Biblical life principles are full of paradoxes. If you want to be great in the Kingdom, become a servant. God’s power is made perfect in our weakness. Today’s mental health principle is paradoxical as well: The life you desire to create is directly proportionate to your ability to tolerate its opposite. The life you want is waiting for you… but it’s only going to become a reality for you if you have the ability to tolerate its opposite in the process. 

 Here’s how this can look in your own life: Choosing to set boundaries with the goal of healthy relationships will leave you feeling lonely in the meantime. It’s not always easy to set up a new standard of what behaviors you will and won’t accept in relationships. You may lose a few relationships along the way.

While saving money, you will most likely feel broke at times. Financial freedom comes through practicing financial discipline, so we must tolerate the opposite of our intended goal while the change process is occurring.

Exercising and getting stronger will leave you feeling weak while you’re doing it (and sore as you recover). However, all fitness fanatics know that muscle burnout (with recovery) is the most powerful way to gain strength. In the moment, we are feeling weak but our long-term result will be added strength if we tolerate the opposite long enough to see those results come to fruition.

The challenge is that when we begin the process of change, we immediately want to experience the desired result and when we start to feel the opposite, we give up. This leads us to a life of consistently falling short of our full potential. We live in dreams that are never actually realized because we have difficulty tolerating the discomfort it takes to achieve those dreams.

Throughout the world in every industry, in every culture, there’s one consistent trend among the most successful individuals, and that trend is the ability to persevere. This is the ability to stand up and take a step forward when everyone else sits down. Our greatest leaders — Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Colonel Sanders, Mark Victor Hansen, Steve Jobs — are the ones who have persisted beyond the norm. 

But this is not always natural; it’s a learned trait. This means that persistence is most often a choice. It’s a matter of believing that there is another way and choosing to expand our mindset to include the possibility of a better way. It is finding a way to reach the end result when the first fifteen strategies failed.

Instead of giving up at the sign of discomfort (or “opposite”) , what if we viewed that feeling of discomfort as an indicator that the change process is in full effect?   What if the loneliness, soreness, feelings of financial deprivation aren’t red lights but actually signs that we are well on our way toward our ultimate goal?  

Thomas Edison tried 9,999 times to perfect the light bulb — and he couldn’t do it. Someone said, “Are you going to have 10,000 failures?” And he responded, “I didn’t fail; I just discovered another way not to invent the electric light bulb.

So, what are the steps to increasing your level of persistence?

1. Clarify your why. By identifying the deep purpose behind your goal, your “why” will push you through the challenging times.  

2. Map out the possibilities. By mapping out all of the ways you can reach you desired outcome, you can easily adjust if one strategy isn’t working.

3. Take action. Nothing can ever be created without measurable action. Get started and adjust as you need to along the way.

Time and time again, individuals are stopped along their journey. The elemental mindset shift here is this: just because you failed once doesn’t mean your failures define you or that your project will never work. It simply means, as Thomas Edison believed, you found one more way it didn’t work. Consequently, by process of elimination this also means that you are one step closer to achieving the result.

It is possible to grow our own capacity to tolerate that discomfort that comes with the initial part of change. We can build our ability to feel lonely without it overtaking us while we set boundaries. We can utilize the self-control required to set and keep a budget while we are re-defining our financial goals. We can re-frame our feelings of weakness during a hard workout as our body gaining strength for next time. This is because our brains have an uncanny ability to adapt to whatever we focus on most. We become more adept at tolerating discomfort when we choose to view it as a catalyst to growth as opposed to a deterrent.

Increase Your Willpower

One key aspect of change resides in our ability to grow our willpower. Researcher Kelly McGonigal, who studies the science of willpower, indicates that there are three elements to consider when we are in this “in-between” phase of setting a goal, the phase when we are “tolerating the opposite” before we reach the benefit.  McGonigal identifies these three forces of willpower as: “I will” “I won’t” and “I want”.   

“I will”: This is, just as it sounds, taking the time to identify what we “will” do.  This is where we make it clear what we want to stop putting off.  This is building up our ability to say “yes” when we want to say “no.”

“I won’t”: This facet of willpower leads us toward the same goal but in the opposite way — it’s our ability to say “no” when we want to say “yes”.  Anytime you say yes to something, you are, by default, saying no to something else.  It’s important to identify what you’ll have to give up or do less of to make your goal happen. 

And finally, “I want”: Having a long-term goal helps us tolerate that discomfort in the interim of the change process. We return to “I want” in moments when we are feeling the opposite of our goal and having trouble staying the course— “I want” to have healthy relationships so, even though it hurts in this moment to set a boundary, I know that long-term I am creating a life where I have healthy relationships. Setting these boundaries now, as uncomfortable as it may be, sets the stage for a future of relationships where I am respected, supported and challenged in a healthy way.  “I want” to have financial freedom so I pass on that larger house or appealing trip because I can tolerate the delayed gratification, knowing that the result will be long- lasting.  

Not only does this process re-wire your brain, it also re-calibrates your nervous system.  If we view any bit of discomfort as a threat, we shy away from things that could help us grow.  When we start to face into our discomfort because we are able to remember what we really want, we take a deep breath, we re-frame the discomfort as growth and we begin to become a person who sees challenges as opportunities, rather than threats.

I what areas in your life are you having trouble “tolerating the opposite”? How could embracing the discomfort help lead you through the difficulty into a new level of growth? At times, we need some help learning the skill to tolerate discomfort. A trained therapist or pastoral counselor can provide a source of support in this process. Check out our main page and click on “take the assessment” to get started finding a therapist who can help you meet your ultimate goals.