In just one week, my latest book, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, will be available in the United States and Canada. (But it’s available for preorder now!) I’m especially excited about the potential of this book, because it’s on a subject that everyone can relate to. Everyone benefits from growth. Learning more about the subject can lead to great gains and expansion of a person’s potential.
Today’s post is an excerpt from Chapter 8, The Law of Pain. It demonstrates that even a bad situation can yield positive growth if we make the right choices while experiencing it. This is just one of the lessons that I’d like to share with you in this book, and also in a special FREE event on October 9. See the end of this post for details.
The Law of Pain: Good Management of Bad Experiences Leads to Great Growth
How do you usually respond to bad experiences? Do you explode in anger? Do you shrink into yourself emotionally? Do you detach yourself from the experience as much as possible? Do you ignore it?
John McDonnell once said, “Every problem introduces a person to himself.” What an insight! Each time we encounter a painful experience, we get to know ourselves a little better. Pain can stop us dead in our tracks. Or it can cause us to make decisions we would like to put off, deal with issues we would rather not face, and make changes that make us feel uncomfortable. Pain prompts us to face who we are and where we are. What we do with that experience defines who we become.
Novelist James Baldwin commented, “Not every thing that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Often it takes a bad experience for us to face the changes we need to make in our lives. I know that was true for me when it came to my health. As I’ve mentioned before, I experienced a heart attack at age fifty-one. Prior to that, I knew deep down I wasn’t eating right or exercising enough. But I’d never had any health problems, so I just plowed ahead as I always had. But the night I had the heart attack, the excruciating pain I felt in my chest and the belief in that moment that I wasn’t going to see my family again finally got my attention. It made me face the fact that I needed to change the way I was living. You could say I had finally reached a teachable moment. And that is the value of the Law of Pain. It gives us an opportunity to turn our lives around. A bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn.
Most people don’t think their way to positive change—they feel their way. In their book, The Heart of Change, Harvard Business professor John Kotter and Deloitte Consulting principal Dan Cohen explain, “Changing behavior is less a matter of giving people analysis to influence their thoughts than helping them to see a truth to influence their feelings. Both thinking and feelings are essential, and both are found in successful organizations, but the heart of change is in the emotions.”
When bad experiences create strong feelings in us, we either face the feelings and try to change or we try to escape. It’s the old fight-or-flight instinct. We need to train ourselves to fight for positive changes. How do we do that? By remembering that our choices will lead to either the pain of self-discipline or the pain of regret. I’d rather live with the pain of self-discipline and reap the positive rewards than live with the pain of regret, which is something that can create a deep and continual ache within us.
Athlete and author Diana Nyad says, “I am willing to put myself through anything; temporary pain or discomfort means nothing to me as long as I can see that the experience will take me to a new level. I am interested in the unknown, and the only path to the unknown is through breaking barriers, an often-painful process.” That’s a process Nyad has gone through many times as she trained to break records as a long-distance swimmer. In 1979, she swam non-stop from Bimini in the Bahamas to Florida. It took her two days. Her record has stood for more than thirty years.
The next time you find yourself in the midst of a bad experience, remind yourself that you are on the cusp of an opportunity to change and grow. Whether you do will depend on how you react to your experience, and the changes you make as a result. Allow your emotions to be the catalyst for change, think through how to change to make sure you are making good choices, and then take action.
From The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth (October 2012)