“If little labour, little are our gains:
Man’s fortunes are according to his pains.”
- Robert Herrick, Hesperides, 1650
“Gain with pain is good.
Gain without pain is better.”
- me, just now
Above is a picture of my right arm, showing my battle scars from my first class of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The bruises look much worse in real life, and I’ve got them on both arms, one side of my chest, one ankle, and one toe. But do pains imply gains?
Over the last couple of days, I took trial classes at two different BJJ schools, both of which looked great on paper. Both were fun and educational, but one of them barely made me break a sweat, while the other left me bruised, sore, and out of breath.
Which one do you think I signed up with? Which one would you have signed up with? I went with the second one (the pains), but I don’t think the most painful choice is always the best one.
Yes, some things require a struggle, and always quitting at the first sign of difficulty won’t serve you well. But it’s entirely possible to push to the point where additional pain becomes pointless or even counterproductive.
A common example is what weightlifters call overtraining. Some people think they need to do tons of sets every day and fight through the soreness, when in reality backing off and doing much less would give them more gains as well as less pains.
There’s a happy middle ground between cowardice and masochism. First, pick your battles (no sense in fighting for something that’s not important). Then, decide on a strategy (try to work smarter, not necessarily harder). Next, take what pain you must, but don’t mistake it for the goal. Finally, enjoy your gains, hopefully with as few pains as possible.