Discomfort, growth, and the 3 types of fun

I've been thinking a lot this year thinking about my goals and the experiences I want to have, and one thing that I've been thinking about a lot is redefining my relationship with discomfort. A few months back I wrote a post about how my training in Brazilian jiu jitsu is consistently very difficult and uncomfortable, but whenever I get done with a class or with sparring I feel this exhilaration and almost joy-like state of motivation to continue training and improving my skills. It was after recognizing this experience that I started to realize how discomfort wasn't something to be avoided at all, but was instead an integral part of some of life's greatest experiences.

In the following months I've come back to this idea again and again until recently I discovered something called the "Fun Scale." I found an article about it on the blog of rock climber Kelly Cordes. Being a serious climber, Kelly was relating the idea of the fun scale to his climbing experiences, but I found it applied just as much to Brazilian jiu jitsu, learning to play an instrument, working out or doing CrossFit, reading philosophy, or really doing any other challenging activity.

As with any good-bad, satisfied-unsatisfied, would recommend-would not recommend scale, the Fun Scale ranges from extremely fun to not fun at all.

The Fun Scale

Type 1 Fun:

This is the kind of fun that is immediate and easy; instant gratification at its finest. A delicious meal, talking with friends, watching a movie, reading novels, listening to music, sex, etc. Type 1 fun is fun right when you're doing it and there's no threshold to cross before it feels good. I also associate this type of fun with the selfish, Freudian id, only concerned with immediate gratification of a base desire. It's fun, but it's not particularly meaningful or long-lasting, and if you only spend your time doing Type 1 fun, you won't ever really progress or achieve anything more meaningful.

Type 2 Fun:

This is the interesting step in the middle that is added by the Fun Scale. Type 2 Fun happens when you're engaged in an activity is not enjoyable when you're doing it, but produces rewards after the fact. It's hard, it hurts, it's pushing you beyond what you think you can do, but upon completion you experience an exhilarated, motivated feeling and you might even feel more in touch with yourself and the world around you. Brazilian jiu jitsu has done this for me, but it equally applies to anything that's hard but extremely rewarding in the longer term. Hunting, rock climbing, public speaking, or doing tough mental tasks can bring this on. Recognizing this level of the Fun Scale idea reflects the fact that in order to truly get really good at anything you have to push through some roadblocks and embrace the discomfort.

My Instagram--it looks fun, but it's also really hard!

Type 3 Fun:

At the end of the scale, Type 3 experiences are not fun at all. No matter how much perspective you get it's not enjoyable or pleasant. It sucks while you're doing it and after.

We all tend to think of fun as a simple dichotomy: Either something is fun or not fun. What this scale proposes is a more nuanced understanding of the types of experiences we all have, and it shows us that something doesn't have to be immediately, obviously fun on the surface to be valuable. In fact, some of the most rewarding experiences come out of the most difficult challenges. People fall short and give up when they forget that everyone who ever got good anything started out being terrible. We all started out sucking at many things we've done, and that's not a fun feeling. We end up having to get good at certain difficult things because of circumstance (jobs, parenting, health issues), but what if we could intentionally put ourselves into challenging situations with the knowledge that Type 2 Fun is possible?


Not everybody will experience this the same way. People's subjective experiences of the different kinds of fun will vary, and different activities will produce different feelings. However, the point of thinking of enjoyment this way is to realize that the idea of trying to avoid discomfort at all costs will hurt us in the long run, when we never push through anything tough and reap the rewards after the fact. It's simply a difference between instant or delayed gratification, and in my experience the latter holds the real happiness. Learning to embrace discomfort may seem paradoxical, but I feel that it's one of the most important life skills you can have because it will give you the ability to base your actions and decisions on what you truly want and who you want to be--rather than on the lowest common denominator version of yourself whose only goal is to avoid pain. Does it suck? Yes! Is it worth it? Yes!

A mental and physical example

As I mentioned, challenging yourself in a workout is a great example of a satisfying, but not always 100% fun, activity. When my wife and I were trying CrossFit we went to a bunch of free intro classes at different gyms to try them out, and something interested happened. I started out feeling very nervous and intimidated by all the really fit people and the atmosphere, but as I went to more gyms I started to get good at going in, introducing myself, and just going with the flow. It was cool because I was getting a workout and learning new things about fitness, like everybody does, but because we kept going to different new gyms I was also forcing myself to get good at going into an unknown place with complete strangers and getting comfortable, which is a skill I've struggled with. When I told my mom about my experience she said, "Well, maybe you can just start being comfortable everywhere, and not just CrossFit gyms." So now I've taken that initial, uncomfortable experience and turned it into a skill that I'm developing. I just try to embrace the discomfort with the knowledge that it probably isn't as big of a deal as my mind is building it up to be. (And by experiencing what I thought was Type 2 Fun in the workout, I was also developing a non-physical skill with some of the same delayed benefits.)
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