Tolerance Is a Superpower

I just spent an hour being the big spoon without getting any shut-eye. The cuddling is always nice, but the position is not the most comfortable. Since my girlfriend slept like a rock, however, I decided to muscle through. In fact, I turned not moving into a game: How long can I tolerate this position without disrupting her sleep? I managed to stay still all the way until she woke up on her own.

After she’d had a severe concussion that forced her to maintain bed rest for weeks, Jane McGonigal did something similar: She turned her illness into a game. Instead of being depressed at her immobility, McGonigal became “Jane the Concussion Slayer.” She fought bad guys, like bright lights, and collected power ups, like taking short walks, until she recovered. She named her game “SuperBetter,” and it eventually became not just a bestselling book but also an app helping over a million people with their mental health (disclosure: I invested in their crowdfunding campaign).

Whether it’s meditation, being the big spoon, or sitting in your chair for extended periods of time, it’s easy enough to understand the value of tolerance when it comes to physical discomfort, but the more I thought about it as I was lying perfectly still, the more I realized: Tolerance applies to almost everything in life. Even when you’re asked to do something instead of nothing, you’ll still need to tolerate that activity until it’s done.

How fast I can finish my next big post is a question of how long I’m willing to sit with it each day. Yesterday, I quit around lunch time. Can I work on it until the afternoon today? Are you willing to tolerate boring research papers? Will you stare at the blank canvas until inspiration strikes? Or do you fidget and hop to Twitter as soon as the first inkling of self-doubt appears?

Tolerance enables focus, and, in the long run, focus is the only thing that works. That’s why it’s a superpower, and if you look deep inside yourself, perhaps in a moment of stillness — forced or otherwise — you might be surprised at how much of it is already there.