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The Importance of Seeking Out Discomfort

Great people do things before they're ready.

Discomfort and I are not friends. I am very happy with my routine, my quiet evenings, and my small social circle. Discomfort triggers my anxiety and makes me feel like there is no chance I’m going to succeed. Discomfort makes me crave my bed.

And yet, this is the opposite of what we’re encouraged to do. We’re told to “step out of our comfort zone,” that “life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” and other cliches that make my skin crawl and do the opposite of what they’re advising. I like my routine. I like the steadiness of my rut.

But I think I need to be better about reaching for the shovel to dig myself out of the rut.


Amy Poehler summed it up best when she said,

“Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it. Doing what you’re afraid of, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that- that’s what life is. You might be really good. You might find out something about yourself that’s really special and if you’re not good, who cares? You tried something. Now you know something about yourself.”

[Tweet “Great people do things before they’re ready.’ -Amy Poehler”]

I’m all for staying on your path that you’re happy on. If you are happy where you’re at, power to you. But the second you use the word “content” or “satisfied,” it’s time to get uncomfortable.

Discomfort breeds learning opportunities.

Discomfort thrives in the fear of messing up. Learning thrives in the act of messing up. We can’t learn if we don’t experience some growing pains. If we do everything perfectly the first time, not only are we lucky, but we’re not uncomfortable.

[Tweet “Learning thrives in the act of messing up.”]

The first step in this is understanding that mistakes are going to happen and it’s not the end of the world when they do. Recognize that they are also isolated incidents. They have no bearing on who you are and your value in your new venture.

Because let’s be real: if this is in a new job kind of situation, are they going to fire you because of one (big or little) mistake? Probably not. Does you making one (little or big) mistake mean that you are on the wrong path? Probably not.

Remember: the goal here is discomfort. To thrive in discomfort we must give ourselves permission to stumble regularly or even fall on our asses sometimes. Landing on the ground is embarrassing, but when it happens (and it will), we have two choices: the comfortable and the uncomfortable.

The comfortable choice may be to quit. We just want to go back to our comfort zones where we felt safe, secure, and like we knew what we were doing.

[Tweet “A tough path does not mean the wrong path. An easy path does not mean the right path.”]

Or we can choose the uncomfortable choice. Instead of walking away, we must keep going and decide not to ever make that mistake again (although if it does, that’s a learning point, too).

Reveling in the discomfort means consciously saying, “Well that sucked, hopefully I don’t do that again.” Write down the mistake and the solution if you need to. Discomfort can still be productive.

Discomfort pushes our limits.

When we’re comfortable, we are hanging out in our set spaces and running laps within those boundaries. In that space, we know where our talents lie and where the expectations are set. When seeking discomfort, limits are initially overstepped, but then stretched to include this new thing. A discomfortable task or experience expands this limit.

Say you have a fitness goal: before you turn 30, you want to run a marathon. If your current comfort limit has nothing to do with running, everything to do with this goal is going to be uncomfortable. But as you start doing your workouts, the walking turns into running laps. Soon you’re running miles with ease and starting to compete in 5Ks. Then 10Ks. Now your comfort limits have expanded.

Sure, it would’ve been more comfortable to not lace up those running shoes. The couch is much more inviting that hitting the pavement. But because you sought out that discomfort, you’re on track to meet your marathon goal.

Discomfort teaches us what we fear, and how to face those fears.

I’ve found that fear drives my aversion to discomfort. I am afraid of failure. I am afraid that if I do something new away from where I know what I’m doing, I’ll bomb in a huge way and my failure will be a huge inconvenience for someone else.

If we truly want to be uncomfortable and thrive in the discomfort, we have to move through that fear, sometimes in finding what truly is making us afraid. Ask yourself what you’re ultimately afraid of in taking this risk. What is the worst thing that could happen? What do you risk losing if your fear is realized?

My fear of ultimate failure is unlikely, unless I decide I have failed. It is my responsibility to accept my mistakes and understand that, as long as I learn from them, failure is an unlikely possibility. By continuing on my new uncomfortable path every day, I am challenging my fear and pushing myself to thrive in the discomfort of my new path.  

The most productive way to thrive in discomfort is to use it as a motivational tool. Try to turn the anxious, scared energy into nervous excitement at the possibility of learning something new.

Stepping out of our comfort zone can be terrifying, but it is also an opportunity to figure out what else we’re capable of.

What could you do today or have you done recently to step into discomfort and expand your comfort limits?

About the Author

Julie Winsel

With a background in magazine and newspaper publishing with a splash of business-sense, Julie (Eckardt) Winsel is re-pursuing her passion for writing. Now living in Eugene, Oregon, with her husband and cat, she likes vodka-crans and getting caught in the rain.