The Gifts of Discomfort

Posted on February 26, 2019

In today’s volatile, complex and cautious world those who are curious and courageous enough to regularly step out of their comfort zone will be those who will gain the greatest rewards.

Author Brené Brown states that: “leaning into discomfort is one of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves”

Discomfort can be used as an energy that pushes us to grow, to change, to shed old skin and to expand something in ourselves and in that which we are engaged with- be it a situation, a relationship, a perspective (1).

The essence of creativity is novelty – the ‘coming-into-being’ of something that didn’t exist before. When inside our comfort zone everything is familiar, it is known to us, there is nothing new to absorb – no surprises to be encountered – we are in autopilot mode. However, when we step in discomfort we are forced to notice everything: our senses are heightened, we are present, aware and receptive to the nuances of our internal and external reality – taking in new information that immediately collides with existing knowledge. Here novelty is born.

Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, Psychologist and author of Better Than Perfect, says

“people who regularly seek out fresh experiences tend to be more creative and emotionally resilient than those who remain stuck in routine”

Discomfort and associated emotions such as vulnerability, doubt, fear and uncertainty are essential to getting unstuck in life (2). They breed creativity, novelty, elucidate new information and connect dots in surprising and unchartered ways.

American composer Keeril Makan said “when fear arises, I’ve reached the threshold between the known and the unknown”

Author Jia Jiang made a commitment to develop his comfort with discomfort on a daily basis. He decided to make a game out of it and for 100 days in a row he actively found opportunities to put himself in progressively more challenging situations. He called this rejection therapy.

Follow this link to see the 100 ways he stepped into discomfort

Jia Jiang’s 100 day commitment to consciously embrace uncertainty demonstrates that being able to lean into discomfort gives us the opportunity to participate in a journey of discovery – about ourselves, a situation, the world around us – and to create a narrative around that which celebrates the meaning behind both the journey and the discoveries along the way. As Dr Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology said, “it’s not our failures that determine our future success, but how we explain them to ourselves.” 

Below are some questions by Margie Warrell (3) author of Stop Playing Safe and Find Your Courage to spark your curiosity around what opportunities may lie ahead of you today to lean into your discomfort:

  • Do you keep doing what’s always been done, or challenge old assumptions and try new approaches to problems?
  • Do you proactively seek new challenges or just manage those you already have?
  • Do you risk being exposed and vulnerable, or act to protect you pride and patch of power?
  • Do you ask for what you really want, or just for what you think others want to give you?
  • If you knew that no matter what happened, you could handle it, what actions would you take that you aren’t taking now? What conversations would you engage in that you’ve been putting off? Where would you step out onto centre stage more fully and boldly in your own life – and in doing so, open up the possibility for new opportunities, new relationships, new alliances, new ideas to take bloom?

When leaders surrender the security of the known they create new opportunities, strengthen their courage and awaken new possibilities, inspiring in themselves and in those they lead, the confidence to take on bigger challenges in the future.

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