The Art of Being Uncomfortable

Sep 16, 2021

Neo : The Matrix.

Morpheus : Do you want to know what it is?

Neo : Yes.

Morpheus : The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Neo : What truth?

Morpheus : That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind. Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. [opens hand, revealing blue pill] You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. [opens hand, revealing red pill] You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.

Source Wikiquote

This was the premise for The Matrix (1999). And we learn later on that 99% of the population of humans willingly choose to live within The Matrix. While only a movie, The Matrix symbolizes the systems of society, culture and religion that enslave us to a limited life. You get order, you get security, and you get to eat (fake) steak. So why on Earth would anyone take the red pill?

It starts with Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS).

“Simple interactions early in a puppy’s life may additionally increase its ability to learn and cope successfully with stress later on, thus leading to better welfare outcomes. Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS), which involves applying gentle stressors to a very young animal for short periods of time, is thought to improve their stress responses later in life. The stressors—which often include removing animals from their litters for short periods, very briefly exposing them to cool temperatures, holding them in different positions, and gently touching parts of their bodies—are applied for a few seconds, once a day, for at least 10 days.” (Source)

Basically, acclimating a puppy to small stressors early in their lives allows them to develop greater coping mechanisms as a dog.

“The US Military developed this method designed to improve the performance of future military working dogs… Five benefits have been observed in canines that were exposed to ENS, including improved cardio vascular performance (heart rate); stronger heart beats; stronger adrenal glands; more tolerance to stress; and greater resistance to disease.” (Source)

While humans developed this program for dogs, it was founded on the idea that routine environmental stress creates stronger, efficient, and healthy organisms.

Source Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

This is true of humans and their immune system. A study suggests being too clean can make you sick. Additionally, exposure to germs in childhood is thought to help strengthen the immune system and protect children from developing allergies and asthma… Further demonstrating that systems need to be challenged to optimize functionality.

Wim Hof (aka The Iceman) built a whole business/persona/reputation on being uncomfortable. Specifically The Iceman is known for pushing human limits to enduring cold temperatures. Hof believes cold triggers a survival response in the body that improves energy, immunity, performance, anti-inflammation, recovery and mental fortitude. While he was unable to prevent his wife from committing suicide from depression, he developed this method to help countless others conquer their own illnesses, demons and fears. The premise is simple. By subjecting your body to extreme cold, you trigger a fight or flight response that kickstarts a cascade of physical reactions that allow you to endure the controlled stressors and become more resilient over time. The long-term goal is that by subjecting yourself routinely to these stressors, you’re capable of cultivating a greater life force to overcome other challenges you might face.

By constantly subjecting yourself to stressors you raise your threshold to variable and challenging circumstances. Like Edward Norton’s character says in Fight Club:

“After fighting, everything else in your life got the volume turned down. You could deal with anything.”


And the more you practice being uncomfortable the easier it gets.

Why? Because you are exercising the “strongest” organ in your body. Your brain. As you subject yourself to routine low-grade stressors your brain begins to expect a certain level of discomfort. Anything less than your “daily dose of suffering” becomes “comfortable”. And as long as the stressors are delivered in a controlled manner, your mental elasticity to uncomfortable (and often uncontrollable) situations will increase over time. In other words, the age old saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

Which is why you sometimes hear me say, “If this is the hardest task/job you’ve had to do, then I don’t know how you made it this far in life”

Or one of my favorite lines, “You guys will be the first to die in apocalypse”

Such terrible things to say to another person. But you should understand that it comes from a place of caring. In a militaristic way.

As mean as those sayings are, they’re probably true. Unless you’ve suffered and endured. Unless you have mentally prepared yourself for the horrors of pain and suffering. Unless you have delved deep into the abyss of your mind and spent some time in the freak show that is your psychology unraveled. How could you possibly be up to the task of surviving what is yet to come? You really can’t. You’ll most likely curl up in the fetal position and plug your ears and hope that you’ll wake up. I see this every day. Avoidance. Turning the blind eye. Pretending it’s not real. Going to your “safe place”. You might as well click your heels three times and chant “There’s no place like home…”

So first you have to acknowledge that the modern world has for all intents and purposes turned us into bubble babies. Except we actually have working immune systems. We are constantly being coddled and protected from any and all forms of threats, dangers, risks, pain and suffering. Governments impose laws to keep us safe. Pharmaceutical companies push drugs on us to keep us from feeling pain. Social norms tell us what we can and cannot do/say/think so we stay “politically correct”. In a valiant effort to protect ourselves as a species we have virtually destroyed our own ability to protect ourselves as individuals. We have stripped out all the color, feeling, and valuable life lessons that come from being… uncomfortable. Or god forbid, hurt. It’s why an entire generation of children are now known as 草莓族.     

Acknowledging we are coddled forces us to reconcile our weaknesses and build them up so that we can not only endure hardships but ultimately actuate our full potential as human beings.

“It’s also partly why the path to enlightenment and wisdom is seldom trodden upon because if it were all a matter of following your bliss and doing the things that make you happy then everyone in the world would be a paragon of wisdom, but it’s not that at all. It’s a matter of facing the thing you least want to face… the gateway to wisdom and the gateway to development of personality is precisely through the portal you do not want to climb through. And the reason for that is quite technical… there’s a bunch of things about you that are underdeveloped and a lot of those things are because they are things you’ve avoided looking at because you don’t want to look at them and there’s parts of you that you’ve avoided developing because it’s hard for you to develop those parts. So it’s by virtue of necessity that what you need is where you don’t want to look because that’s where you’ve kept it.” (Jordan Peterson)

Nothing worth doing was ever easy. Becoming who you are supposed to be, is not easy. But it is your responsibility. No one else can do this for you.

So do you take the blue pill or the red pill? As Morpheus said, “I’m trying to free your mind, Neo. I can only show you the door. You’re the one who has to walk through it.” (Source)