Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

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As human beings we have the tendency to gravitate toward things that are pleasing or easy and avoid, sometimes at all costs, things that are unpleasant or hard. Which makes perfect sense for the most part…avoiding things that are unpleasant can keep us safe in certain situations. What about when you’re learning something new? It can feel frustrating, daunting, awkward, or even produce anxiety…a whole mess of unpleasant feelings. But does that mean we shouldn’t learn new stuff or practice building skills even though it can feel hard? Heck no! Pushing outside our comfort zone is going to feel uncomfortable (if it felt comfortable it wouldn’t be outside our comfort zone in the first place).

The uncomfortable feeling of stepping outside our comfort zone is where growth happens…it’s the feeling of getting stronger. And growth leads to progress and opportunities, expands our capabilities, creates more joy, and infuses more life into our life!

My first encounter with this concept was when I was working through frequent panic attacks. If you’ve ever experienced a full blown panic attack you know how scary it can feel…like you are literally dying or losing your mind. Once I learned that that I was, for sure, not losing my mind or in any physical harm I was able to begin the process of facing the icky feelings of panic attacks by learning to be comfortable (or as comfortable as possible) in an uncomfortable situation. My therapist taught me a deep breathing technique that helped me find a little ease, softness, and calm during anxious moments rather than fighting it and being rigid.

Years later I found this same concept to be vastly helpful when I started practicing yoga. Yoga might not look like much from an external perspective, but get yourself into a twisted triangle or half moon pose and you’ll be sweating bullets, muscles shaking, wishing for the instructor to tell you to come out of it…that is until you learn to breathe whilst in uncomfortable poses and you find a bit of ease in the midst of it.

I love this concept! I apply it to other areas of my life now too when things feel hard…like changing jobs, learning to become a massage therapist, going to grad school and writing difficult papers, presenting to groups, training for a marathon, and trying online dating (thank goodness I got comfortable being uncomfortable because that’s how I met my amazing husband!).

Throughout adult life I’ve had numerous opportunities to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s definitely not easy, some days I just want to stay comfortable and that’s okay too sometimes….but most days I try to get out there and do at least one thing that feels hard. With practice I’ve gotten more accustomed to it and have developed a little arsenal of tricks and strategies…

Here are four strategies that have worked for me….

  1. Focus on other people’s needs. If I’m among other people and we’re all doing something challenging (for instance during a difficult race or part of a work group struggling with a project) focusing on the other people around me helps take my mind off my own discomfort. Find ways to help other people by lightening their load (figuratively or literally), making them laugh, being optimistic and encouraging, or offering up helpful suggestions.

  2. Remind yourself that growth is hard. Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a training run (hill repeats for instance) and it’s feeling hard and I don’t wanna!!! I say to myself “this is what it feels like to get stronger” which totally helps! Because it reminds me that without this discomfort, I’m not going to grow.

  3. Breathe deep and lean into it! So often I feel like I’m trying to control outcomes and do everything in my power not to mess up or look stupid. But what this really does is make me tense and rigid and unable to be flexible and go with the flow. If I just kind of lean right into the struggle instead of resisting it, things might still suck, but at least I feel more empowered and less like I’m in a fight.

  4. Focus on right now. As an anxiety-prone type my source of worry is usually about the future “what if’s” which can make the task at hand feel ten times more awful then it needs to. “What if I forget my entire presentation, what if the important person in the audience thinks I’m an idiot and I lose out on an opportunity, what if I left the dryer running and it burns down the house?” Wow. Instead of that mess, I try and focus on what I’m actually doing…setting up my stuff, greeting participants as they come in, even enjoying the experience as it unfolds…and never mind the rest!

Sarah WalkerComment