The Power of Discomfort

If you’re not feeling uncomfortable every now and then, something’s wrong. Comfort is an open prison and when it’s your priority, you lose something vital about yourself. Your capacity to solve problems, to persevere, to be courageous and to break barriers and limiting beliefs is diminished through your attachment to what feels safe and familiar.

As the adage goes, “If you want different results, you need to do things differently”. Doing things differently creates discomfort. So if you’re trying to do something you’ve never done before, discomfort is a good sign. If you want to do things you never thought possible; to have new experiences; to change your circumstances; to achieve great things and realise your potential – you need to start being comfortable with being uncomfortable.

How to develop your discomfort tolerance

  1. Embrace discomfort every day. Choose three small discomforts with beneficial side effects that you can perform each day, e.g. 15 minutes of exercise (if you can’t do 15, do 5); making your bed; tidying up a room; going without a snack etc. The harder you find these tasks, the greater your attachment to comfort, which is problematic. All great achievements involve feeling discomfort: the more attached you are to comfort, the less you will achieve or experience in your life.
  2. Comfort is a habit. In the words of Samuel Johnson, “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” Comfort is addictive and corrosive, like sugar. Deep down, it’s not who we are. Human beings are capable of a lot more than sitting on a couch in front of the TV or living life through a small screen. Stop and ask yourself what activities you are engaging in that bring little reward but which have become unproductive but comfortable habits? Perhaps it’s time to give something different a try? Something uncomfortable, that challenges you and expands your possibilities?
  3. Discomfort is not fatal. Being rained on, having hunger pangs, having to go without or make do – none of these is life threatening. It’s your overly-comfortable mind that’s telling you it’s a big deal. The problem is, the more attached you are to feeling comfortable, the smaller your world becomes because, quite often, the best things in life are not comfortable. Starting a business, meeting a new person, moving to a new city, writing a book, learning a skill, travelling to a new country – all entail some discomfort. If you want to experience the best that life has to offer, realise that discomfort (or excitement?) is the price.
  4. Discomfort makes you a stronger person. Discomfort builds resilience and resilience is a vital ingredient of living a full, successful life. Think back to all the moments that changed your life for the better. Chances are it involved stepping out of your comfort zone – often for extended periods. Were the results worth it? Motivate yourself to do the uncomfortable by reminding yourself that each task accomplished makes you a more powerful, capable individual. As you overcome discomfort, so does your capacity to tackle more ambitious, rewarding projects and so begins a virtuous circle. Discomfort is your dojo.
  5. Discomfort precedes results. Discomfort is a symptom of growth. It’s the price you pay to go to the next level in your life. If it was easy, it probably won’t change your life. It’s the difficult goals – the ones tinged with doubt and fear – that will change your life. Asking that person out; learning a new skill; tackling a big project; changing careers – these are the things that you’ll look back on as life-affirming, regardless of the outcome. If you’re uncomfortable, you’re on the right track.
  6. Everyone experiences discomfort. Discomfort can take the form of worry, anxiety, fear, doubts. Everyone experiences these emotions but some are better at hiding it (or operating effectively in spite of it). Successful people don’t spend their time in that space. They don’t let the discomfort overwhelm them. If you want to change your life and achieve more, realise that discomfort comes with the territory and the person you most look up to feels the same emotions as you.
  7. Choose your discomfort. Stretching yourself, striving for something new, being out of your comfort zone is hard. Being unhappy with your life, thinking “there’s more to life than this” and watching life pass you by is also hard. So choose the hard you prefer. Your life is the result of the choices you make – and the choices you don’t make.

Takeaway points

  1. There is nothing wrong with comfort per se. But if you’re goal in life is to experience new things, to break limiting beliefs and achieve all that you are capable of, don’t expect to do so without being uncomfortable.
  2. Discomfort is not fatal despite what your brain tells you.
  3. Discomfort is the precursor to success. If you’re not experiencing it when pursuing a goal, the goal’s not big enough.

Action steps

  1. Do three uncomfortable things each day. One of these things could be a cold shower challenge. You’ll be surprised at how difficult this is for many people – a sure sign of how deeply entrenched the need for comfort is. (If you’re not ready for 100% cold water, start with lukewarm and reduce it to where’s its uncomfortable). This is training your mind to overcome its dependency on what feels pleasant.
  2. Identify unproductive comfort zone activities to eliminate. What is the one comfortable thing you do that eats up your time? Computer games? Netflix binges? Sleeping? Surfing the net, endlessly researching. It’s time to eliminate – or at least cutback – on these pasttimes.
  3. Break the comfort reflex. Do you reject new experiences out of habit? It’s unfamiliar, it’s uncertain, it’s different and so you withdraw from it. This is a habitual reflex. Start doing more things that you would normally pass on. Say yes more often. You may not like the activity but therein lies the value – it acclimatises you to uncomfortable situations.

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