From the Deepest Pain comes the Greatest Growth — if you let it
In his book “Principles”, Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates, the world’s leading hedge fund, writes Pain + Reflection = Progress. I can wager that you remember most, if not all the painful moments in your life compared to the joyful ones. Why? I’m no scientist, so I can’t explain the rationale behind God’s design in each of us, but I can say from personal experience it’s because these experiences have led us to grow, in one way or another, and deal with life’s exigencies more effectively. These experiences are imprinted in our memories not because we dealt with them, but because we learned something new that will help us survive, and possibly thrive.
If we already know this, what is Ray trying to say, and importantly, why is he saying it? While we all know pain is a part of life, Ray believes that you should actively make pain a part of life — in other words, “you should go to the pain” and seek it. Is this guy thinking straight? More pain? What? Why?! Because if you aren’t in pain, or you aren’t failing much, you aren’t pushing your limits, he says. And if you aren’t pushing your limits, you aren’t evolving much. In other words, to succeed quickly, you have to push your limits, and in doing so, you will undergo pain. So really, Ray sees pain as something good, a signal that you are confronting the unfamiliar and have the potential to better yourself. Rather than seeing pain as the offshoot of something terrible, he sees it as the fountainhead of something that could be incredible — if you let it.
Question is, is it in your interest to listen to him? After all, you will be inviting more pain. I’d say yes. Because at the other end of the equation lays the term progress, which all animals are hardwired to move towards or perish.
As the old adage goes, “no pain, no gain”. If we didn’t have to work to get to the next level in life, there would be little to live for. The notion of rewards would be rendered absolutely meaningless because nothing would matter.
So how do you jump from pain to progress? By reflection. And here’s where most people struggle. They move away from pain, and do not confront it head on. What eventually ends up happening is that they have the same experience over and over again throughout their lives until they learn from it and use their learnings to buttress themselves. I’m sure you can all relate. Whether it’s getting into a series of toxic relationships, not learning coping strategies in the face of mental illness, or turning away from obtaining critical skills needed at the workplace, we’ve all been there, in some form or another. And in time, when we learned, we were grateful for having done so, only wishing we’d learned earlier to save us time, money, tears or effort.
I’m not saying all pains, like the death of a loved one or cancer, are welcome. But some pains are constructive, even if they cost you in the short run. Take for instance, failing at work. Each time you fail, I guarantee you learn something new. I wish schools hadn’t upheld the importance of being right all the time as much as they did because it has made us averse to taking chances or receiving negative feedback. With the number of variables at play in the real world, it is truly naive of us to believe we will get it right in the first go. Sure, we can increase our probability of being right, but we can never assure it. So when you fail or receive negative feedback, pay attention. There’s a nugget of information that will lead you closer to the light. In the words of Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I have just found ten thousand ways that do not work.”
Then there are those pains that are destructive, and you aren’t sure what to do about them. For these, my belief is it’s still in our interest to perceive them as an opportunity for growth, else we will perish. Take mental illness, for instance. If you’ve openly spoken to or witnessed anyone who suffers from such a disease, you will know how truly painful and soul-sucking it is. I, for one, wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But given that this person is already in a great deal of pain, which isn’t going anywhere soon, all I’m saying is it maybe better to perceive it as an opportunity for growth. For truly, you can learn deep, life altering lessons from your mental illness that will help you adopt more healthy thought patterns and even lead a more productive life compared to those who don’t have similar experiences.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying mental illness is good and that you should welcome it; unfortunately, it’s taken the lives of many. All I’m saying is that given several people already have it, and it’s not a choice, rather an illness, it’s in their best interest to perceive it as an opportunity for growth rather than demise so that they can push through to the other side where they’ve fought through it and emerged stronger. Otherwise, it may take them much longer to overcome their challenges and they may suffer more pain in the process. This doesn’t make their experience smaller, rather it makes it bigger because they struggled, they learned, and they survived.
This all may sound controversial, but when life deals us a bad hand, we’d all do better to learn from it — otherwise, we would stagnate. So thinking of this pain as an opportunity for growth will jolt us into problem solving and learning, which will help us find a way to mitigate it. But thinking of this pain as a curse of demise will surely lead us straight into it, having paralyzed our thoughts and actions.
In summary, pain can lead to progress whether it’s constructive or destructive. Life is a game of perception, and the same goes for pain. You think of pain in a lucrative way, and you will maximize your returns from it.