The precedence of comfort

In the absence of critical analysis, comfort takes precedence over anything else.

Without a long-term approach, without delaying gratification in the now for better results in the future, humanity always defaults towards comfort.

Comfort can mean different things, but the tangible basics are the same. At some level, it involves basic human needs, but it doesn’t stop there. It starts with the necessities of survival like food and shelter, and it spans a massive spectrum of needs and wants until it ends with things like feeling important or being special.

There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong with comfort. I’d argue that a huge part of a productive, practical life is forging towards new levels of comfort for you and your family.

If you don’t pause, and stop thinking only about the now — thinking about your immediate desires — then the default human behavior is to go towards comfort. We’re like insects around a light bulb. Sense the radiant heat, and we go straight for it. We’ll be warm for a few happy seconds, right before we hit the lamp and get fried.

However, if you forge towards a new level of comfort without thinking of the potential consequences of your decisions, you’ve created a ripple that may eventually turn into a violent wake, sort of like the hobbit throwing a rock into the pond before the gates of Moriah.

Say that you have a dead-end job, and your coworkers are terrible. But it’s much-needed income for your family, you don’t have any savings, and you don’t have anything else lined up. What if you have a bad day at the office, and you have to work late to catch up on a project? What if your terrible colleagues insult you?

The comfortable thing here is to quit and walk out. That’s the instant comfort we seek. You may even turn over the possibility in your head. Wouldn’t it be nice if I just throw down the gauntlet and walk out of here? They shouldn’t treat me like that.

Well, you’d feel pretty good for about fifteen minutes. But by the time you’ve gotten home to your wife and kids, you will probably feel a knot forming in your stomach. I have to pay the mortgage tomorrow. I have to get groceries.

In a way, this very real and very common example illustrates our draw towards comfort. If you’re not very mature and perhaps thinking too reactively, your draw towards comfort makes you quit and walk out. You need comfort now.

But if you are a little more mature, and thinking ahead, your forethought and critical analysis of your situation will draw you towards an even better comfort. You want comfort, but you want real comfort. So you force yourself to stick through the unpleasant job today, and perhaps you save up a few months or get a side job on the weekend, and eventually you’re able to quit your job with a backup plan in place. You’re able to think ahead for months or years, and create sustainable comfort in a reliable and lucrative career that feeds your family for decades.

In the end, we’re all seeking comfort. But sometimes that instantaneous pursuit of comfort gives us the exact opposite.

We can see the detrimental effects of instant gratification everywhere. But it’s quite complicated to wrap your head around sometimes. It’s popular for people to boil it down too simply, and say we need to be patient. We need to stick it out. We need to just keep on keeping on.

In reality, it’s a lot more involved that just waiting. Because sometimes, comfort makes us not pull the trigger.

Take the guy in an unfulfilling career, who has thought about the repercussions of quitting his job. He realizes that he can’t just walk out — he has a mortgage to pay and groceries to buy.

And then someone gives him an opportunity. It may be a bit of a risk (after all, anything different is a risk) but it comes with significant benefits as well. Perversely, comfort prevents him from acting.

This happens every single day across the world. I’ve seen many acquaintances pass by lucrative, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities simply because it would have been uncomfortable to leave the status quo.

The pursuit of comfort above all else is a devious element of human character. It defeats itself at every turn. It’s a constant balance between action and inaction.

But what doesn’t change is the fact that if you get it right — in other words, if you’re cognizant of the vagaries of comfort — you can work it to your advantage. It comes down to thinking critically of consequences, and weighing potential discomfort against potential benefits.

Perhaps quitting your job is risky now, because you need money this month for rent. But the business you build ends up creating millions of dollars of wealth for you in the coming decades.

Perhaps you would be happier now if you quit your miserable job, but you’ve analyzed the greater situation and realized you aren’t prepared to quit. And perhaps then, the difficult answer is sticking with the job.

It comes down to looking at a long-term picture, and asking yourself how this affects your life in the next 50 years, rather than the next 50 minutes.

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