We learn to avoid discomfort of all kinds from a very young age and the evading gets perpetuated as we grow into adulthood. As far back as we could remember, when we got hurt, our parents would just kiss our boo boo’s to immediately make everything okay. When we got into an argument with friends, we were told to say we’re sorry and that all would be forgotten. When we were participating on a sports team, we all got awards, no matter what, just for being there and showing up.
On social media we’re inundated with glorified messages about happiness being the ideal and desired state. We’re continually told that we need to be happy no matter what and if we’re not, we need to become happy. Our world is acculturated toward avoiding discomfort and finding any means by which to secure physical, emotional, or social comfort.
It’s also expected that there’s a quick fix for most things that are challenging and evoke negative feelings. It’s assumed that if we haven’t fixed what’s making us feel bad then we “failed” and there’s something fundamentally “wrong” with us.
The inherent pressure is the impetus for why we may avoid, try to get rid of, or put up a struggle – often leading to overwhelming emotions, distress, and suffering. We strive toward what feels good and what we instinctually and understandably want more of and perceive to be better for us.
Think about how you may daily avoid discomfort. Reflect on those times that you opted to feel less to avoid the complexity of self-reflection, sitting and being present with the discomfort, and making challenging decisions that may immediately and in the moment, intensify and prolong the discomfort.
Those moments when you chose to yell, overeat, or procrastinate reflects when you acted out of impulse in an attempt to diminish or rid yourself of emotions such as fear, sadness, shame, frustration, or disappointment. If you were willing to come up close, welcome, and befriend all human emotions, including the negative ones, you would leave room for these feelings to direct and clue you into what’s truly important to you, and provide guidance as to how you want to behave by way of your values and being your best self.
For example, when you neglected to challenge yourself socially or interpersonally, such as joining in on a conversation or avoiding approaching a loved one or friend because of fear of vulnerability or conflict, you’re missing out on prime opportunities for personal growth and development.
The power is in practicing to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Entertain acting differently on behalf of the thoughts and feelings that surface. Our mind is our executive protector. It will always attempt to keep us from experiencing discomfort. Rather than taking what your mind says at face value, observe, becoming curious, entertain openness and flexibility rather than returning to habitual, familiar, and “comfortable” patterns of behavior. Act on behalf of your values, rather than on your raw and unfiltered thoughts and feelings.
The interesting thing is the thoughts and feelings about a circumstance is typically way more awful than what it actually is. You prove this when you write your thoughts and feelings in the moment and return back to them hours or days later. You may realize that what you felt and thought of in the moment was far worse than what actually was.
Even though intellectually you know that you would acquire a sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment if you challenged yourself, your mind, and specifically your thoughts and feelings detain you. You end up not only missing out, but additionally beating yourself up for it. The sentiments such as “I’m not good enough”, “I can’t do it”, and “I don’t care” become second nature.
Through challenges and adversity you get in touch with your authentic self, commit to change and transformation, and give yourself the opportunity to work through some preconceived experiences, ideas, and strongly held beliefs.
Your mind is an incredible tool that can help with this. When it tells you to avoid something, ask yourself to identify what discomfort or fear that you’re avoiding. Identify your values and contemplate whether you are leaning in or away from these values.
If you’re leaning away from the values that are meaningful to you, consider doing things differently with a willingness to be with what ever thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations surface whenever discomfort gets evoked. Expect your mind to initially resist, it’s bound to. Gently and compassionately return to the infinite benefits that you’re inevitably affording yourself with.
Your identity and self-concept transition and improve when you take inventory and stock of what you were able to accomplish despite the discomfort and adversity. It provides you with the will to take on future challenges and the belief that you can work through them even if you must face discomfort.
Self-compassion comes from noticing, being with, and accepting your human physical sensations, feelings, and emotional states. Your personal development gets enhanced whenever you learn something new about yourself and use that information to take steps toward improving your functioning and overall quality of life.
There are too many factors influencing your mind and the way in which you think and feel to allow it to dictate the trajectory of your life. You won’t believe you can accomplish unless you take direct action, despite what your mind tells you to do. You’re in charge of your mind; your mind is not in charge of you. Mindfully and intentionally enter this new year with greater confidence, compassion and clarity.
Blog posted on Psych Central.