owner feels destitute if he lives in a street full of Bentley drivers.

The same is true of beauty, knowledge and many other areas of improvement. It's how we're doing compared to our neighbours and friends that really bothers us. And you can bet that most of those people are working hard to maintain or improve their status.

If something is easy to achieve, it's probably not worth that much in this particular game. Having to suffer to gain something puts up a barrier to entry. It means only those willing or able to put in the effort required are going to get to the top of the pile.

Improvement and suffering are tangled together in a way that's almost impossible to pull apart. Their very nature requires them to be.

So if there's something you want to be better at, accept that you're probably going to have to do some difficult things to achieve that improvement. It's the nature of the game, and understanding what's required to play will take you a lot further.

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