Getting Comfortable with Discomfort

Getting Comfortable with Discomfort

Like many of you, I am still processing the many lessons of 2020, a year whereby everything changed more quickly that you could imagine change would occur.  While I was still hanging on to the idea that COVID19 was “only a flu”, others were showing a much more adaptive mindset, and preparing for the eventual reality – a time when we were all asked to remain in our homes for our own protection.

Teachers and students (and in many cases, parents) all over the country had to adapt at short notice to online learning, rapidly undertaking professional learning about the whys and hows whilst updating planners to reflect new ways of teaching and reaching the young people in our lives.  To quote a now popular term – we “pivoted” and we pivoted quickly.

And for me, that pivoting was good.  I learned a lot of new skills that I had meant to catch up on and now love using Teams and One Note pages to support my class.  I learnt a whole lot more about wellbeing by acknowledging the challenges and working consciously to support myself and others through them.  By functioning at the edge of my capacity, I found that I opened myself up to new ideas and new possibilities.  But how often do we give ourselves the opportunity to do that?

Most of us avoid discomfort as often as we can.  We stop doing that yoga pose when it gets hard.  We slow down when we get out of breath jogging around the block.  We give up on learning a new skill when we get frustrated. I am sure you can think of many, many examples of this – from turning on the ducted heating rather than walking to get a jumper to not persevering with a new friendship.  Discomfort is hard.  But it is the only way that we go beyond what we are today, and it is certainly the only way we can become extraordinary.

On a personal level, the point of discomfort often indicates the opportunity for improvement.  I have just started lifting weights at the gym – and whenever I have sore muscles the next day, my coach reminds me that soreness is an indication that I have WORKED.  You have to embrace the soreness and even seek it out to know you are getting better.

The Stoic Philosopher Seneca was a big proponent of this.  This mentor and advisor to the Emperor Nero would regularly put his body into uncomfortable situations, sleeping outdoors, wearing insubstantial clothing and so on – largely because he knew it would keep his mind sharp, but also because he felt these emotions would bring him greater insight into himself, a broader perspective on life and a more profound sense of contentment in those moments where he was, well, comfortable.

I’m not suggesting we embrace the exact practices of Seneca, but we could try to extend our comfort zones in small ways regularly. Next time you feel uncomfortable and want to give up – try sticking it out for a few moments longer.  Enter a room full of strangers and go and speak to one.  Read a book that is just a little bit different to your usual reading material.  Take a cold shower.  Try a new class. You might even have some fun with it!  Extending your boundaries might lead to the discovery of a whole new passion. At the very least, it might also make you better at your existing passions and goals.

Check out this article here by Zen Habits creator Leo Baubata, who believes this is an important skill for life success:

In addition, in schools we talk a lot about how getting comfortable with discomfort and uncertainty is important for future-readiness. The world we are preparing young people to enter will not be the world we grew up in.  Between climate change, the rapid rise of technology, mental health awareness, pandemics like COVID19 and the changing nature of work, tomorrow’s leaders will need to be prepared for jobs that are less defined and certainly less discreet.  You will not be able to sit quietly in an office or cubicle and not consider how you work with others, or how the world itself is changing.  You might not even have a job description.  How does that sound – daunting or…. EXCITING?

Discomfort is not so bad… especially if you learn to embrace it now.  Tell stories to yourself and others of great successes after a need for change.  Build the confidence of the young people in your lives with these moments.  Getting comfortable with discomfort takes great self-belief in your capacity to tackle and find your niche in any situation.  So practicing now in small ways might just help you achieve great success later on.


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