Most of our energy goes towards pursuing happiness now, creating provision for future happiness, or avoiding suffering.
The driving force behind working your job, cleaning your house, helping your child to not become a little terrorist or the thousand other less-than-pleasant things is usually the related positive outcome — a salary that allows you to eat, pay the bills and buy nice things, the satisfaction of order and and a tidy living space, the joy of having a well-adjusted child.
There is a golden thread underlying all of those things; you have to endure some degree of discomfort to achieve the outcome you desire.
Discomfort is an indicator that you are moving in the right direction, especially when you are trying to achieve something great.
However, because our old belief system is hardwired to help us stay safe and comfortable, our default response to discomfort is usually to avoid it.
I’m not talking here about the unavoidable discomfort of slow pain, but rather the largely avoidable discomfort of grow pain that is an indicator you are moving towards achieving something worthwhile. “I want to reach that goal, but
effort is uncomfortable
discipline is uncomfortable
persistence is uncomfortable
engaging with tough emotions is uncomfortable,
so let’s put it off until we have the time and energy to do it ‘one day‘”.
But as that half-finished task you’ve been putting off for 2 years now can attest, ‘one day’ will keep pushing the distance between you and your goal into the future until you have no more future left to work with.
The problem is, avoiding grow pain also means avoiding:
accomplishing your goals
“Hang on,” I hear you say, “Why is avoiding discomfort also avoiding happiness and well-being?” No:
you remain uncomfortable in your body and don’t have the energy or fitness to keep up because you keep putting of that exercise you swore you’d start 3 years ago
you remain frustrated in your job because you aren’t willing to face the fear of asking for a raise or trying to get interviews at a new job
you remain exhausted because you’re constantly working, kuiering, gaming or watching series until late at night despite having to wake up early every day.
your child is becoming someone you dislike because you’re unwilling to enforce boundaries or say no.
Avoiding discomfort means remaining stuck where you are now and actively avoiding the outcomes you are hoping for.
Avoiding discomfort means never breaking through the barriers between where you are now and the dreams you are trying to reach.
Avoiding discomfort means rolling back down the hill every time you start making progress, back into your safe, comfortable and unhappy life.
Avoiding discomfort means avoiding happiness and living the life you want.
Discomfort as your ally
Instead of avoiding it, discomfort can become your primary indicator that you are doing something important and of value.
The feeling of discomfort becomes your ally, an alarm bell that helps you realise your old belief system is at work and you have an opportunity to put your new belief system into practice.
Turning discomfort into an ally starts with curiosity. As soon as you realise that you’re feeling discomfort and thinking, “ugh, anything but this”, don’t try to escape the situation. Instead, stay in that emotional space and ask non-judgemental questions:
What about this situation is triggering these thoughts and feelings?
What are my beliefs about this situation?
What story am I telling myself about what might happen?
What is the worst possible outcome of embracing this discomfort?
What is the best possible outcome of embracing this discomfort?
What actions can I take to move through this discomfort instead of away from it?
Embracing discomfort opens up a world of new opportunities, allows you to experiencing life more richly and empowers you to achieve both the outcomes you were hoping for and bonus ones you couldn’t see behind the barrier you needed to push through.
Paradoxically, you are more likely to discover happiness and joy when embracing discomfort than you are by chasing happiness.
Making it practical
For example, you might hate the idea of waking up early despite constantly feeling stressed at home because leaving is a rush and you arrive at work feeling generally gaga.
The old belief is something like, “I’m a night owl, not a morning person.”
The outcome you want that is locked behind the discomfort is a peaceful morning, not always feeling tired, less stress at work and being able to show up as a person you like at home instead of grumpy and frustrated.
A new belief could be “I get up early because those two hours in the morning make my whole day better.”
Some steps you could take are:
Setting your alarm for the time you want to get up
Prepping your coffee pot the night before
Cutting things out of your evening routine that aren’t helpful (scrolling social media, binging series etc.)
Developing a wind-down routine in the evening to help you get into be at an hour that allows you 7 - 8 hours sleep
What grow pain thing is causing you a lot of discomfort right now (even just thinking about it)?
What are your current beliefs that help you stay stuck behind that discomfort?
What positive outcomes are locked behind that discomfort?
What steps can you take to embrace that discomfort?
What new beliefs do you need to be able to take those steps?