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Pain + Reflection = Progress

Published or Updated On: 
November 7, 2022

Ray Dalio has this little formula in his book Principles:

Pain + Reflection = Progress

He's using pain generally to describe any kind of discomfort or negative valence feeling. So pain could mean loneliness from not seeing friends, intimidation from an aggressive work deadline, or the "oh shi--" pangs of regret after killing a whole gallon of ice cream in one sitting.

Dalio is saying that if you can develop the habit of noticing that you experienced this "pain" and then thinking about how & why it happened, piecing it apart, you can improve your life.

The formula is so broad that I think it risks being ignored as too obvious to be helpful. But in my experience playing with it, it really does work.

Pain or discomfort are normal daily occurrences. You've got the small stuff like a one-off where your spouse ate the leftovers you were looking forward to. Then you've got bigger stuff, like your mother-in-law making a 3rd backhanded comment about how you're raising your kid. And you've got big stuff, like your new product launch totally flopping on release day.

Most of us go through our days without directing a lot of attention to these discomforts. That's all well & fine, we don't need to do journal entries breaking down crimes committed against our leftovers.

But the bigger sources of pain aren't always obvious. In my experience, some discomforts creep up in size, or hide their bulk in the dimness outside the spotlight of attention. Not every big discomfort that has a cataclysmic event associated that triggers a reflection. If your product launch bombs, that's an easy trigger to reflect "wtf am I doing". But if your revenue performance shows a slow decline, or you've recently overcommitted with social events & projects, it may feel more like a deep ache that fades into view.

This is where Pain + Reflection shines. The magic of the formula is that it directs your attention around, probing the shadows to find those problem areas that are causing you significant discomfort, but haven't really broken through to conscious attention.

Once surfaced and articulated, they can be addressed. But only once surfaced & articulated.

Pain + Reflection is powerful not because it is sure to fix your problems, but because it is sure to help you identify your problems. And the first step to solving any problem is to identify it.

What's causing your pain?

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