Finding Comfort In Discomfort
I felt inclined to write about this topic because of the frequency with which it kept popping up in my life. I wrote a recent Instagram post that touched on this subject in brief, but after attending a meeting yesterday in which someone made “finding comfort in discomfort” their 2019 goal, I knew it was time to expand.
The idea is rather simple and seems almost ironic in nature. But as human beings I think we have a general tendency to avoid discomfort in nearly every single respect. We decline to speak up when someone challenges our views. We avoid foreign situations or environments that may pose a threat — no matter how real. And as a result of these episodes of avoidance (amongst countless others), I think we find ourselves prone to circumventing internal growth.
Without doing any personal research, I can say with some confidence that this is merely an evolutionary trait passed down through millennia. Our ancient ancestors avoided discomfort in the most simplistic of forms whenever possible by finding shade in times of intense heat, or avoiding certain geographical regions for fear of what they contained. And as human beings evolved and societies formed, these measures of avoidance merely shifted with the times.
But there comes a point in our lives where we have no choice but to choose discomfort, as other options slowly dematerialize. When we’re afraid of traveling by plane but need to go overseas for an important business conference, what choice do we have but to step on the plane and cope with the discomfort that’s sure to follow? When we hate to dance but have to at our wedding, what choice do we have but to take a class or simply get on the dance floor and strut out stuff? The general idea is that we avoid discomfort whenever possible, but we suffer through it when all other options are gone. We face it, but only when it’s a last resort.
I don’t think that needs to be the case. We don’t have to fear getting on the plane each time we’re asked to travel abroad. And we don’t have to sweat profusely before the wedding knowing that first dance looms on the horizon.
Make no mistake when I say we’re not overcoming our fears by facing discomfort. We’re not being asked to get over our fear of flying or dancing in public. Instead we’re just learning to find comfort in the discomfort that’s likely to ensue.
I’m inclined to believe that several of us (millions, really) head into work each morning without a clear understanding of how the day will unfold. Your tasks are always changing, you need to account for unknowns, and even then there’s a likely chance that preparing for unknowns isn’t enough. When you first started that job I imagine you were consistently stressed at the thought of returning to work the next day due to a fear that anything could happen. But over time you grew accustomed to such an environment, and you even went so far as to expect it. Chances are that the fear of unknowns never left you, but you grew to feel comfortable in its presence nevertheless.
I think a very ideal example of this concept comes from being in law enforcement. Policemen and women start each shift with no idea what the day will bring. None! They may hand out a few simple speeding tickets, or instead they may find themselves in a firefight with a distressed elderly man. But they return each day calm and collected because they have grown to live with the unknown and discomfort that each shift will likely bring. They may have been trained to remain calm in such situations, but who’s to say that we can’t train ourselves?
The truth of the matter is that we can.
Instead of avoiding discomfort, we should seek it. When discomfort presents itself to us (as it often does), we should take a moment to understand that this is an opportunity for growth and development unlike any other. As opposed to running away or hiding or making an excuse, I encourage you to make 2019 the year you face discomfort. You may never grow to overcome it, but you can grow to endure it, and to find yourself comfortable in its presence.
Be not afraid of discomfort. If you can’t put yourself in a situation where you are uncomfortable, then you will never grow. You will never change. You’ll never learn. — Jason Reynolds