7 Ways to Get Comfortable with Discomfort
By Kevin Daum, Contributor
By definition, no one is comfortable with discomfort, but once you learn to recognize it as a sign that you’re learning and growing, you can come to almost welcome it. The unknown can be frightening, but it can also be energizing and exciting. I’ve found getting out of my comfort zone can create new ideas and boost my creativity. Sure, it still scares me. I feel self-conscious, nervous and even inadequate sometimes when I stretch myself, but I do it anyway. I do it because I firmly believe that all personal growth comes from taking exactly those sorts of risks.
In my life, I’ve had lots of great, uncomfortable new experiences to remind me of this. For example, I started a Fordham University master’s degree program at nearly 50. Before that, the last time I turned in a college paper I typed it on a green screen TRS-80 from Radio Shack, saved it on a 5.25″ floppy disk and printed it on a dot matrix printer. At Fordham, I’d been told to email them in. Do I send it as a PDF or Word doc? Should I put my name in the document title? I felt ridiculous and lost.
It was the same when I was revamping my entire social media approach for my columns. The patterns I created in previous years served well, but to extend my reach I had to try new things beyond my current knowledge.
I always have new things to learn. And I’ll change behavior patterns to make the most of a new approach once I get it implemented. I feel out of my depth. Progress is slow.
I don’t like feeling lost or moving slowly. But I love how I feel when I find myself on the other side. Accomplishment and traction are completely satisfying. Even more so when they’re hard-won. Those rewards keep me coming back to the edge of my comfort zone, even as it expands. And then I step outside again — a growth junkie on the hunt for the next accomplishment fix.
Here are seven techniques I’ve found for getting through the rough patches and for being as comfortable as possible with discomfort. I hope they’ll help you stretch bigger, reach farther and grow faster.
1. Clear your head.
Every time I try something new and different, my inner voice gets really loud. The only way I know to quiet it is to impose quiet inside and out. Taking time to be still in a quiet environment helps. A little meditation or prayer provides space and calm for both my head and soul and gets me ready for the adventure to come.
2. Write about the process.
Discomfort comes from tension. While you usually can’t immediately resolve its source, you can release at least some of the tension by writing about it. Writing is an outlet, and it can help organize your thoughts and emotions so you can get a clear picture of the path ahead.
3. Reward yourself.
If you are going to put yourself through a bit of hell, you are certainly entitled to a bit of heaven as well. Get yourself something nice. Indulge with that once-a-year restaurant. You are taking risks and working hard. Show yourself appropriate appreciation.
4. Share the journey.
Most challenges are yours and yours alone. You took them on. You’ll reap the rewards. But you don’t have to be lonely in the process. Involve your closest friends or a great coach. They’ll offer support and enjoy the story of your struggle and eventual success. If you can entice a friend to join you on your growth journey, that’s even better.
5. Create easy time.
When you are pushing for a breakthrough, everything can seem hard. Make sure you assign small blocks of time to accomplish simple tasks and practice skills you’ve already mastered. This will rebuild your confidence and remind you that you have broken through similar difficulty before.
6. Take the plunge.
It can be tempting to try just dipping your toe into the sea of change. Don’t do it! You’ll waste time or worse, talk yourself out of it. Make a bold commitment and jump right in! Throwing yourself into change gives you momentum. Being fully immersed in an uncomfortable environment may be stressful, but it’s motivating. And you’ll get where you want to be faster if you get going quickly.
7. Celebrate small wins.
Change is hard. Growth is slow. Set yourself up for success by identifying recognizable, achievable and intermediary milestones. Celebrate every single one. Taking the time to feel proud and to bask in the victory of each progressive step you achieve will re-energize and motivate you. Then party big time when you get to the finish line.
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Want more Kevin? Here are three more columns available on Inc.