Embracing discomfort is a critical skill.
Those of us who have been raised in the US or any other western country have been conditioned to believe that discomfort should be avoided at any cost. Nearly every advertisement involves some form of offer of reduction or avoidance of discomfort, usually in combination with some offer of pleasure of some sort.
The problem with this approach is that it ignores the fact that avoidance of discomfort stymies our ability to grow and change and achieve what we want.
When we master the ability to embrace discomfort and make it work for us rather than against us, we find that there is really no other skill we cannot master. When discomfort becomes an experience we actually seek out, making most any change in our lives becomes achievable, whether the skill is getting fit, stopping smoking, learning a language, running a marathon, or anything in life we might want.
Discomfort is not the same as pain. Pain is something we tolerate that has no purpose. Discomfort is something that might be unpleasant in the moment that can easily be tolerated initially and later can actually become pleasurable because of the positive benefits it produces. It is something that can be sought out in a strategic way that can amplify our efforts and allow us to move much more quickly towards our goals with much less struggle.
The irony is that we can avoid a lot of pain in the future if we learn to embrace discomfort now and become more adept at embracing ever-increasing amounts of discomfort over time. When we stretch ourselves in a laser-focused way, we avoid stagnation and free ourselves to grow.
How avoiding discomfort turns back on itself
Lots of folks flee discomfort as if it were bubonic plague. It is not, and most of us know this at a fundamental level. But many of us still sprint in the opposite direction any time discomfort rears its ugly head. The thing is, though, that doing this virtually guarantees that we will not be able to change our habits and achieve what we want in life.
Many people donÃ¢Â?Â?t exercise regularly because they donÃ¢Â?Â?t like to sweat or feel physical discomfort. Bear in mind that this is not some gut-wrenching pain unto death, but rather just some experiences that theyÃ¢Â?Â?ve not gotten used to. Therefore, they do what they like are accustomed to, which is sitting on the couch watching TV and eating Taco Bell.
The single practice of learning to become accustomed to something that feels different, which anyone would be forced to admit is not so tough in the context of life as a whole, causes countless individuals to miss out on all of the benefits that being fit would give them. In some cases it results in disease and early death, which is a lot more uncomfortable than the exercise itself.
How to begin embracing discomfort
If we make strategic embracing of discomfort a goal in and of itself, weÃ¢Â?Â?ll find our ability to do so increasing over time. As we become more adept at this skill, not only will we find ourselves changing our habits and achieving our goals, but weÃ¢Â?Â?ll also begin to actually enjoy what we used to consider unpleasant.
The key to embracing discomfort is to take very small baby steps. This makes the discomfort manageable. Taking anything more than baby steps is usually counterproductive. If something is too uncomfortable, weÃ¢Â?Â?ll likely avoid it the second time, assuming we are able to get ourselves to endure it in the first place.
So just choose something that is so small itÃ¢Â?Â?s easy. Almost ridiculously easy. For example, put on your running shoes and walk around the house. Do that for a couple of weeks. After that becomes easy and comfortable, put those shoes on and walk out your front door to your mailbox. Do that a few times. After that, walk around the block. Do that a few times. And then take it from there. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Another useful technique is to be the observer. When you experience discomfort, donÃ¢Â?Â?t get upset. Resist the urge to run away to food or cigarettes or your iPhone or whatever you run to. Just observe the uncomfortable feelings. What happens if you just sit in the discomfort for a while? Does it lessen in intensity? Does it go away? What do you find yourself wanting to medicate with? Why is that? What can you learn from it?