Three lines of thought have been intermingling in my mind this past week, like colored threads of yarn, interweaving to make a pattern I can’t quite make sense of. I think the theme is about the need to be with discomfort in order for change to occur, and the value of feedback. One thread, perhaps this one is fire engine red, is related to exercise. During a strength training workout yesterday, as I heaved the dumbbells up, I thought about the discomfort created during a workout, and the fact that without being able to tolerate discomfort, you can’t build your physical strength or stamina. It also occurred to me how much easier it was to tolerate the discomfort when I had the feedback and emotional support of my personal trainer. Working out with her not only made me stronger physically, it grew my capacity to tolerate discomfort. My workouts alone are more effective compared to before I trained with her – but not nearly as effective as when she is with me.
A second thread (I imagine this one to be deep purple) is related to learning – either a new skill or a new area of knowledge. When you first embark on a learning expedition, you often feel awkward, unskillful, and uncomfortable, especially if you have not tried to learn anything new recently. I started to learn piano last year, and it was so hard – there were moments of joy, coupled with long periods of discomfort. My playing never sounded like I wanted it to, hoped for. And I did not really set myself up for success – I did not find a teacher, someone who could give me feedback and support when the going got particularly hard. I also took on at least 2 other new practices at the same time as piano, and found that I did not have the capacity to be with the discomfort of all three at the same time. As my dad would have said, my eyes were bigger than my stomach. So I dropped the piano, but hope to pick it up again in the future, with support and maybe as the primary skill I am working on. I have continued the two other practices, and one of them in particular has helped me develop my capacity to be with discomfort – the practice of mindfulness meditation.
A third thread (I imagine this one as an expansive blue) is the vast arena of systems analysis, with all of the interconnected relationships and feedback loops connecting different parts of the system. Most systems in stable state, unless a force acts on them to create change. If I am trying to create change in a system, I will generate resistance, which creates heat – just as exercise creates heat by pushing through resistance. But the heat from a system has to be managed, or at the very least awareness needs to be brought to it. It often happens that intervening in a system creates unintended consequences – not necessarily bad, but not planned. That is the nature of complex, dynamic systems. They adapt to new inputs, sometimes in unpredictable ways. If you are trying to create change while managing unintended consequences, it really helps to have feedback loops in place, so you can adjust as you go.
Reflecting on the pattern of these three lines of thought, my conclusion is that in order to create more space for change, you need to grow your capacity to be with discomfort. And that feedback and support are both highly valuable for this endeavor. A good coach goes a long way.