Pain + Reflection = Progress

Regardless of who you are, what walk of life you come from, or what future lies before you, you have experienced some sort of pain in your life – not for the first time, and certainly not for the last. Though, the question is not about the quality of the pain, but the quality of what you do with it.

First, let’s examine what pain is.

Pain can manifest for different people in different ways depending on their individual circumstances, but ultimately pain is there to serve us. Whether it’s emotional pain or physical pain, it is there to bring our attention to the fact that our actions are damaging to us in one way or another.

If we suffer emotion pain – hurt, anger, upset, jealousy, envy – it is our subconscious selves sending a message to our conscious selves that our actions our out of alignment with our values, or that we’re not being honest with ourselves about the truth of a given situation. An example of the latter might be holding onto a personal emotional attachment to a past lover who no longer has any attraction to you and has all but emotionally moved on – those who hold on to those past intimate feelings in such situations will suffer massive amounts of emotional pain because they are not allowing the truth of the situation to settle in their mind, lying to themselves that what they once had can be regained, or becoming unhealthily obsessed with some invented notion of how things could be, if only… they are not being honest with themselves, and the dichotomy created between reality and their fantasy is the source of the subsequent disappointment and  emotional pain.

Physical pain is no different – hold your hand over a hot flame and you’ll get a strong signal pretty quickly that your actions are damaging to your health and wellbeing, and this signal is your cue to change your actions to produce a more positive result. It tells us when we are pushing our bodies, our physiology, beyond it’s limits to the point of causing potentially long lasting damage.

In both cases, pain is there to serve us – to protect us from ourselves. In this light, perhaps it would be more appropriate to take a more positive view on pain in order to acknowledge it’s true purpose in life – to serve and help us.

In shifting our perception of pain life this, it encourages different actions, and those different actions produce different results. So, if you’re not happy with your life and you want better results, rather than obsessing with a regiment of positive thinking alone, perhaps more benefit would be derived from turning to face the pain in our lives and examining it more deeply than ever before. The answers to our happiness lie within the folds of pain that we often push to the back of our minds and either ignore or bypass.

Ignoring your pain – emotional or physical – is extremely unhealthy. Imagine holding your hand over the flame and ignoring the signals sent to your brain telling you that your skin is burning? We can all see how stupid and destructive that would be, so why then do we not approach our emotional pain with the same level of respect and pragmatism? In the physical example of the hand over the fire, we understand the source of the pain, what the pain is telling us, and what resulting actions we need to take to alleviate the pain and live a more prosperous life. Emotional pain, however, is a little more tricky to evaluate, and the meaning and required adaptation to our actions isn’t always clear.

Clarity comes from a deep level of introspection through a ruthless examination of the pain in it’s entirety – we must look at it, see it for what it is, and reflect deeply on its meaning in order to derive the best course of action to take. This is where true success lies – in the ability and the willingness to engage in that deep level of introspection, looking the fear and the pain in the eyes and asking ‘who are you?’, and more importantly ‘who am I?’.

In the physical World, cause and effect and fairly obvious mechanisms that make logical sense and that are based solidly in a World where the laws of physics are consistent and repeatable. Fire always burns, and so our ability to quickly attain a mastery of healthy physical actions is relatively simple in comparison to the emotional world. The emotional World is much less certain, and although there is a certain level of science that governs the physiology that directly affects our emotional states, the best actions to achieve the results we desire aren’t always that obvious. Emotions are extremely personal, and everyone has their own individual quirks and idiosyncrasies. Not only are we faced with the task of figuring out and mastering our own, but in order to be truly successful, we must also learn to figure out and master our interactions with the emotions of others!

The key to success in this is the following formula:

“Pain + Reflection = Progress”

– Ray Dalio

We must approach all pain that we are blessed to experience in life with the view that each drop of pain carries with it a lesson that both has the power to eliminate the pain you currently face, and to allow you to avoid suffering in such a way again in the future. In this sense, pain should be viewed as a gift and a servant.

Having the discipline to reflect deeply on your pain when your encounter it will ensure you master a deep level of knowledge of self that in turn allows a deep level of mastery both over your physical self and your emotional self. A deep level of understanding and mastery of these two areas of your life will allow you to make quality decisions that produce quality results for you – taking each painful lesson in your stride, and in turn becoming a better version of yourself with each and every passing day.

Reflect deeply on your pain, see it as your friend and servant rather than fighting or ignoring it, and be honest in your reflections on what the pain is trying to teach you. Be open to the lessons that are being offered, and see everything that passes through your life as an opportunity to grow.


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