The best stories don't come from "good vs. bad" but "good vs. good." -- Leo Tolstoy
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No Pain, No Pain (Reaching A Goal Doesn't Have to Hurt)

When I opened my eyes, my bedroom window stared back at me, one black rectangle above the other, confirming for me that it was still night, the time when civilized people sleep.

When I imagined throwing off the warm covers in exchange for the cold air of the room, the last thing I wanted to do was get up and write.

But then I imagined myself stepping into the kitchen, its windows also still blackened by night. Filling the electric kettle at the sink. Flipping the switch with a downward swat. The kettle responding with a clack and an orange wink. Sipping a steaming brew of Holy Basil green tea in a clear glass cup.

And I rolled out of bed.

The Half Truths of Cliches

How often have you heard someone say "No pain, no gain?" Many times, I'm sure. It's generally meant as an encouragement, but like so many good intentions, may actually be harmful.

"No pain, no gain" is a popular cliche and cliches get past all of our filters. These little phrases are routinely accepted as truth because we've heard them so many times before. Cliches are insidious this way, like cockroaches and spiders sneaking beneath the walls of your home.

In spite of their ability to become widely accepted, cliches are seldom actually true — well, entirely true, anyway. Cliches are usually half truths. They apply in one circumstance and not in others.

This fact about cliches captured my attention several years ago and I compiled a list of them including some contradictory cliches just to show how two cliches, both commonly accepted as true, could have opposite meanings. For example,

  • The early bird gets the worm. Good things come to those who wait.
  • Look before you leap. He who hesitates is lost.
  • Two heads are better than one. If you want something done right, do it yourself.

This little phrase, "No pain, no gain," is, at best, half true like most cliches.

White Knuckling Doesn't Work for the Long Haul

I've learned that if the main thing on your mind when pursuing a goal is "No pain, no gain," then you are going to fail.

No willpower in the world is strong enough to keep you pushing through the pain for very long.

Furthermore, it's simply not true that all gain must come with a price tag of pain.

Unfortunately, many of us believe this to be true at a deep level, but you will be far more successful when your task is at least partially pleasurable.

I've noticed that in the areas where I'm most successful, even the rough patches are still rewarding.

When creating software, for example, I can usually find my way around a difficult obstacle. When confronted by an unexpected challenge, I take it upon myself to beat my opponent. I can be relentless and I usually win.

Even a bad day of programming — a day when I yell and swear at my computer — is a good day because I'm focused, on the hunt, and expecting victory. There is still pleasure in the pain.

I can't say the same about other areas such as selling and marketing where I don't feel so competent. I can easily get derailed by challenges in these areas. I've improved, but I feel far from competent as a salesman and I'm quick to get discouraged when my first approach yields poor results. I've yet to find the pleasure in that pain.

Consistency, Not Intensity

The main point I'm trying to make in this post, is that you should not accept the cliche, "No pain, no gain" as fact. It's a lie.

If you can't find something to enjoy about your work, you simply won't be able to summon the energy to keep doing it.

Consistent effort is what wins the day, not intense effort, and there's plenty of room in consistency to avoid pain and enjoy rewards.

Instead of trying to find ways to have more discipline in your writing life or more will power, find ways to enjoy the process and make it meaningful for you.

For me, a warm cup of tea provides a welcome invitation to an early morning of writing.

If it's not tea for you, then what is it? How can you make your writing time something you look forward to rather than something you dread?