The Positive Effect of Discomfort

I’m not completely satisfied.  I could be referring to my weight, my job, my writing, politics, or even my blog.  I’m not completely satisfied with any of those things.  Not too long ago, I talked about how I’m having a difficult time enjoying other people’s writing.  Nothing is perfect, except maybe my pickiness.

This kind of constant discontent has its drawbacks.  When I reach the end of a project, I don’t feel as though I’ve truly finished it.  There is always something I could have done a little bit better.  During band practice, I get hung up on the wrong notes, ignoring all the notes I played well.  Being unsatisfied all the time with my work, my writing, and my music means I’m never really comfortable.

But this kind of discomfort can lead to good things.  I’m constantly looking to try to improve.  I work harder, trying to make my code more efficient.  I tweak things, experimenting with ways to improve myself and my craft.  Some experiments pay off.  Some don’t.

The trick is to draw energy from the discontent, to motivate positive change, while holding back the negative feelings.  This is easier to do in some areas of my life than others.  For example, it is easy for me to forgive myself when I don’t write a program perfectly.  I’m still improving as a programmer.  All I have to do is look at code I wrote a year ago, marvel at my own stupidity, then pat myself on the back for doing better now.

It is important to keep trying to improve.  I haven’t lost weight as quickly as I have in the past, but I’m still sticking with my diet, and I’m not beating myself up on the evenings when I eat some candy or drink a beer.  I still haven’t finished the second draft of the book I’ve been working on, but I’m still showing up at least one night a week, and I’m putting in the work.  I may only get one paragraph written or edited in a week, but it’s progress, and I’m not giving up.

The biggest danger I run into is when I really buckle down to try and do something better, but I’m unable to see the improvement.  This happened last night during band practice.  I’d been playing fine, and there was this one challenging section that I thought I was nailing.  But I wasn’t.  And I couldn’t see what I was doing wrong.  I just had people around me informing me that I wasn’t getting it right.  It didn’t matter how gently or sternly they put it.  All I could feel was the wrongness, and powerless to do anything about it.

These times will happen.  And handling these disappointments is one of the things I’m working on improving.

I guess what I’m saying is that being a little bit uncomfortable can lead to making things better.  While there are times when you may have to settle for what you have, settling is not how things improve.  It’s when we rebel against the status quo that we try to make our environment or our lives better.