Finally, polymaths can be described as relentless. How else would you describe people with deep knowledge in multiple realms? Being relentless can be defined as overcoming obstacles and discomfort at all costs. And yet often, the only true cost is simply being uncomfortable. Polymaths have the utmost self-discipline because starting from ground zero, even if you are interested in a topic, is difficult, tiring, and can cause mass confusion. But that’s life. And being comfortable with this uncertainty is a skill that makes you relentless toward getting to point B.
Keep the words flowing by buying me a coffee.
Ultimately, in order to become true polymaths, we will have to push beyond what we like, enjoy, and feel comfortable with. That’s the nature of achieving larger goals. At the core, we still need to engage in something we find at least slightly annoying or uncomfortable.
In other words, there are no shortcuts, no easy life hacks, no quick tricks. Success in the bigger picture belongs to those who have mastered the ability to tolerate a degree of distress and uncertainty and who can thrive in situations of sacrifice in service of something bigger than their immediate pleasure in the moment.
The road to polymathy = being uncomfortable.
We all want to grow and achieve, but the state of growth is inherently an uncomfortable one. Evolving feels uncertain and risky at times, and it certainly requires us to give up immediate pleasures and old, easy habits. Growth and development is about expanding, risking, exploring. It cannot be done without leaving the security of the old behind. And sometimes, change requires pain, as the old dies and the new is still small and uncertain.
Self-discipline is not required for the easy parts of life. It takes no effort or special technique to enjoy what we already enjoy. But if we want to productively approach the rest of life, we need to develop the self-discipline to work with the things we don’t enjoy. Rather than thinking of pain, discomfort, and uncertainty as roadblocks in our way to pleasure and success, we understand that they’re simply a part of life, and if we manage them well, we can unlock even bigger pleasures.
There is a great paradox in learning to not just tolerate but embrace discomfort. Practicing being uncomfortable doesn’t sound like much fun, and it isn’t. But it is a skill that will reap far more rewards in the long term than merely chasing fleeting pleasures or shifting fancies in each moment.
Simply, we practice self-discipline and familiarity with discomfort because we respect that life contains an inevitable amount of unpleasant feelings. We know that in gaining a new perspective on the things we don’t really want to do, we actually create new opportunities for fulfillment, meaning, and pleasure. Life becomes easier, and we become stronger, almost larger than the everyday trials and troubles the world can throw our way.
With self-discipline, our expectations become healthier and more in line with reality. Our work becomes more focused and purposeful and we are able to achieve more. Self-discipline is not a thing we simply decide we want or think is a good idea in theory. It’s a practice that we pitch up for again and again, every day and every moment, willing to work it out in the arena of our lived experience. In other words, self-discipline is a habit in a world where the easiest thing is to take the path of least resistance or fall prey to the “succeed without trying” traps all around us.
It might seem logical at first to pursue pleasure—if it feels good, it must be good, right? But if there’s one thing we know with utmost certainty, it’s that things will change around us, we will have to endure suffering at one point or another, and we will be uncomfortable and forced to face things we wish we didn’t have to. If we have this knowledge, isn’t it better to be prepared rather than blindly pursue a dazzling goal with no thought to what you’ll do when that goal doesn’t go how you planned?
Learning how to tolerate distress, uncertainty, doubt, and risk while things are okay (i.e., before these things are forced on you) gives you the opportunity to practice and develop your discipline so you’re prepared for future discomfort. Yes, it means that walking barefoot makes you more “immune” to one day having to walk without shoes. But it also means you’re less attached to needing shoes, and you feel deep down that you are more than able to respond to and endure challenges. This is an attitude of empowerment. It’s looking at life’s challenges head-on and deciding to accept them and respond with dignity and grit.
Practicing tolerance is a “vaccine” in that you inoculate yourself against future discomfort in general. Adversity will still bother you, but you’ll move through it with the quiet confidence that it won’t kill you. How can it, when you’ve endured it all before and only came out stronger?
You can turn your focus to maximizing pleasure and refusing to engage with pain; or you can acknowledge that life intends to serve you heaping doses of both, and if you can prepare with maturity and wisdom, you can stay calm and ride those waves, trusting that you’ve developed your ability to thrive.
So prepare while the going is still easy. Don’t wait for life to force you to learn the lessons you must. Take the initiative by developing self-discipline right now. The shift is only a small one, but it has great influence on how you approach yourself and life. The idea is straightforward: get more uncomfortable than you’d usually be. Give yourself the gift of the opportunity to grow stronger.
Here is a brief passage from Meditations by the Roman emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius that illustrates what we lose by surrendering to discomfort and not taking steps toward what we want in life:
“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: ‘I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?’
‘But it’s nicer here…’
So you were born to feel ‘nice’? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
‘—But we have to sleep sometime…’
Agreed. But nature set a limit on that—as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota. You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat.”
Polymaths are people who, as Marcus Aurelius says, “love what they do”—and they’re willing to put up with discomfort when, in the long run, doing so allows them to achieve their goals and lead a fulfilling life.
Questions or comments regarding the podcast?
Hear it here – https://bit.ly/learnlikeapolymath
Show notes and/or episode transcripts are available at https://bit.ly/self-growth-home
Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human ps ychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition.
Visit https://bit.ly/peterhollins to pick up your FREE human nature cheat sheet: 7 surprising psychology studies that will change the way you think.
For narration information visit Russell Newton at https://bit.ly/VoW-home
For production information visit Newton Media Group LLC at https://bit.ly/newtonmg
#aurelius #MarcusAurelius #PracticeBeingUncomfortableForLongTermRewards #LearnLikeaPolymath #RussellNewton #NewtonMG #PeterHollins #TheScienceofSelf