4 ways to overcome discomfort

All of us have goals that we want to achieve. We want to be successful, happy, healthy, accomplished... Yet, not everyone is pursuing these goals. Why is that? Is it because some just don’t want it bad enough? I don’t think that's true. It isn’t lack of motivation that’s stopping us, but rather a difficulty in overcoming our own mental barriers. Namely, the lack of skill in dealing with discomfort. Since you’re reading this I am certain that you have the will to achieve your goals, but if you want to find a way, first you need to deal with the fear of discomfort.

What is discomfort anyway? It’s the feeling you get when you’re in a situation you’re not familiar with - when you’re out of your comfort zone. It can manifest itself in a variety of ways: mental uneasiness, feeling vulnerable, feeling out of place, increased sweating, quickened heartbeat. You can experience it when doing something for the first time. It can happen when you’re in a situation (a presentation, job interview, a date) where you feel like you might fail or make a fool of yourself. Not holding all the cards and not knowing if you have the right answers is a big trigger. Your instinct to flee might kick in when you feel like this. That’s a natural response. However, running from discomfort also means running away from the things you want to accomplish. You’ll never get your dream job if you're too scared to apply for an interview. You won’t get in the shape you want to be in, if you avoid the discomfort of working out.

No matter what you’re goals are, one thing is for certain, if you want to achieve them you have to do the work. That is hard and uncomfortable. That’s why it is paramount that we understand and accept discomfort.

Discomfort is just a side effect of change. If you want to grow you’ll have to embrace it. Think about all the things that you could achieve if you learn to push through discomfort. You could develop better habits, become more gritty and resilient, be healthier, learn new skills. Don’t let a short-term feeling put a ceiling on your potential.


Ways to overcome discomfort

Let’s get one thing out of the way first, overcoming discomfort doesn't mean that you’ll stop feeling it. It means that you’ll be able to take action despite of its presence. Here are four ways that will help you to do that.

1. Discomfort is not a negative emotion. We need to stop looking at discomfort as a negative emotion that we shouldn’t be feeling. With that mindset it will be hard to resist the desire to run from it. Instead we should think of it as growing pains. Accept it as a natural part of progress. Understanding this on an intellectual level is one thing, putting it to practice is another. That brings us to step two.

2. Baby steps. Getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable requires exposure to discomfort. Don’t start with drastic measures to accomplish this, start with small actions instead. Scale up as you gain more tolerance and confidence. Maybe you want to stop eating junk food. Don’t just quit cold turkey. First, start with lowering the number of times you eat junk food in a week. Then, try eliminating the sugary drinks. After that, limit your intake of fried food. Step by step you’ll train yourself to resist the cravings. This can apply to almost any goal.

What is it that you want to accomplish that is out of your comfort zone? Break it up in small actionable steps. Start with the least uncomfortable and work your way up. However, reaching the goal is not a straightforward path. There will be comfort zone relapses, steps forward and steps backward. The important thing is to stick it out and follow through.

3. Get to know your responses to discomfort. How do you react when you’re out of your comfort zone? What thoughts go through your head?  Observe your behavior. Take note of it.

Here's one personal example: whenever I have to do something that is outside my comfort zone,  making excuses is my version of an escape plan. Why should I exercise when instead I could be working on improving my writing? Why should I go to a networking party when I could be working on my business plan? My go-to excuse is finding “better” uses for my time instead of doing the thing that is uncomfortable and scary. Now that I’m aware of this pattern, I’ll be better equipped to recognize and overcome it the next time it happens.

4. The 3 strikes technique. I first read about this on the blog Zen Habits and it seems perfect for fighting distractions and urges. Let’s say that you want to read more, but your phone is constantly distracting you from it. So, the next time you’re sitting with a book and hear your phone buzzing, don’t check it. The second time it happens, don’t check it. The third time you feel the urge, go ahead and reach for your phone. This teaches us how to sit with our discomfort and to push its limits bit by bit.

What about you, is the fear of discomfort standing between you and your goals? Will you try to overcome it?