What inspired this search
After going through my own personal transition from startup workaholic to content human being, I had several chats with close friends who saw me go through it.
While they were all happy with me finding personal liberation and happiness, some still challenged me on whether personal contentment was enough in life.
Should I not still pursue success? Or more importantly, if I was pursuing a life without suffering, how would I continue to grow? Growth seems fundamental to a happy life, but doesn't growth require discomfort and suffering?
This article is my process of discovering the answers to these questions.
The pit of discomfort
This is the world's most accurate depiction of life:
- In life we are often thrown into painful situations that we can't get out of. Rejection, breakup, failure, sickness, etc.
- We fall deep inside the pit of discomfort with no way out.
- By the very nature of the pit, we are uncomfortable and want to escape.
- We are forced to grow out of these situations.
- From this, there we form the challenging idea that:
Discomfort is required for growth.
What is growth?
If you think of the growth of a plant, the things that are required are nutrients in the soil getting absorbed into the plant through the roots, and then most importantly, being used by the plant to replicate cells.
- The world is full of information, structured and organized data.
- We take in information through our senses.
- Through observation, rationality, and feedback we develop knowledge from this information.
- This knowledge is stored for next time.
- Over time we get better results.
Growth is the process of creating new knowledge.
If you read my article on Integrated Information Theory, then you will be familiar with thinking about consciousness as self-influencing rulesets. So in IIT speak; Growth is the constructive evolution of your rulesets.
If you thought my definition of growth was missing the all-important application of knowledge, rest assured, I think it's important too.
When we apply knowledge we get one of three things:
- Validation – your beliefs get proved/disproved in the world, these feedback into your brain as more new knowledge.
- Efficiency improvements – you find ways/methods that cost less effort.
- Accuracy improvements – you find ways/methods that are more accurate.
So while often being a faster way to growth, the application of knowledge is important, but not essential.
Is repetition new knowledge?
The thing to keep in mind is that applying knowledge to the same situation over and over can still result in new knowledge being created, you just get diminishing returns.
- When you repeat the same thing, in the same way, you approach the limit of knowledge that able to be gained from it.
- Which means that for each repetition, you spend the same amount of effort but get less growth.
- Each repetition results in less growth; this is the nature of diminishing returns.
- Hence, the easiest way to continually grow in life is to do new, unknown, and challenging things.
- That's what makes mastering in a discipline so difficult, is that the closer you get to mastery, the more effort you have to spend to grow.
Is growth essential to life?
At a poetic level, you could say that since genetic evolution is the process of continual "improvement", life is growth. But you didn't come here for poetry:
- The brain has developed over thousands of years as a mechanism of taking in information, contextualizing it into knowledge, and then utilizing that knowledge in the future to make better decisions (growth).
- So in this sense, yes, growth is a core part of life.
- However, I think many people, including myself, like to sit on our superiority high-horse and say that growth is an essential part of life, that without it, you are not "living". I feel this is just egotism.
- “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.” – Edward Abbey
- This really comes down to your philosophy of life, but without going shoulder-deep on this, I think we can safely say.
Growth is useful in as much as it guides us towards better living.
TL;DR: A souvenir from your travels
Here are some dot-points summarizing the above dot-points (you lazy reader you):
- Generally, growth is important in life.
- The pit of discomfort motivates us to grow but isn't growth itself.
- Growth is the process of creating new knowledge.
- The easiest way to grow is to do new and challenging things.
In another post I'll explore the two things that I've found to be the biggest blockers to growth and useful ways to overcome them.