Of all the skills I’ve learned in the last decade, there’s one that stands apart from the rest as the most valuable: learning to be comfortable with discomfort.
It’s the one skill you can learn that will make everything else in life easier. You can begin to master things that you struggle with. Things like procrastination, exercise, diet will become easier to master and you can begin to live your life with more meaning and purpose.
Most of us simply just avoid discomfort – physical, mental, or emotional. Of course, this is only natural because our brains are hardwired to go in the opposite direction of pain – regardless of the type.
Many of us don’t eat vegetables because they don’t taste good (present company included). But we’re not talking about getting water-boarded. We’re talking about a taste that’s a little unpleasant – at first. So what do we do instead? We eat things that are contrary to our health goals that ultimately make our lives harder in the long run.
When most people are stressed they often turn to cigarettes, food, alcohol, drugs, or shopping. Anything that will help them distract from the discomfort causing them stress. But at the core of all of this, is an unfounded fear that rings between our ears on a regular basis that goes something like, “You’re not good enough.“
But if you simply spent some time examining this thought with an objective perspective, it would start to go decrease and ultimately cause less havoc.
When we start a new exercise program, it’s uncomfortable. We get sore muscles – a little discomfort, not getting your toenails removed with pliers.
If you start eating healthier, i.e. more vegetables and less sugar, it’s not so fun in the beginning. You might get withdrawal symptoms like headaches, cravings, and fatigue. Again, mild discomfort in the big picture.
Uncomfortable situations and discomfort aren’t a bad thing. In fact, they’re a good thing because they’re an opportunity for growth. It’s an opportunity to learn so you can take your life in the right direction and stop doing things that are only serving to prevent you from living a rich, full, and meaningful life.
How Avoiding Discomfort Harms You
Make no mistake, avoiding discomfort doesn’t just cause us to gain weight, or make poor food choices. It also shows up in more significant ways like failed relationships, miserable careers, and financial challenges.
People afraid of discomfort often have poor boundaries. Why? They’re afraid of setting them. “I don’t want to say no because I don’t want to hurt their feelings” Sound familiar? So they have miserable relationships. Which lead to poor self-esteem, lack of confidence, anxiety, depression, etc.
This is just one of the many ways avoiding discomfort can ruin our lives.
How To get Comfortable With Discomfort
Learning to get comfortable with discomfort begins with increasing your exposure. It’s that simple. You can start small or you can start big. But you have to start somewhere. It doesn’t have to be grueling and it doesn’t have to be overly time-consuming, but it needs to be done.
Take meditation for example. All you’re really doing is sitting with your eyes closed and observing your thoughts. Ask yourself why is this so painful? You might be embarrassed at the answer.
You can start in other areas of your life too. Start by making small subtle changes. Throw a couple of pieces of broccoli on your plate at dinner. Go for a walk, jog, or get on the Peloton for 2 or 3 minutes. That’s it.
Notice what happens between your ears when you find yourself avoiding or trying to distract yourself. What is your mind giving you? Don’t try to challenge or ignore the thoughts. This only makes it harder. Just ask yourself: “If I let these thoughts guide my actions right now, are they going to guide me toward the life I want?”
9 Benefits of Mastering Discomfort
1. Reduced Procrastination
Procrastination is about avoiding things that make us uncomfortable. Learn to master discomfort and you learn to master procrastination.
Exercise can be uncomfortable and time consuming. These things cause discomfort. Master discomfort and you can get in shape, lose weight, or reach that next goal in the gym or on the Peloton.
3. Healthier Nutrition
Did you know you can literally retrain your taste buds over time? By stepping into the discomfort zone of healthy foods you don’t like, you can vastly improve your overall health and well-being.
The biggest misconception about meditation is that it’s about stopping your thoughts, which naturally makes people uncomfortable. But this is false. Meditation is not about stopping your thoughts. It’s about learning to observe your thoughts in a more helpful way. The more you practice sitting with and observing your thoughts, the closer you get to mastering discomfort. In my opinion, there is no better way to get comfortable with discomfort than by practicing meditation exercises – which can literally be for a couple minutes a day.
5. New Experiences
Learning a new skill, language, or instrument can be uncomfortable. It’s not fun when you don’t know what you’re doing. Mastering your discomfort can greatly increase your skill level in many areas as well as expand your life in new and meaningful ways.
6. Say Goodbye to Clutter
Clutter is on of many consequences of procrastination. If your house, car, office, desk is cluttered, so is your mind. Get past the discomfort of getting and keeping things organized and master of your domain.
7. Empty Inbox
Checking email can be uncomfortable for some. Procrastination creeps into this simple task in an effort to avoid discomfort. Getting comfortable with discomfort leads to improvement in your productivity.
9. Better Financial Health
The amount of people that don’t really understand their financial situation is alarming. The reason? Discomfort. Learning how to master discomfort will help you master your finances which ultimately will lead to a drastic reduction in stress.
9. Improved Relationships
If there is one similarity among people with poor boundaries, it’s that they can’t stand being uncomfortable. This aversion leads to poor boundaries in relationships which ultimately creates symptoms of depression, anxiety, loneliness and more. Master your ability to experience discomfort and watch your satisfaction with your relationships will improve drastically.
Life is short – and discomfort is a major part of it. Remember, if all you’re doing is making easy choices in life, you’re avoiding discomfort. If you need help learning to get comfortable with discomfort, find an awesome therapist or life coach you like and trust to help guide you through the process of mastering discomfort.
James Killian, LPC is the Principal Therapist & Owner of Arcadian Counseling in New Haven, CT where they specialize in helping over-thinkers, high achievers, and perfectionists reduce stress, increase fulfillment and enhance performance so they can move From Surviving To Thriving.