You Need To Measure Discomfort

How To Study and Overcome Mini-Obstacles

Louis Shulman
2 min readMar 14, 2021
Photo by Tim Wilson on Unsplash

“Successful people get good at doing hard things.”

I first encountered this idea on Cal Newport’s podcast, and it stuck with me.

Whether it’s waking up early, taking cold showers, or writing for a few extra hours, a great deal of success comes down to winning inflection points: moments where you either execute the plans you’ve made for yourself or give in to resistance and snooze your plans for an indefinite ‘later’.

From having tried to build all of these habits, I’m no stranger to fighting with resistance. Because of that, I’m always hunting for helpful tactics to win these battles. Recently, an unexpected strategy came to me from cold-showers.

Bringing my stopwatch into the shower like an absolute lunatic, I’d smash the start button after dialing the water down from cozy to cold. After a sufficient session of panicked deep breaths, my body would adjust to the water.

Settled in, I would then check my stopwatch to see how much time had elapsed & how much remains. Day 1, 1 minute & 10 seconds. Day 2, 1 minute & 10 seconds. Day 3, 1 minute & 10 seconds. Day 4, 1 minute & 10 seconds.

Everyday, it took precisely 70 seconds to calm down and settle in. This was an empowering realization. All of a sudden, a 5-minute cold shower was reduced to only 70 seconds of discomfort followed by 4 minutes of normal showering.

After noticing the pattern in the shower, I started looking for it everywhere.

Anytime I wake up to an alarm, I slide out of bed angry and grumpy. How long does that last? To find out, l measured my morning moods for a week. Like the showers, my state improved after a remarkably predictable interval: 12 minutes.

Now, my first priority in the morning is to make those 12 minutes pass as easily as possible. Make coffee, put away dishes, brush my teeth. I just bumble around for 12-minutes confident that alertness is just around the corner.

From observing the boundaries of discomfort, I reduced the difficulty of building good habits. What I learned by accident, I’m now purposely applying in new areas.

How long does it take to find flow when writing? What about ignoring a craving? At what mile-marker does my heart-rate settle down on a long run?

By measuring discomfort, I’ve made doing hard things easier. Resistance becomes predictable and manageable.

Pay close attention when you are doing hard things.

Often, starting might just be the hardest part.

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Louis Shulman

Insatiably Curious | Growth at Pomp Crypto Jobs | Computer Science alum from Roll Tide