A comfortable discomfort is an oxymoron for the ages. But as contradictory as it sounds, learning to live with uncertainty or to be comfortable in the face of discomfort is an essential skill we all should learn. For those who have grasped this unpopular notion, they have the ability to excel in whatever path they choose.
Discomfort is Uncomfortable
Discomfort can exist in many ways; physical, emotional and mental. Regardless of its form, we can all agree that discomfort is an undesirable feeling to have. It’s a dreaded blend of uncertainty and pain with added frustration, anger or any other negative emotions related to the circumstance at hand.
Our bodies instinctively react to discomfort because historically it maximised our chances of survival. When we were hunter-gatherers, the slightest hint of uneasiness would send our primal instincts into overdrive. Discomfort back then usually signified a life or death situation to which we needed to fight or run away.
Fortunately we now live in a time where discomfort doesn’t always mean a life-threatening situation. However, it is still in our nature to want to avoid the feeling. There are a number of ways we do this.
- Firstly, we try to stay within our comfort zone as much as possible; a place where the ground isn’t shaky and our body isn’t in a panicked, fight or flight mode.
- Secondly, when we do go outside of our comfort zone, we often try to shun away that feeling of discomfort as quickly as possible.
Discomfort is Everywhere
For the majority of the time, we experience discomfort when we take our own centre stage. That is, we usually experience discomfort whenever we try to engage in things that will improve, enrich or add meaning to our lives. Here are some examples:
- When we try to eat healthier, we will experience discomfort in the form of cravings, temptation and hunger pains.
- Likewise when we try to transition to a whole foods plant-based diet, we will experience discomfort.
- Signing up to a new exercise program? There will be a whole lot of physical and mental discomfort awaiting us.
- Want to make new friends? Anticipate discomfort as we’re going to have to put ourselves out there in a sea of judgement.
- Ready to find a potential love interest? I’m sure we’re all familiar with the feelings of discomfort when we date or see someone… When will they text me back? Do they like me? As in… like, like me?
- Want to improve at your hobbies or craft? There will be so much discomfort during the early learning stages.
- Changing careers for the better? Welcome to a new workplace, new colleagues, new experiences and new everything, which will undoubtedly make us feel uncomfortable.
- Want to become more self-aware? We’re going to have to be really honest about ourselves and that’s going to be uncomfortable.
Pretty much everything that we do in our lifetime will involve discomfort in one way or another. This is especially true when we engage in activities that brings more meaning into our lives. But even things that we confidently do on a day-to-day basis, there’s always the chance of mistakes and random circumstances where discomfort can ultimately creep in.
Learn to be Comfortable in Discomfort
This is why learning to be comfortable in the midst of discomfort is such an essential skill. The more willing we are to face discomfort and immerse ourselves in the uncertainty, the more we will succeed.
As mentioned above, one way we instinctively avoid discomfort is to stay in our realm of comfort as much as possible. Although our comfort zone is our safe haven, staying in it lessens our opportunities and chances of adventure and growth.
Recently, I agreed to join a contemporary/hip-hop dance class with my friends. It was incredibly nerve-wracking as it was my first ever dance class and I was way out of my comfort zone. However, once the nervousness and awkwardness subsided, I had so much fun, bonded with my friends and we had so many adventures later that night! Truth be told, our comfort zone only exists today and became our comfort zone when we pushed old boundaries and set new ones. We probably don’t remember but I’m sure that we all were uncomfortable walking into school/uni/college/work for the first time and now, many of us treat it as our second home (unfortunately!).
Another important point to remember is that we’re normally in a state of comfort the majority of our lives. Taking on some discomfort for a period of time to achieve a goal or improve ourselves isn’t the worse thing to happen to us. My partner actually pointed this out to me during one of my 5k time trials in the last 400m where I needed to sprint (but was dying!). “Karen, a few seconds of discomfort won’t hurt you out of the entire week that you’ve been sitting your chair!”
One of the first steps to master the skill is to acknowledge and accept the feeling of discomfort. This way, we can take a big breath, step back and decide on what to do from here with clarity. When we experience discomfort, our natural response is to quickly shun the feeling away. We do this by retreating back into our comfort zone which may involve us giving up on our aspirations. We also start to expedite the process, hoping that the discomfort will quickly go away. Unfortunately, this also means our enjoyment of the process and all the good things that happen in the moment will also quickly go away.
Learning to be comfortable in discomfort is such an important skill to appreciate. It undermines so many things that we do. Stay tuned for my next post on how we can actually master it!
Living With Uncertainty
As much as we’d like to there is no such reality where we can live without any uncertainty and discomfort. These feelings will constantly come and go throughout our lifetime so it’s important to develop a mindset that enables us to better handle these moments.
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