Pain And Pleasure
“One of the most remarkable neuroscientific findings in the past century,” Dr. Anna Lembke writes in Dopamine Nation, “is that the brain processes pleasure and pain in the same place. Further, pleasure and pain work like opposite sides of a balance.” “And one of the overriding rules governing this balance,” she said, “is that it wants to stay level…With any deviation from neutrality, the brain will work very hard to restore a level balance—what scientists call ‘homeostasis.’ … With any stimulus to one side, there will be a tip an equal and opposite amount to the other side.” Pain and pleasure, ups and downs, good days and bad days—that’s the theme of this SIX at 6.
The Nature of Love
The legendary skateboarder Rodney Mullen is in his 50s and still skateboards every day. “It’s such a gift,” he said, “to be able to [do] something and to love it for the sake of it…I have that. I’ve nurtured it in my life.” When reading about people like Rodney—people who seem to love what they do, who describe their work as play, and so on—a common mistake is to think that it’s all bliss all the time. “There are days,” Rodney said, “where you don’t want to go out. Or it hurts. Or you’re sore. Or you just suck—you’re not making progress, and you feel defeated…But that’s the nature of love—it’s got hate in there, it’s got pain in there. And that’s what draws you in, that’s the magnetism.”
Why Did You Start?
Days after a quarterfinals loss in the 2010 French Open, Novak Djokovic told his coach, Marián Vajda, that he had decided to quit playing tennis.He was No. 3 in the world, a grand slam winner, and a favorite to win Wimbledon. After Djokovic said he was quitting, Vajda asked, “Why did you start playing this sport?” Vajda immediately sensed what the problem was: Djokovic was focusing too much on rankings, records, titles, and external expectations. As a result, Djokovic said, “I was mentally at one very messed up place.” As Djokovic thought about Vajda’s question, he thought about how many of his earliest childhood memories include his “most beloved toy”—a mini tennis racket and a soft foam ball. He started playing tennis, answering Vajda’s question, “because I just really loved holding that racket in my hand.” “Do you still love holding a racket in your hand?” Vajda asked. Djokovic thought about it for a few seconds, got excited, and said: “I do. I still love holding a racket in my hand. Whether it’s a grand slam final on center court or just playing around on a public court, I like playing for the sake of playing.” Vajda nodded, “Well that’s your source. That’s what you need to tap into. Put aside rankings and what you want to achieve and what you think others are expecting of you.” Vajda then suggested that Djokovic take a few weeks off. Djokovic agreed that he would. But when he woke up the next morning, Djokovic was dying to hit tennis balls. He went to the courts to play for the sake of playing. “And I never looked back ever since that moment.” The following season, Djokovic enjoyed one of the greatest seasons in sports history. He won 43 straight matches. He won three Grand Slams, including his first Wimbledon title. And he finished the year as the number one player in the world. “I started to play freely,” he says of that season. “I became the kid that I was when I started playing.” That doesn’t mean, again, that it’s all bliss all the time. At one point during the recent Wimbledon final, Djokovic angrily smashed and shattered his racket. And after losing the match, he admitted that it will take him a while to get over the loss. That’s the nature of love—it’s got hate in there, it’s got pain in there.
The Rule of Thirds
Shortly before running in the 2016 Summer Olympics, Alexi Pappas had a terrible training session in which she was well off the pace she expected herself to hit. The timing of her poor performance scared her—with the Olympics coming up, she thought the slow workout meant she’d be slow at the Olympics. “No,” her coach told her. “It’s the rule of thirds.” “What’s the rule of thirds?” Alexi asked. “When you’re chasing a big goal,” her coach told her, “you’re supposed to feel good a third of the time, okay a third of the time, and crappy a third of the time. If the ratio is off and you feel good all the time, then you’re not pushing yourself enough. Likewise, if you feel bad all the time, then you might be fatigued and need to dial things back.” The ratio wasn’t off: at those 2016 Summer Olympics, Alexi set the national record in the 10,000 meters.
The Difference Between When You Are & Aren’t Motivated
Andy Weir, author of The Martian, was asked how he motivates himself to write on days he’s not motivated to write. He said he thinks about what he ultimately wants: to produce good writing. Then he reminds himself that there’s no correlation between how motivated he is and how good the writing is. He has days where he feels extremely motivated, where the words pour out of him. And he has days where he feels like crap, where every word takes work. What these days have common, he said, “if you wait a week and look back on the stuff you wrote, you can’t tell the difference between when you were motivated and when you weren’t. This helps me a lot—remembering that the quality of your work isn’t greatly affected by the amount of enthusiasm you had in the moment.”
Treat These Two Impostors The Same
In Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “If—,” he writes, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same…” Pain and pleasure, ups and downs, good days and bad days, feeling motivated and feeling like crap—treat those two impostors just the same…