the joy in confusion

Ten percent.

That’s about how much I understand what I’ve been trying to learn lately.

And I’m doing it on purpose.

Nearly every day for a few months I’ve been reading about concepts in philosophy, math, and science that stretch my thinking.

I don’t particularly like feeling that I don’t get something but I do find a sort of pleasure in being confused. It’s a sign that I’m learning different things, things that I don’t already know or believe.

For some concepts, I stick to only getting 10%. For others, I want to go beyond that and understand and learn more about the topic.

Here’s what Jonathan Rowson had to say about this in his book, The Moves That Matter: A Chess Grandmaster on the Game of Life:

Above all, as a chess teacher, I tried to share my love of difficulty, and my joy of confusion. A student learns nothing if they’re simply confused. Once they start to get interested in what exactly they’re confused about, we’re getting somewhere.

When I’m interested in something I’m confused about, I will sometimes look for a teacher who can help me go further with it.

But the confusion – even without deeper learning – has value. It’s uncomfortable.
I’m out of my comfort zone. Even if only a little bit.

And that’s where growth happens.

Your comfort zone

You’re in your comfort zone when you feel safe. Your anxiety is low and you’re not too stressed. Your brain loves this zone. Nothing bad is threatening your survival. It’s good to be in this zone most of the time.

That’s why kids especially love routine and predictability. They are learning a lot at a crazy pace. They are perpetually confused. Watching the same show 988 times makes them feel safe. This is part of their comfort zone.

While not as intense, building a business also requires a ton of learning and doing hard things that take you out of your comfort zone.

If you resist structure and routine like I did for too many years, you’re probably not getting enough comfort to counteract all the uncomfortable things you have to do.

On the flip side, you may stick to a certain routine for too long.

Once you’ve incorporated things that were once hard (reaching out to potential clients, going live every week etc.), you justifiably want to stay there for a while.

To keep growing, you can’t stay too comfortable.

There’s a sweet spot that allows you to feel safe most of the time while doing just enough hard stuff to keep things moving.

It can be tricky to pinpoint that sweet spot.

I find that it helps to do some mildly uncomfortable things each day to keep chipping away at my comfort zone.

Here are some examples to try for yourself:

– Leave your phone at home when you go out for dinner
– Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand for a week
– Don’t complain for 24 hours
– Skip a meal
– Read something that’s way over your head and try to understand it

These small discomforts don’t completely upend your routine but they keep you primed for growth.



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