Five Steps to Making Discomfort Your Friend and Ally
It’s often been said that we really have only two basic motivations: to achieve comfort and to avoid discomfort. That applies whether we’re talking about physical, emotional, or psychological states. Unfortunately, for a lot of us, “change” is synonymous with “discomfort”.
From personal experience and observation, it seems to me that:
- Most of us are completely inconsistent about the type of discomfort we’re willing to tolerate. If we’re honest, we can probably recall times we’ve been willing to overeat to the point of discomfort, even outright pain; the discomfort of overeating was outweighed by the deliciousness of the food. The really honest ones among us will recall times they’ve thought about working out but haven’t been willing to actually do it; the discomfort of getting dressed and going to the gym was greater than the discomfort of viewing the attractive muffin-top stomach bulge, oozing over the waistband of their jeans.
- For many people, the thought of short-term, immediate discomfort is a stronger deterrent to change than the thought of long-term, future gain is a motivator for change. They allow the current or anticipated discomfort to derail the action steps necessary to enjoy the long-term gain.
- Any type of change—in behavior, thought, or circumstances—is uncomfortable, regardless of how greatly we may desire the outcome resulting from the change. Only those who are willing to accept that will reap the rewards of taking action despite their discomfort.
So, how do you go about accepting or even (Gasp!) embracing discomfort? Here are five steps that will get you moving in the right direction.
1. Baby-step your way into becoming comfortable with discomfort. Choose a new way of doing a routine activity; for example, drive home from work using a different route. Don’t start with some humongous change, like trying to eat vegetarian when you’re a confirmed carnivore.
2. Change your labels. When faced with some task you’d rather not do and you get that feeling, try labeling it “excitement” instead of “discomfort.” Yes, I know—sounds kind of like a mind game. However, when you think about it, the physical symptoms of what we’d call discomfort are similar to those we experience when we’re feeling excited: the pulse and breathing speed up, and the stomach may jump. If you’re going to have the same set of physical symptoms regardless, why not label them with a far more positive name?
3. Plan (in advance!) to celebrate having done things that make you uncomfortable. A friend of mine, Christine Otte of Otte Consulting and Support, introduced me to the concept of the “frog jar,” which is based on the recommendation that, if you know you have to swallow a frog, you do it first thing in the morning and get it over with.
Christine keeps a stash of dollar bills in her office, and whenever she does an uncomfortable task—whenever she swallows a frog—she puts a dollar in her jar. The more tough stuff she pushes herself to do, the more money in her frog jar. When she has enough money, she buys herself something.
I’ve changed this a bit to suit myself better. Since my “jar” is actually a pottery bowl (decorated with frogs, naturally), I’ve opted to use small origami stars to represent my uncomfortable tasks. Not only is this neater and prettier for me, but folding the stars is a nice little meditative break in the middle of the day. Lots of stars = lots of cash, which I spend on something purely indulgent.
4. Choose to stop catastrophizing. Many of us seem to be expert at telling ourselves stories about all the potential catastrophic outcomes that could result from doing something uncomfortable. Why not shift your focus and start creating stories with happy endings? Since you’re making things up anyway, there’s absolutely no point in focusing on a worst-case scenario. Someone (Help me with the attribution, please!) said that successful people are willing to do the uncomfortable things that unsuccessful people are not willing to do. It will be easier to join the ranks of those successful business owners if you stop scaring yourself so much that you end up doing nothing.
5. Re-frame your good/bad thinking. Approaching situations with this type of dichotomous thinking often leads to stopping yourself dead in your tracks, severely limiting your options, and generally making life more difficult.
Rather than constantly thinking discomfort = bad and comfort = good, re-frame it. When you’re feeling uncomfortable, think of how that’s actually beneficial: You’re pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone which, by definition, means you’re growing. The more you grow, the more fortitude you develop and the more willing you are to experience discomfort. It’s an endlessly upward spiral of increasing your personal power and positive outcomes. And that’s not a bad payoff for accepting some discomfort.
BTW, thanks to cheetah100 for the frog photo, found on flickr. (Isn’t alliteration fun? :))This entry was posted in discomfort, personal power.