Pain + Reflection = Progress
Whether it’s relationships or work, we often have goals we aim for but are unsuccessful in reaching. Sometimes it’s due to actions we can control and other times it’s out of our hands but no matter who we are, we all will suffer setbacks. The key, I’ve learned in my 35 years on this planet, is not to try to minimise how many setbacks we encounter (because they are inevitable) but rather, we should seek to adapt and accept them. Some setbacks will take time and others will be easier to heal from but the goal should be to become better at getting through these bouts of personal and work turmoil. It’s akin to managing investments where I’ve seen that the highest performing money managers are not necessarily those who can make the best bets but those who can protect their losses (downside) the best. By working to minimise downside risks just like money managers do, we can teach ourselves how to better adapt to the adversity that we will all face at some point in time.
It’s this type of thinking that I was able to realise when I’ve faced my own personal catastrophes. In my early 20’s my dealing with such things took time to understand and to heal/get over. As I grew older I found that my ability to see the silver lining in some of my setbacks actually helped me heal faster. I’m not discrediting the need to feel anguish and pain but I think there is something powerful in being able to emerge from such events with a renewed outlook on life and new lessons to have learned.
In his book ‘Principles’, the famous hedge fund manager Ray Dalio describes this as an evolutionary process of ‘productive adaptation and ascent’ in his ‘Pain + Reflection = Progress’ section. He sees that setbacks are inevitable and that pain is unavoidable, particularly if one is ambitious. To him, pain is a signal that requires one to pause to look for better solutions in order to progress. He describes the ability to adapt to setbacks as being based more on how we perceive our problems and reason with them than just forcing ourselves to quickly learn and adapt. Certainly, not all setbacks are the same and there are some that require more time to overcome as well as those that you may never fully recover from. That’s fine. What’s important is how you adapt your life to learn from these and positively move forward from these moments. The only way to never have such things happen is to do nothing and have no ambition and for many this is simply not an option. Progress really is pain and reflection.
Seeing life like this, I have found that I can be more analytical in how I view setbacks. Whether one ascribes to a world view that everything is inevitable or that life is full of consequential actions, the key for me is that we can choose how we react and deal with every moment. Being able to see even undesirable pain as something that can be turned into a positive lesson or opportunity to turn things around is something that has helped me and it appears, Ray Dalio, in his way of handling life’s toughest obstacles. Perhaps it could help you too.