Counterintuitive reasons why contentment is key to success
Many of us hold the notion that success somehow depends on being discontented and restless, and this spurs us on to greater success. It’s understandable why we would think this way, because discontentment feels like the opposite of apathy, ("Of course I want to be discontented - I don't want to be apathetic!!") but it’s really important to dig a little deeper.
Apathy and Contentment are not the same thing
- Contentment says "this is good and it's getting better"
- Apathy says "it'll never be good and I don't even care anymore"
And second, true success - being able to hit your goals successfully - becomes easier when you think, plan, work and learn with a mindset of contentment, NOT discontent.
Why is that?
Lasting success comes from steady, consistent, patient progress. Continued alertness and learning. Trying things and learning from them and continuing to try without delay.
Try again without delay.
Notice I keep repeating "without delay."
Contentment fosters behaviors that succeed
The mindset to keep trying and learning - and trying again - again without delay - is a mindset of contentment and patience. Dare I even say, a mind at peace.
A contentment mindset that let's you say, I'm ok going through this process of learning. I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. I haven't gotten there yet, but I know I will."
A restless, discontented mindset, on the other hand, is more likely to drive behaviors that hinder progress. Behaviors like:
- Giving up in frustration. Abandoning the goal and doing some other thing that doesn't feel so frustrating. Those periods of giving up put us further way from our goal.
- Taking out one's frustration on other team members. Blaming the "other department" or the "resisters" etc. This destroys trust and slows progress as well.
- Asking questions Like: "Why can't I do that?" or "What’s wrong with us?" That's the wrong question. When we dwell on questions like these, we're basically asking our brains to come up with a photo album of all our worst memories. Not helpful. An example of a better question to get your brain focused on: "What should I try and learn next?"
It's so easy to fall into the fear-based discontented mindset. You read something on Twitter that sounds like a great success story and suddenly feel this deep discontentment, restlessness, resentment, perhaps shame...all rooted in a fear that you might not be good enough.
When you’re in that kind of mindset, are you really going to do your best?
Are you going to have the patience and the consistency you need to keep making incremental gains and to keep learning incremental lessons that add up to something big?
No you’re probably not. Why? Because you’re telling yourself that you’re not good enough. That you’re flawed, and the only way to fix yourself is with some kind of big success. This big success needs to hurry up and happen so it can somehow magically heal all that pain.
It actually won’t. It doesn’t even work that way.
You probably know people who are psychopathic achievers. They’re propelled by something inside to achieve one milestone after the other, and they’ll be just as miserable and dysfunctional the day after that milestone as they were when they started. They just keep "doing success" again and again and again leaving a trail of wreckage behind them. And when they fear they might not be successful via legitimate means, they feel compelled to use illegitimate means to get their goal. This is what pursuing success with a discontented mindset looks like.
Is that the version of success you're shooting for? Probably not.
Contentment drives a better version of success
The version of success that you’re shooting for is probably something that gives you a sense of achievement, but also a sense of reward and fulfillment. It probably comes, not from a set of milestones that sound good in press releases, but from a set of rich relationships with your friends, your family and your loved ones, your team and your customers. It probably comes with the feeling that you have a rich rewarding life, that you've been given these amazing opportunities to learn and do great things. Not the feeling that you’re burned out, swamped, overworked, restless, and discontent.
Happy healthy people are doing more good for the world in the long run than people that think that they’re highly motivated but are really just miserable.
This is incredibly important to teach your team. Instill this into your team culture.
Do you know where the precedent for contentment and patient incremental action comes from? It comes from Nature, with abundant examples:
The way woodpeckers and squirrels gradually store away a winter's supply of provisions. The way stream waters turn sharp stones into smooth ones. The way rivers carve canyons. The way ferns unfold. The way seeds grow. The way bees make honey.
All these creatures, day after day, doing their thing, in the places where they are - seen and unseen. Steady unfolding nourishing blossoming progress.
This is the wisdom to learn from. Lao Tzu said it well: "Nature does not hurry. Yet everything is accomplished."
Nature is full of examples of small incremental actions that add up to things that are big, beautiful, timeless and magnificent.
You're part of Nature. You're just as capable of being part of its astonishing magnificence. Contentment is key. Contentment gives you and your team the patience and the consistency you need to keep making incremental gains and to keep learning incremental lessons that add up to something big.