“A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.”
-Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Discomfort is our friend
Even thinking about this might not be comfortable for you.
Pay attention to where you are right now. What is the temperature like? How are you sitting? How hungry are you? When was the last time you interacted with another human?
Most of us are very comfortable most of the time. Physically we reside in
What if we were selling ourselves short because of our fear of discomfort?
We are trained to optimize for comfort
It’s not our fault. Our society tells us to search out comfort. “Don’t worry – be happy.” Comfort is ingrained in us, as we are trained from a young age to be as comfortable as we can
It’s rooted deeply in our social structures as well. Go tell your co-workers that instead of eating lunch you are going to go watch others eat as you fast for three days. Watch their faces as they question whether you are serious and, if you are, whether or not you are having a breakdown. Tell everyone you know that you are going on a silent meditation retreat for a weekend and see if they can fathom why. Tell your friends that you are taking the bus to work all week even though your car is working just fine. See how many of them offer you a ride to help keep you comfortable.
Why is discomfort worth exploring?
So why are we talking about this at all?
When we are uncomfortable we can’t help but pay attention to the source of that discomfort. If our shirt is itchy, it distracts us from everything else going on around us. When we are hot we go into survival mode to find a way to cool down – regardless of what is happening around us. Most of us stop there, but what if there was another option?
What if, instead of trying to fix the problem immediately, you paid attention to what was going on within yourself? What if you asked yourself some simple question which would lead to not only better self-knowledge, but more courage and confidence in your life as well?
What if, instead of having discomfort happen to us, we decided to create it in order to intentionally learn more about ourselves and come away stronger? Would that be worth doing?
Simple questions asked safely
Let me be clear here – I’m not advocating that you stop eating until you die. I’m not recommending that you sign up for the marathon in Death Valley to see what it’s like to be hot. I’m talking about choosing a level of discomfort which is bearable, in which you can be safe AND have the mental space to ask yourself questions about the experience while it is happening.
What kind of questions? Here is a good list to start with, but feel free to come up with your own:
- Why is this uncomfortable?
- What story is going on in my head right now about this?
- What is the fear that comes up as I experience this?
- How uncomfortable is this?
- Why do I choose to challenge myself right now?
- How does challenging this make me stronger?
- When might it be useful to be able to endure this discomfort without it distracting me?
- What would happen if I created this discomfort more regularly in my life?
As you go through this exercise recognize that the discomfort won’t last forever. Especially if you chose to create it in your life, you also have a choice of when it ends.
See what happens
I don’t know what answers you will find during this process. Neither do you, until you try.
What discomforts are you ready to challenge today?
Article about this from the stoic point of view.
Wiki article about this from a scientific point of view (hormesis).