Synchronized smartphone checking: this is what I witnessed this morning as 3 people approached a crosswalk only to have the intersection light turn yellow and force a momentary stop. Immediately, and without hesitation, hands reached in pockets and phones were brought up at attention and for the intention to hold their attention for the 20 seconds it took for the traffic to clear.
This is not an indictment on smartphones, which, when used with a purpose, are a game changing technology. Rather, it is but one example of using technology as a way to avoid even the smallest of lifes discomforts. And since our phones are so readily available and so full of a wide variety of distractions (email, social media, games, sports, etc), it can be easy to habitualize avoidance of any form of discomfort. You'll see people checking phones in meetings, during convesations, during dinner, while watching TV, while preparing for sleep, while waiting in line at the grocery store.
And that's not necessarily a bad thing if it's not simply a means to avoid discomfort. To avoid the spaces between events. To avoid the awkward or tense situations in life. To avoid being alone with your own thoughts for just a moment.
The problem comes when we have become so accustomed that avoiding the present moment that we have atrophied our ability to face lifes challenges (big and small). And if we can not even tolerate a slight amount of discomfort, how are we going to have the resolve to face life's bigger challenges and pains?
We must learn to embrace a little discomfort now and again, if for nothing else as a means to strengthen our willpower and our self-confidence. Try talking to random strangers, or try cold shower therapy, or fasting, or forgiving someone, or public speaking, or any number of things that might just feel a little difficult at first. Embrace it, and then push the boundaries beyond it.
FWIW, for the last 3 months I've ended each shower with a minute of cold exposure (see http://www.wimhofmethod.com/). It's been challenging, but it helps set the tone for my day.
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About Rick Manelius
Quick Stats: CTO of Contact Mapping. Author of Winning the Lottery Within. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.