I think that, for a great number of people, self-improvement starts with one thing: shame.
Discomfort can be stretched to mean a whole lot of things, so I am not talking about the discomfort you get from doing something that’s just slightly out of your comfort zone. I’m not talking about something that’s useful but boring, like meditation. I’m not talking about reading more, which is useful, but not really discomforting. I’m talking real discomfort, I’m talking about producing the feeling of shame.
I think people should try to be ashamed much more often, and this should take precedence over many other things. Why? Because I believe in recursive self-improvement: you should first improve things that will allow you to improve more. Many people live in cages they have constructed in their heads, not being able to get out of them. These mental constructs truly work as cages: they quite literally limit the scope of what you can do.
Take, for instance, this comfort challenge, as proposed by Tim Ferriss in the 4-Hour Work Week: lie down on the floor in a public place, like a coffee shop, for thirty seconds, and then, without explaining anything, or saying that it was a comfort challenge, simply get up and resume what you were doing.
How hard would you think this is? What is your estimation? (seriously, from 1 to 10, how hard is this, think about it)
Now – I want you to get up right this moment, and go lie down in a public place, like right right now. Are you doing it? Have you done it? Hard, isn’t it?
Why it is hard, I do not know. Some evolutionary, tribal-y thingy, I guess. It seems quite not right to do something as weird as that. You’re probably lowering your status in the hierarchy of the tribe.
But let’s think about this logically. You’re not doing anything fundamentally wrong or unusual. You’re simply changing from one body position to another. It SHOULDN’T be hard. It should be like “Okay, no problem, I did it, what’s the big deal?” (For some people it is and that’s cool, everybody should be like these people)
So, if this is hard, and that’s just lying down on the floor, not doing anything truly extraordinary, what does that tell you about your brain? There is obviously something inside that is functioning like a cage – it constrains you, it limits what you can do, even basic stuff like lying down. If it’s doing that, imagine what else you might be limited in.
My basic point is this: if self-improvement is what you’re after, doing things that make you feel uncomfortable and ashamed is one of the very first things you should be doing. If you get rid of your constraints, you allow yourself to own the world.