When you’re working on that thesis that is due in a couple of months. When you sit down to compose that song or essay that you have been planning forever. When you’re in the midst of challenging work that is important but not urgent, do you sense a niggling urge to procrastinate? To log on to Facebook, Twitter or Youtube and look at something else?
Well, that cue, which has destroyed several of our long-term plans, can turn be a great asset.
When this discomfort surfaces, it indicates that you are pushing past your comfort zone and entering the domain of deliberate practice. This indicates that we are stretching beyond our current abilities and entering the path to mastery. Anders Ericsson’s 10,000 hour rule for mastery in any field is famous today. But his important finding was that these 10,000 hours pay off only when we are constantly operating past our zone of familiarity and comfort.
However, our brain is wired to perceive this discomfort in the same manner as it perceives physical harm. During moments like this, it seeks instant gratification to lift our moods. This is precisely why we reach for social media or a sweet treat whenever we sit down to work on something that is challenging but urgent.
It is important to look out for these cues, and learn to love the discomfort and not the dopamine hit. With practice, the craving will go away. What will remain is the mastery we attain.