We learn to avoid discomfort of all kinds from a very young age and the evading gets perpetuated as we grow into adulthood. As far back as we could remember, when we got hurt, our parents would just kiss our boo boo’s and everything was okay, when we got into an argument with friends, we were told to say we’re sorry and all would be forgotten, and when we were participating on a sports team, we all got awards, no matter what, just for being there and showing up.
We’re continually told that we need to be happy no matter what and if we’re not, we need to become happy and that that there’s a quick fix for most things that are challenging. Our world is acculturated toward becoming comfortable and striving toward maintaining comfort. Whether it’s physical, emotional, or social discomfort, we cringe at the idea of it and potentially feeling it and fight to get rid of it or against taking action on behalf of it. We strive toward what feels good and what we instinctually and understandably want more of and perceive to be better for us.
Think about how often we avoid discomfort on a daily basis. Reflect on those times that you opted to do something easier, rather than more difficult to avoid the perceived “hard” work. The moments you acted out of impulse, rather than abstained from urges such as giving into having the extra dessert. Also, the circumstances when you neglected to challenge yourself socially or interpersonally, such as joining in on a conversation or avoiding approaching a loved one or friend you were prompted to clarify things with because of fear of intimacy and/or conflict and your thoughts and feelings convincing you that the interaction will result in conflict or a ruptured relationship.
We find crafty ways to rationalize our thoughts and feelings and masterful ways to distract ourselves from discomfort that gets evoked. We’re just doing what we were taught to do and what society dictates as being the most helpful. The power is in practicing to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I encourage you to entertain acting differently on behalf of the thoughts and feelings that will surface in an attempt to protect you, which it tries reliably to do. Be open to experiencing the discomfort, becoming curious of it, observing it, and acting differently on behalf of it.
The interesting thing about it is the thoughts and feeling about “it” is typically way more awful than what it actually “is.” Also, that the results of what may come out of challenging ourselves and upon reflecting back on the incident or circumstance, is far more favorable than originally thought. We prove this when we write our thoughts and feelings in the moment and return back to it hours or days later. We realize that we felt and thought of it far worse than it actually was or we feel or think of it presently.
Even though intellectually you know that inevitably you would acquire a sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment, your mind, and specifically your thoughts and feelings holds you back and you end up missing out. You end up feeling like you failed, that you’re not able to accomplish, among other negative self-deprecating thoughts and feelings, even if you never tried and learned otherwise.
There’s such incredible ways to grow and develop through the process of practicing to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Your mind is an incredible tool that can help with this. When your mind tells you to avoid something, ask yourself to identify what fear or discomfort you’re avoiding. Identify that fear or discomfort and remind yourself of your values (for an extensive list of values, please see: http://www.stevepavlina.com/blog/2004/11/list-of-values/) and whether or not avoiding or distracting is allowing you to lean in or away from these values. If you’re leaning away from the values that are meaningful to you, consider doing things differently with a willingness to be with what ever thought and feeling surfaces and whatever discomfort gets evoked.
Look at it as a process, and despite the results, that you challenged yourself and did something different to enhance your self-confidence, self-compassion and personal development. Your self-confidence improves when you take inventory of what you were able to accomplish despite the discomfort and adversity. It provides you with the will to take on future challenges and the belief that you can work through those challenges even if you have to face challenges and discomfort, recalibrate, adjust your goals. Self-compassion comes from noticing, being with and accepting your typical normal human physical sensations, feelings and emotional states. Your personal development gets enhanced whenever you learn something new about yourself and use that information to take steps toward improving your functioning and overall quality of life.
You won’t believe you can accomplish something unless you actually take action and do so, despite what your mind tells you to do. You are in charge of your mind -- your mind is not in charge of you. I have a sign on my door and often remind my patients, “Don’t believe everything you think.” There are too many things influencing our mind to allow it to run the show. There’s societal influences, such as the ones we mentioned, our families, our experiences, etc. It gives us great insight into our thoughts, feelings and values but also gets easily influenced by many other factors which may not always benefit us or lead us to effective and valued action.
Commit to a practice of being comfortable with being uncomfortable. No challenge or discomfort will be insurmountable and keep you from living life meaningfully and purposefully. Enter your new year with greater confidence, compassion and clarity, the way you deserve to.