Why Ray Dalio Says Pain + Reflection = Progress

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Principles: Life and Work" by Ray Dalio. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Do you take time to reflect on your mistakes? How does reflecting on the pain and consequences of your mistakes help you progress faster?

Ray Dalio says that pain is a necessary part of getting stronger. He sums it up in his equation Pain + Reflection = Progress. He says that when you make a mistake, take full responsibility for it and relish the chance to get better, rather than being ashamed about it. 

Here is why you should reflect and savor the pain, instead of avoiding it.

Pain + Reflection = Progress

Dalio uses the equation of Pain + Reflection = Progress to show how you can use your mistakes to get a better outcome in the future.

Dalio notes that plenty of people at Bridgewater make very costly mistakes. A common corporate reaction is to fire these people, but Dalio thinks this just encourages people to hide their mistakes. Instead, he says that reflecting on mistakes as a team and striving to do better is the best way forward, so Bridgewater has an “issue log” where employees must add each of their mistakes.

Different Formula, Similar Principle

In The Success Principles, author Jack Canfield offers a similar formula for improving outcomes: Event + Response = Outcome:

Event: something that happens in your life.

Response: how you choose to respond to the event.

Outcome: the result of how you choose to respond to the event.

According to Canfield, there are two possible responses. You can either blame the event for your outcome, or you can adjust your response until you get your desired outcome. The latter is the best course of action because it means you take responsibility for the quality of your life and believe that it’s within your power to improve it. Both formulas—Dalio’s and Canfield’s—require you to accept your role in your situation instead of blaming outside forces.

Exercise: Reflect On Your Mistakes

Endure the pain of reflecting on your mistakes to improve for the future. Remember Dalio’s formula: Pain + Reflection = Progress.

Write down some of the most salient mistakes you’ve made in the past 12 months.

Connect the dots between these mistakes. What patterns do you see? What weaknesses were common between these mistakes?

Write down your one “big challenge”—the weakness that most blocks you from getting what you want.

Why does this weakness exist? What specifically are you going to do to get over this weakness?

Think about this reflection as a puzzle that, when solved, will make you strong and help you level up. How do you feel emotionally about the mistake now?

Why Ray Dalio Says Pain + Reflection = Progress

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Here's what you'll find in our full Principles: Life and Work summary :

  • How Ray Dalio lost it all on bad bets, then rebounded to build the world's largest hedge fund
  • The 5-step process to getting anything you want out of life
  • Why getting the best results means being relentlessly honest with everyone you work with

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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