(Content warning: self-harm, parts of this post may be actively counterproductive for readers with certain mental illnesses or idiosyncrasies.)
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. ~ Kelly Clarkson.
No pain, no gain. ~ Exercise motto.
The more bitterness you swallow, the higher you'll go. ~ Chinese proverb.
I noticed recently that, at least in my social bubble, pain is the unit of effort. In other words, how hard you are trying is explicitly measured by how much suffering you put yourself through. In this post, I will share some anecdotes of how damaging and pervasive this belief is, and propose some counterbalancing ideas that might help rectify this problem.
1. As a child, I spent most of my evenings studying mathematics under some amount of supervision from my mother. While studying, if I expressed discomfort or fatigue, my mother would bring me a snack or drink and tell me to stretch or take a break. I think she took it as a sign that I was trying my best. If on the other hand I was smiling or joyful for extended periods of time, she took that as a sign that I had effort to spare and increased the hours I was supposed to study each day. To this day there's a gremlin on my shoulder that whispers, "If you're happy, you're not trying your best."
2. A close friend who played sports in school reports that training can be harrowing. He told me that players who fell behind the pack during for daily jogs would be singled out and publicly humiliated. One time the coach screamed at my friend for falling behind the asthmatic boy who was alternating between running and using his inhaler. Another time, my friend internalized "no pain, no gain" to the point of losing his toenails.
3. In high school and college, I was surrounded by overachievers constantly making (what seemed to me) incomprehensibly bad life choices. My classmates would sign up for eight classes per semester when the recommended number is five, jigsaw extracurricular activities into their calendar like a dynamic programming knapsack-solver, and then proceed to have loud public complaining contests about which libraries are most comfortable to study at past 2am and how many pages they have left to write for the essay due in three hours. Only later did I learn to ask: what incentives were they responding to?
4. A while ago I became a connoisseur of Chinese webnovels. Among those written for a male audience, there is a surprisingly diverse set of character traits represented among the main characters. Doubtless many are womanizing murderhobos with no redeeming qualities, but others are classical heroes with big hearts, or sarcastic antiheroes who actually grow up a little, or ambitious empire-builders with grand plans to pave the universe with Confucian order, or down-on-their-luck starving artists who just want to bring happiness to the world through song.
If there is a single common virtue shared by all these protagonists, it is their superhuman pain tolerance. Protagonists routinely and often voluntarily dunk themselves in vats of lava, have all their bones broken, shattered, and reforged, get trapped inside alternate dimensions of freezing cold for millennia (which conveniently only takes a day in the outside world), and overdose on level-up pills right up to the brink of death, all in the name of becoming stronger. Oftentimes the defining difference between the protagonist and the antagonist is that the antagonist did not have enough pain tolerance and allowed the (unbearable physical) suffering in his life to drive him mad.
5. I have a close friend who often asks for my perspective on personal problems. A pattern arose in a couple of our conversations:
alkjash: I feel like you're not actually trying. [Meaning: using all the tools at your disposal, getting creative, throwing money at the problem to make it go away.]
alkjash's friend: What do you mean I'm not trying? I think I'm trying my best, can't you tell how hard I'm trying? [Meaning: piling on time, energy, and willpower to the point of burnout.]
After several of these conversations went nowhere, I learned that asking this friend to try harder directly translated in his mind to accusing him of low pain tolerance and asking him to hurt himself more.
I often hear on the internet laments like "Why is nobody actually trying?" Once upon a time, I was honestly and genuinely confused by this question. It seemed to me that "actually trying" - aiming the full force of your being at the solution of a problem you care about - is self-evidently motivating and requires zero extra justification if you care about the problem.
I think I finally understand why so few people are "actually trying." The reason is this pervasive and damaging belief that pain is the unit of effort. With this belief, the injunction "actually try" means "put yourself in as much pain as you can handle." Similarly, "she's trying her best" translates to "she's really hurting right now." Even worse, people with this belief optimize for the appearance of suffering. Answering emails at midnight and appearing fatigued at meetings are somehow taken to be more credible signals of effort than actual results. And if you think that's pathological, wait until you meet someone for whom telling them about opportunities actively hurts them, because you've just created another knife they feel pressured to cut themselves with.
I see a mob of people walking up to houses and throwing themselves bodily at the closed front doors. I walk up to block one man and ask, "Stop it! Why don't you try the doorknob first? Have you rung the doorbell?" The man responds in tears, nursing his bloody right shoulder, "I'm trying as hard as I can!" With his one good arm, he shoves me aside and takes a running start to lunge at the door again. Finally, the timber shatters and the man breaks through. The surrounding mob cheers him on, "Look how hard he's trying!"
Once you understand that pain is how people define effort, the answer to the question "why is nobody actually trying?" becomes astoundingly obvious. I'd like to propose two beliefs to counterbalance this awful state of affairs.
1. If it hurts, you're probably doing it wrong.
If your wrists ache on the bench press, you're probably using bad form and/or too much weight. If your feet ache from running, you might need sneakers with better arch support. If you're consistently sore for days after exercising, you should learn to stretch properly and check your nutrition.
Such rules are well-established in the setting of physical exercise, but their analogs in intellectual work seem to be completely lost on people. If reading a math paper is actively unpleasant, you should find a better-written paper or learn some background material first (most likely both). If you study or work late into the night and it disrupts your Circadian rhythm, you're trading off long-term productivity and well-being for low-quality work. That's just bad form.
If it hurts, you're probably doing it wrong.
2. You're not trying your best if you're not happy.
Happiness is really, really instrumentally useful. Being happy gives you more energy, increases your physical health and lifespan, makes you more creative and risk-tolerant, and (even if all the previous effects are unreplicated pseudoscience) causes other people to like you more. Whether you are tackling the Riemann hypothesis, climate change, or your personal weight loss, one of the first steps should be to acquire as much happiness as you can get your hands on. And the good news is: at least anecdotally, it is possible to substantially raise your happiness set-point through jedi mind tricks.
Becoming happy is a fully general problem-solving strategy. And although one can in principle trade off happiness for short bursts of productivity, in practice this is never worth it.
Culturally, we've been led to believe that over-stressed and tired people are the ones trying their best. It is right and proper to be kind to such people, but let's not go so far as to support the delusion that they are inputting as much effort as their joyful, boisterous peers bouncing off the walls.
You're not trying your best if you're not happy.
[Edit: Antidotes #1 and #2 are not primarily to be interpreted as truth claims, see Anna Salamon's comment.]
From the same essay:
I believed this firmly for most of my life, and still think there's some value in it, but I've learnt that this is a pretty privileged take on things. Targeted at a LW audience, it's probably true and useful to a majority, but that's because most of us (I believe) are living better lives than at least 80% of humanity, and thus fall into the truthish region of these ideas.
Most of humanity lives in uncertainty, instability, and the myriad day-to-day pains that are ultimately rooted in those. Most people don't have the privilege of sorting through multiple sources or spending time gaining enough background knowledge, such that learning something becomes the joy it should be.
When your very survival, barely holding together a family and a home, takes up 15 hours of your day, it's going to hurt if you're trying to advance yourself with education or other self-improvement, it's going to take a necessary toll on your physical and mental health. The reason "pain is the unit of effort" is such a common idea is that it was true for the majority and still is (if to a slightly lesser extent than ba... (read more)
I think this is an important consideration, and the picture does look different if you are living with chronic (physical or psychic) pain, but I disagree with the overall claim.
This seems like an over-generalization, and does not mesh with my experience talking to family members who escaped poverty. If anything they found escape and respite in working on their education, and having hope and a direction to work towards increased their subjective well-being. The mindset may be determined by personality differences more than differences in circumstance.
I think what is true is that when you are carrying a huge amount of pain and urgency in your body day-to-day, you become numb to the amount of annoyance that is "studying for the fourth hour in a row" or "sharp pain in the wrists from bench pressing." Depending on the situation this can be either marginally effective or actively dangerous, but regardless pain is not... (read more)
I've been sitting with this post for a couple days and I'm starting to feel like it is only the tip of the iceberg. Here are three more pieces of the phenomenon to add some color:
1. My brain may be artificially injecting unpleasantness into effort. When engaged in activities that fall into the category of "work" I think my brain adds additional, unnecessary doses of drowsiness, anxiety, and feelings of low status and low agency. While doing the same activity, I can make these feelings disappear by remapping the activity in my head as "play." I hypothesize that this is an attempt to prove to myself that I am the kind of person who tries hard.
2. In attempts to reintegrate old memories of working hard in school, I feel a mental flinch every time I suggest the hypothesis that "In this instance, I put myself through a ton of pain for no reason." I predict that the primary immune reaction people will have to reading this post is the feeling of "This can't be true, or else all my suffering would have been pointless!" People like very much to ascribe meaning to suffering. This also maps onto behaviors like "Back in my day..." complaining and slapping people down for looking for easy weight... (read more)
Semi-related to point 2, I often think about a quote from the end of the 4th season of Six Feet Under. One of the members of the family goes through a pretty traumatic ordeal where his life was threatened by a criminal, and has been processing it through the season. His dead father talks to him and says the following, at the climax of the final episode of the season.
I meditate on it sometimes, when I wonder if I'm putting myself through too much pain because it's supposed to narratively be worth it or something.
Not a direct response to the post, but on the same broad topic:
It seems to me that many people (e.g., me and several people I've discussed this with) have not so much an intrinsic aversion to pain as a fear of how we'll act if in pain. (As the main effect. I do also simply like not being in pain, but the fear of how the pain will impact my actions is/was often the larger of these two.) So, for example, a person will avoid seeking out bad news about their project not so much because they mind the pain as such, but because they aren't sure whether they'll act funny or have trouble working or similar if they're suddenly sad. Or a person will try to manage their moods not so much to avoid the mood as such, as to avoid being grouchy toward those near them, or to avoid being a downer at the party.
In my experience, increases in my ability to try in deep/effective ways have several times come via decreases in how afraid I was of being sad/upset (and/or increases in my ability to act well despite being sad/upset). Acquiring less of a need to manage my own mood was important and useful for me. When trying to put up a pretense of "everything is okay and I'm fine," I couldn't think proper... (read more)
I very recently realized something was wrong with my mental stance when I realized I was responding to work agenda items with some variation of the phrase, "Sure, that shouldn't be too painful." Clearly the first thing that came to mind when contemplating a task wasn't how long it would take, what resources would be needed, or how to do it, but rather how much suffering I would have to go through to accomplish it. This actually motivated some deeper changes in my lifestyle. Seeing this post here was extremely useful and timely for me.
My problem is less internal confusion about pain equaling effort and more of a need to credibly perform painful effort to others. I fear that if I’m happy and relaxed and don’t perform well, it will seem as though I didn’t care about my collaborators or that I cavalierly stole my employer’s money. On the flip side, I seem to think that I can purchase the right to be lazy/not expose myself to criticism by making myself suffer— conspicuously, so those to whom I am responsible see it.
I don’t think my fears of not suffering when I’m “supposed to” are entirely baseless. When your boss thinks pain is the unit of effort, it’s at the very least your unit of evaluation. But I think most of that is in my head, and that I superstitiously believe the pain of effort and self-flagellation can protect me from the pain of judgment.
Note: in its original form, this comment also attempted to predict how this post would fare next year in the 2020 LW review. After receiving feedback from alkjash, I excised this. I still want to find a way to achieve my intentions with such predictions. But it is far more important to maintain a sense of warmth and camaraderie, and my original post failed to do that. For that, I apologize to alkjash.
In my experience, the idea that "no pain, no gain" is false is extraordinarily prominent. To the extent that we have to ask why highly educated Westerners are continuing to make themselves miserable despite almost all life advice givers consistently saying that they should focus on being happy and healthy first?
I have never been seriously told "no pain, no gain," or encouraged to view pain tolerance as a virtue. Showing pain was an occasion to question whether I was making fundamentally wrong life choices, to the extent that I would hide pain that was an ordinary consequence of challenges or imperfect decision-making in order to avoid the additional irritation of misplaced concern. Even in situations where nothing can be done about a source of discomfort, it is the expected default tha... (read more)
Your comment is interesting and helpful for me because I have only a small sample of people who don't follow the "pain is the unit of effort" heuristic to a pathological extent. Perhaps this is explained by my circle of friends being dominated by Asian-Americans who went to the top universities. I definitely didn't consider what possibly ill effects it might have on others for whom this is not true. So thanks for that information!
However, enough of my brain interpreted your comment as a status move/slapdown that I'd suggest you reconsider doing these reviews, at least in the tone you're currently doing them. I don't believe you intended it this way, but your comment comes off as claiming a position of authority and also encourages too much (imo) Goodharting on the LessWrong "top 15 posts" metric. Both of these feel icky to me. I predict you will at minimum annoy a lot of authors if you continue to write these.
I'm going to send you a PM, because I appreciate your feedback and hope to get some further thoughts from you. I'm going to heavily edit my earlier comment, because I appreciate that its tone - quite unintentionally, but also understandably - feels icky. As I said, this is an exploration/experiment, and your experience of it is evidence that I'm not going about it correctly.
No worries! Perhaps it's worth reminding everyone here that asymmetric justice incentivizes inaction. I hope I didn't do this just now, I very much appreciate the spirit of your experiment and encourage more people to try to state their beliefs and move fast and break things.
Thank you for being big about it! I plan to use your feedback to refine and improve my "peer preview" concept, not to shelve it. Your forthright but charitable response will be helpful in any success it may achieve.
"If it hurts, you're probably doing it wrong." This is just an assertion from an analogy with sports, where even the analogy is false - elite athletes put themselves through a ridiculous amount of pain.
In fact, I'd argue the exact opposite: the fact that intellectual work is currently much less painful than athletics suggests that there are still big gains to be made via painful interventions. Perhaps that pain comes from not seeing your friends as often, and spending weekends in the lab; or from alienating people by demanding higher standards from them. (Sure, not all pain is useful - but I'm arguing on the basis of a few examples that there are some good painful interventions, whereas you seem to be arguing from a couple of examples that there are almost none). People don't currently make those interventions because the rewards aren't high enough, but they would if the rewards of academic work were more heavy-tailed, like they are in sports. As evidence for this, note that the domain where rewards are most heavy-tailed (entrepreneurship) is notorious for being painful: "It’s like chewing glass and staring into the abyss."
Normatively, also, people in intellectual domains probably ... (read more)
I think the replies to this and the previous post have surprised me in how much even LessWrong readers are capable of rounding off a specific technical claim to the nearest idea they've heard before. Let me attempt just once to state what the thesis is again.
I am not saying that effort should never painful. I am also not saying that many useful interventions are painful. I am specifically saying that when you measure effort in units of pain this systematically leads to really bad places (and also that a lot of people are doing this). For example, you will discount forms of effort that are pleasant even if they are more effective.
Most amateur and intermediate athletes are doing something wrong if it hurts. "Most amateur and intermediate athletes" is a much larger piece of probability space than "elite athletes."... (read more)
I think this is probably a useful insight, and seems to have resonated with quite a few people.
I'm specifically disputing your further conclusion that people in general should believe: "if it hurts, you're probably doing it wrong" (and also "You're not trying your best if you're not happy."). In fact, these are quite different from the original claim, and also broader than it, which is why they seem like overstatements to me.
I'm reminded of Buck's argument that it's much easier to determine that other people are wrong, than to be right yourself. In this case, even though I buy the criticism of the existing heuristic, proposing new heuristics is a difficult endeavour. Yet you present them as if they follow directly from your original insight. I mean, what justifies claims like "in practice [trading off happiness for short bursts of productivity] is never worth it"? Like, never? Based on what?
I get that this is an occupational hazard of writings posts that are meant to be very motivational/call-to-arms type posts. But you can motivate people without making blanket ass... (read more)
You are correct that the further "conclusions" are definitely on weaker epistemic grounds than the original claim. They are more of "attempts to propose solutions" than "confident assertions based on models." I tried to be clear about this in the text, but I probably wasn't.
Actually, there's something else here, and it might fall into the territory of Dark Arts. On reflection, the two proposed statements "if it hurts, you're probably doing it wrong" and "You're not trying your best if you're not happy" are not primarily truth claims at all. They are primarily sequences of words that are supposed to trigger mental moves to pull you out of the damaging belief "pain is the unit of effort." To the extent that these claims are literally true, that is only instrumentally helpful for the effectiveness of the mental move. But for the purposes of this post it's o... (read more)
I appreciate you pointing this out. I'm not sure if you're already saying this or not, but IMO we on LW should work hard (on LW, at least) not to promote beliefs that are meant to be useful, as though they are meant to be true. Otherwise, we'll get into a muddle where moralism / desire not to harm others makes it difficult to acquire and share true observations about the world.
E.g., maybe I'll be afraid to say "my anonymous friend Bob seems to me to work exceedingly hard, and exceedingly effectively, while being very unhappy" lest I retraumatize people or make their antidotes ineffective.
A proposed fix to your "counterbalancing beliefs": call them "heuristics" or "questions-to-oneself," and phrase them as questions rather than truth-claims. E.g.:
I do personally get milage from questions like 1' and 2'. I think the thing you're after with the antidotes (whose spirit I appreciate) is to make sure that we don't preferentially look for ways to be more effective that cause pain (rather than ways to be more effective that relieve pain, or that are neutral on the pain dimension). So we can look for the search strategies directly.
(Also, thanks for the post! Some good discussion on a tricky and important topic, IMO.)
I take some responsibility for my original point being misinterpreted, because it was phrased in an unnecessarily confrontational way. Sorry about that.
I think this falls on a spectrum of epistemic rigour. The good end involves treating instrumentally useful observations with the same level of scrutiny as instrumentally anti-useful observations (or even more, to counteract bias). The bad end involves intentionally say things known to be false, because they are instrumentally useful. I interpret you as doing something in the middle, which I'd describe as: applying lower epistemic standards to instrumentally useful claims, and exaggerating them to make them more instrumentally useful.
To be clear, I don't think it's a particularly big deal, because I expect most people to have defensive filters that prevent them from taking these types of motivational sayings too seriously. However, this post has been very highly upvoted, which makes me a bit more... (read more)
If you want to achieve a goal, you usually need to do many things. Some of them are unpleasant. Avoiding unpleasant parts means you will get the work half-done, and then give up.
Even if you do the right thing, being too comfortable probably means you are not doing as much as you could have.
This would suggest that the right way involves a lot of pain: you do the unpleasant thing, and you do a lot of it. So people will interpret your lack of pain as a signal of failure (either to do the right thing, or to do enough).
Unfortunately, per Goodhart's Law, you cannot find the right way by simply trying to maximize pain. Some useless or harmful things are painful, too. Also, after a difficult exercise, muscles need some rest to recover.
Unfortunately again, from outside "understanding that you cannot find the right way simply by increasing pain" seems very similar to "avoiding the unpleasant parts, and rationalizing it". If your reward depends on other people's judgment, you better include some useless pain, too.
I used to be good at math. But I never studied hard. I mean, I was reading math books in my free time, I thought about math a lot, and I participated in many... (read more)
Curated. The anecdotes and antidotes shed light on what seems to me to be a pretty prevalent error mode, and I appreciate the clarity the post brought to discussing it and helping see past it.
I recently read David Goggins "Can't Hurt Me". On one level it does glorify superhuman pain tolerance. But a constructive perspective on such attitudes is: they illustrate courage. Do not tolerate pain, laugh at it! Do not tense under cold shower, relax into it. Do not bear problems, solve them.
I like this. A lot to chew on for me. Especially the "optimize for the appearance of suffering" part.
A corollary of this is that when things are too easy (low pain) they are "cheating", "don't count", or somehow "illegitimate". I may have been making things too hard on myself for just that reason.
There are different kinds of pains. Different pains provide different signals. Some of those are useful while others aren't.
If you do sports and stretch yourself, it comes with a specific kind of pain that's part of stretching. On the other hand there's pain that's a sign of doing things wrong.
One of the key Radical Honesty teachings is being able to distinguish when having a touch conversation is good pain and when it's just needless suffering. The same goes for other domains. Striving to feel no pain is a bad plan as is striving to feel as much pain as possible. It's about being open for the right kind of pain in the right context.
This is basically my mindset as well. In situations where I would ask "Why is nobody actually trying?" it would mean something like "I wish everyone else would care about this outcome as much as I do." If people aren't optimizing for results, they could be optimizing for appearance of effort (which would in some circumstances look like optimizing for pain), or they could be optimizing for something else entirely, such as enjoying themselves, personal growth, or impressing a particular person or group.
The specific "happiness means you're not trying hard enough" mentally is not one I remember encountering, though I also haven't had that concept available as a hypothesis, and my prior was against it since it seemed so obviously confused, so maybe I just didn't recognize it when I saw it.
As someone with a various cocktail of (admittedly well-managed) mental illnesses, I actually find this post very helpful! I've often observed a lack of correlation between the pain someone is enduring and their overall productiveness/life enjoyment/etc. I think this is a really useful way to address that the reason this doesn't correlate is because there really isn't a correlation.
I wonder if you have any thoughts on better units of effort to use instead (either convoluted ones to ponder or Quick Tricks that could be quickly implemented into one's mental framework) ?
For activities that feel effortful, I mostly measure effort by time put in, usually in units of 25-minute Pomodoros. I think correcting "I will work on this until I feel unhappy/tired" as the standard for satisfaction to "I will work on this for 2 Pomodoros" is a big step.
This is one of those posts, like "when money is abundant, knowledge is the real wealth," that combines a memorable and informative and very useful and important slogan with a bunch of argumentation and examples to back up that slogan. I think this type of post is great for the LW review.
I haven't found this advice super applicable to my own life (because I already generally didn't do things that were painful...) but it has found application in my thinking and conversation with friends. I think it gets at an important phenomenon/problem for many people and provides a useful antidote.
This is not quite right - pain isn't the unit of effort, but for many things it's correlated with whatever that unit is. If you avoid unpleasantness, you'll likely be putting in less actual effort than is rewarded for many of your goals.
Unfortunately, all of the relevant inputs are hard to measure, so it's VERY hard to know when it's too much or too little.
I think this correlation only appears if you're choosing strategies well. If you're tasked with earning a lot of money to give to charity, and you generate a list of 100 possible strategies, then you should toss out all the strategies that don't lie on the pareto boundary of pain and success. (In other words, if strategy A is both less effective and more painful then strategy B, then you should never choose strategy A.) Pain will correlate with success in the remaining pool of strategies, but it doesn't correlate in the set of all strategies. And OP is saying that people often choose strategies that are off the pareto boundary because they specifically select pain-inducing strategies under the misconception that those strategies will all be successful as well.
I think this post does a good job of focusing on a stumbling block that many people encounter when trying to do something difficult. Since the stumbling block is about explicitly causing yourself pain, to the extent that this is a common problem and that the post can help avoid it, that's a very high return prospect.
I appreciate the list of quotes and anecdotes early in the post; it's hard for me to imagine what sort of empirical references someone could make to verify whether or not this is a problem. Well known quotes and a long list of anecdotes is a su... (read more)
Just to underline the fundamental question: if pain isn't a good metric (and I agree that it isn't) what is a good metric?
I'm recommending Bruce Frantzis' tai chi, qi gong, bagua etc. classes at Energyarts.com.
One of the fundamental principles is to put out reliable 70% effort-- this is enough to create progress without much chance of injury or burnout. Considerably less effort if you're sick or injured.
This is harder than it sounds, if you're from a culture which assumes that more effort = better results and is a sign of more virtue.
Your effort leve... (read more)
For me, the main point of the post is that the role of pain is often misunderstood. Compared to the article my perception was actually kind of the opposite: That the people I knew avoided pain more than needed. They saw it as an indication of a lack of success. But the result is the same: The role of pain is often seen either as highly correlated (positively or negatively) with effort or success.
But the pain-space is large and non-uniform. People don't always mean the same thing with pain. It can be physical harm, exhaustion, stress, mental fatigue o... (read more)
Related: George on Seinfeld acting angry at work to make it look like he's busy.
"If sex is pain in the butt, you are doing it wrong!" was a semi-humorous reminder from one of my former coworkers in situations like you describe.
This is a wonderful point made well. I know who have fallen into the trap of taking the path of most resistance for reasons like those you lay out.
My own (less clear) version of a similar concept was a strong dislike of the saying "work ethic". What is ethical about working?
(1) I have noticed some cultural correlations in this area. In my limited experience Danes approach this issue in a more healthy way that the English. A colleague who used to work in Japan complained bitterly about his Japanese colleagues making themselves (and him) misera... (read more)
I agree pretty much with everything you said, and most of this stuff applied to me at some point in my life.
In high school and for years afterwards I was really big on powerlifting. I had a friend who I trained with, and this guy was very very hard on himself. He always seemed to push himself 100% and beyond. I was by nature more lenient to myself, but the idea of trying and going really hard got stuck to me. I did get pretty strong, sure. But also at some point I started dreading the gym. But I was afraid to quit, because I didn't want to lose my gains. I... (read more)
Thank you! I needed to read this.
Also, A lot of stuff written about here are worse in communities where prosperity is recent or yet to come.
Do you have the original Chinese?
I personaly only put 20% effort into 80% of everything. Getting in the Pain region of "how hard you try" should only be done when you know the effort is worth it.
It seems that getting into pain is not the problem. Rather contrary, i think knowing that the pain was worth it and one has achieved something incredible is fundametaly positive. At least for me.
The problem seem, that people are constantly in pain for things they shouldnt be. Family, kids, jobs, hobbies, looking attractive, studying for best grades,... they want to reach 100% in all areas. W... (read more)
I find your first anecdote quite interesting. It speaks of a much larger fallacy: the convention of using rewards to make ourselves feel better in an emotional trough. I watched Eric Edmeades once speak on this topic. If our go-to behavior when we feel bad is to do the things we enjoy, in an understandably naive attempt to feel better, are we not reinforcing the same behavior that got us there in the first place? Although far from a full-fledged behavioral theory, I think this idea is worth contemplating.
On a different note, something my yoga teacher once ... (read more)
I think there's another aspect that you haven't mentioned.
I've found that when I've overburdened myself with work, I tend to cope through copious amounts of caffeine. Over time, this habit limits my overall productivity, and forces me to undergo painful withdrawal symptoms to return to normal. When someone turns to alcoholism to escape the stress in their life, they limit the amount of productive time they can spend solving the problems that lead to their stress. The same goes for many ultimately destructive habits: binge eating, gambling, smoking, memes (... (read more)
relevant meme https://www.reddit.com/r/wholesomememes/comments/k3u4z9/never_give_up/
At one point, IIRC, I thought pain, or at least exhaustion, was meritorious. My mother and grandmother sure did. They'd have contests!
Later, I saw thru that. Play is more productive than work for the same task. Go for the joy. That sort of thing.
But think about it from the perspective of someone with chronic illness, or severely overworked, or in a great deal of emotional pain (death of a spouse or child, or other reasons). You'll have heard the analogy of spoons (https://www.healthline.com/health/spoon-theory-chronic-illness-explained-like-never-before). ... (read more)
I have heard the idea that some people especially regard having children as a feat, that you are a good (not frivolous) parent only if you don’t get enough sleep all the time, spend all the time cooking for the child, you can’t go to the movies, go on vacation and so on.
I enjoyed reading this. I also have a few thoughts about what it means to master something and what that journey looks like.
Is it possible to truly become a master of a field if you're not putting in a superhuman effort? I agree that pushing yourself to the point of burnout is not the answer; but on the other hand, as a teacher, I once was with a parent who allowed their child to take a break after writing just a few letters when the assignment was to write all twenty-seven. As long as the assignment gets done eventually, that's fine; however, ... (read more)
Shuzan held out his short staff and said: "If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact. Now what do you wish to call this?"
I think the dichotomy you are proposing is one of many paradoxes where it just depends. Yes, if you break your wrists trying to bench press too much, you’re doing it wrong. If you try to bench press just under too much, you will achieve maximal strength gains overt time. You will also be very sore and experience some joint pain.
Absolutely agree we live in a culture of... (read more)
I suppose this is not the point of the post, but I find this to be good advice in competitive settings with this belief.
Not actually getting close to burn out, but just appearing like you are about to, while pretending to be trying not to show it...
Psychology has good evidence that there is an "optimal level of effort" you need to reach to improve optimally at something. If you find something to be ea... (read more)
This is nice. But of course sometimes it hurts to try to do something you should in fact do.
I agree that pain shouldn't measure how hard you are trying.
However, I feel like grit, while not always particularly enjoyable, is what leads to true greatness. Persevering with a challenge, that is.
Of course, there's a difference between that and meaningless suffering. I was always at odds with people working very hard on something that can be easily automated / sped up.
Hello - I am new to less wrong and I thoroughly enjoyed this short essay. Comments:
I agree with you that many people, unfortunately, equate pain with work. The viewpoint is actually absurd given that work is an objective measure of output and pain is an internal state.
According to Buddhism, pain is the inevitable result of expectations and desires, because anyone who has these is bound to be disappointed at least once or (more likely) many times. In the case of work or student life, pain is caused by the expectation of happiness be... (read more)
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
Is from Nietzsche (well before Clarkson or Kanye)
Rule of Power 30 from Robert Greene " Make your Accomplishments seem effortless". The people who truly do succeed in building a successful life pursue a path were any unproductive pain is avoided if not all pain.
Pain, like money, is a measurable metric compared to skill level which is a much more abstract set of metrics to be measured on. We generally use tests and competitions to measure skill level, but during the personal growth period where those options aren't accessible, people tend to equate suffering as a result of learning to measure progress. Like you said, it's not very reliable since there is really no correlation between pain and skill level. Also your speed of learning can change how much time/enjoyment/suffering you go through as you learn, but ulti... (read more)
Pain is the unit of change. Effort, including of others, can be applied to minimize the necessary pain.
Unwanted or forced change is an injury, a wound, or trauma
Wanted, natural, and needed change (including healing) might hurt as much but your actions, medicine, and technology can minimize pain.