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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

Things are Better when they're Worse

I came across a short video recently in the reels in Facebook, of a guest on the Joe Rogan podcast, talking about a concept called the Region Beta Paradox. I was going to make that the title of my post, but I thought this might be a bit more clickbaity so I opted out! It really got me thinking and it reflected something that I'd seen quite a lot of recently, in different forms, so I decide to share those thoughts with you, my faithful reader!

The Region Beta Paradox suggests that people sometimes recover more quickly from more distressing situations than they do from less distressing situations, because the more distressing or difficult situations are more likely to drive the individual to take significant action to overcome them. An example that used, is the idea of travel, whereby for distances up to 1 mile away, an individual might decide to walk, but for distances greater than a mile away, they will decide to drive. As a result, a situation is created where the individual can quite comfortably get to somewhere 2 or 3 miles away more quickly than they get to somewhere a mile away. Being closer to the destination actually lengthens the time it takes to get there.

I've definitely seen this in injury management within sport, where a niggling injury might be left to heal by itself, vs a more serious or painful injury where the player seeks medical attention immediately via a doctor, A&E or a physiotherapist. Consequently, the less serious injury may take months to heal, meaning the players misses a lot of game or practice time, compared to the more serious injury where the player who takes action recovers more quickly.

People in romantic relationships where the spark has gone and they're coasting along with no deep attachment to their partner are in a similar situation. They're not being abused or taken advantage of, perhaps, but they're not in love, feeling fulfilled or passionate about their life with their partner. Someone in a relationship where their partner cheats on them, puts their hands on them violently or, in some other way abuses them or their trust, are in a much worse position short-term, but they've also got a burning platform from which there's clear motivation to leap. Consequently, they can be driven to leave and to move on with their lives, getting them to a place of happiness more quickly.

In my coaching, too, I've seen situation where this applies, including a conversation with a client this week. The client, as with others I've coached in the past, is in a job they don't like that much or which doesn't fulfil them. It's not terrible; the pay is decent and their boss is fine but it doesn't fire them up in the way that other jobs have and they, consequently, aren't giving as much of their energy and effort as they have previously, with predictable results. Contrast someone in this situation with another person in a horrendous job with an awful boss. In the latter situation, which would be worse in the short term, there's more of an incentive to do something about it and leave, thereby meaning that the second person has a chance, through their action, to get to a place with an enjoyable/better paid/more fulfilling job more quickly. Once again, the person in the horrible work situation has the burning platform.

What the individuals in the 'less bad' situations risk doing, is looking only at the immediate cost of letting things go as they are. So for the person with the injury, it's not too bad and it doesn't massively limit them from day to day. The person in the job they don't love is getting by, paying the bills and perhaps has things outside of work that they enjoy. The individual in the substandard relationship isn't in immediate distress or major discomfort. In all of these situations, maintaining the status quo is relatively painless on a day-to-day basis.

Where it becomes painful, is when time passes, as it is wont to do, and the individual looks back over days, weeks, months or years and realises how long they've been in the situation. There can be few things more disheartening than looking back over a long period of inaction and realising that you've not made any progress and that if you'd started making a change earlier, you'd probably have navigated the change curve and back to a place of stability, with a better situation, by now.

This can happen to all of us. Seeking stability and putting up with discomfort, rather than embracing discomfort in the pursuit of something better is incredibly common, but the results and the impact when you do take action is incredibly satisfying. With my client this week, the feeling of relief and of happiness was palpable, when she decided to take action. She realised that, as with most coaching clients, she had all the answers she required and simply by talking it through, she was able to see the path and decide on the action. If you're in a situation where there's something not quite right, but it hasn't - so far at least - driven you to take action, find someone to talk it through with. You'll be amazed how much that helps you clarify your thinking!

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