Discomfort leads to growth. I know this to be true, from my journey through the martial arts and my struggles with chronic illness.

I know I must eat a certain way to hold off the symptoms of this degenerative disease, but occasionally eat things I know I shouldn’t eat. Or sometimes I watch a movie instead of working on my blog or something else I know I must do. I attempt to get up early, only to be thwarted by the comfort of my bed.

If you’ve struggled with any of these, there is a way forward. Simply being conscious of complacency and the need to push yourself into the zone of discomfort is half the battle.

Setting goals and actively challenging yourself is great when you have a sense of purpose. Click here to find out some tactics for developing your purpose.

Discovery Through Self-Denial

Our brains are elaborate and wondrous systems designed for one purpose: to ensure our own survival. As such, they tend to gravitate to the more familiar things that they know will not hurt us. Which is great, if we’re trying to escape the grasp of a hungry tiger or survive an avalanche.

Unfortunately for us, this survival system controlled by our animal brain (amygdala) sees everything new and different as a thing to be feared and avoided. This means that we are more likely to spend hours watching TV instead of maybe working out or working on some form of personal development.

Therefore, in order to circumvent this tendency, we have to purposefully challenge ourselves.

Thankfully, we have the ability to override the instructions encoded in our amygdalas using the power of our pre-frontal cortex. This takes some concerted effort, however; some self-awareness gained through prayer, meditation and/or self-reflection.

French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote that ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.’

Making Excuses

This is a tough topic. I mean, I was raised with the sort of mentality that you just sort of grit your teeth and get on with life. However, I find that given my present health condition, that is a challenge.

At what point does my disease become an excuse which prevents me from accessing my true potential? The bottom line is that it’s a totally personal thing. Only I know if I am capable of more. And I know I am. That’s why I push myself. I fall (both figuratively and literally). But, I get back up.

I have made some observations, though.

One way I get dragged into the mud, as it were, is by listening to other people too much. A few people will help build you up. But far more will try to drag you down. It’s the nature of us humans to want to be the same; so we all get along. This harkens back to the days when we would have to stick together for survival. For that reason, we all had to get along.

I find that the tactics of such people, well-intentioned as they may be, will act in one of two ways to unconsciously try and make me more like them:

  1. They will try to change my mind/behaviour to match theirs. Let’s say I’m on a strict diet. Most people won’t understand this. They will try to convince me that it’s OK to cheat on my diet. It’s only one time.
  2. They will be OK with me NOT achieving anything. Most people are alright with mediocrity. They’ve been beaten into submission by life and have just thrown in the towel.  If I eat something I’m not supposed to, nobody will really say anything. If I skip a workout, no one is going to notice.

These are fairly obvious observations, but in my opinion, these little things add up and make one’s excuse-making a little easier.

Join The Masters

People who follow the path of discomfort are in a different class than most other people. What separates them from the pack is a willingness to challenge the status quo. Don’t be discouraged by the term ‘master’, though. It is not a title reserved at birth for an elite few, although it may seem that way. A book I’m reading – Creativity, Inc. – deals with this topic a lot.

Whether world-changer or local hero, they all share these qualities in common.

Risk: They regularly test their mettle by taking risks – whether it be small experiments or by confronting larger obstacles.

Learn: If the risks they take result in failure or success, they learn and move forward. Many people get stuck at this stage. There are lots of cultural norms which dictate how we should feel about failure. They can be paralyzing.

Grow: All great people embrace growth and personal development through continuous improvement and self-examination – as hard as it may be.

Innovate: Those who we consider great innovate. They look for alternative solutions to common problems. When everyone goes left, they go right (when appropriate). They challenge long-standing beliefs and assumptions.

Some more inspirational characters who fall into this category include Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr. But these qualities certainly isn’t exclusive to types like these. You or I can develop the same qualities with some patience and effort.

Pain Is Progress

Pain is related to discomfort. It in uncomfortable for most to look at pain and talk about it. Especially if it is your own.

Pain is ever-present. It’s waiting for us at work, at home, at the gym, everywhere. All the time.

Sometimes, we fall under the assumption that we can escape it – by getting lots of money, lots of friends or ignoring it.

The denial that pain exists and the reluctance to meet it head-on will lead us down dark paths. We may choose to mask our pain through food, alcohol, TV – the list goes on.

The progress comes in the acknowledgment of one’s own pains. Only then can you move on.

Candor with oneself and with others – as prescribed in Creativity, Inc. – is crucial to growth and innovation.

The issue is not so much that we have pain or discomfort, but that we see them as problems instead of opportunities. Let’s take something like knee pain. Most of us would much rather take a pill to get rid of the pain instead of doing the work to address the reasons for why we might have the knee pain.

Drawing The Goal Line

Michael Hyatt prescribes thinking of three Zones when setting goals for ourselves. The next time you set a goal that you want to achieve, think about which zone it falls into.

Zone 1 – The Comfort Zone – This is the zone where we don’t really accomplish anything. It’s where we go to zone out, watch TV, overeat. Since this zone doesn’t challenge us, there’s nothing to be gained by being here.

Zone 2 – The Discomfort Zone – You may have a little fear, trepidation, uncertainty or doubt about the outcome. When you start feeling that, you know you’re where you need to be.

Zone 3 – The Delusional Zone – These are the things that are not possible for you – right now. If you’re currently a couch-surfer, it’s impractical for you to think you’ll be a world-class athlete in a year. Think baby steps. Dial it back a few. Then revisit the same goal in a year. Maybe your original crazy idea will be more reachable.

Practical Tactics For Embracing Discomfort

Change Your Thinking – Spend time by yourself. Discover who you are. Realize that fear is an emotion. All emotion is generated by thoughts. Thoughts come from your mind. To regulate your fears and anxieties, you must develop your mind.

Learn For Life– We often have fear of things we don’t know. Know more. Read books about things you are passionate about. Watch inspirational movies about people who have done what you want to do. Hang out with people more successful than you who may be where you want to be. Learn what is possible or, more importantly, learn what is not impossible.

Acquire New Skills – Experiment regularly. Practice your passions. If you’ve always wanted to learn an instrument, go ahead and do it. The more you do, the less you will fear to do. In Soft-Wired by Dr. Michael Merzenich, he prescribes that one should try a new skill every 4-6 weeks.

Work Hard – Happiness is a journey. It’s not a destination. In Western culture, we have a lot available to us that we don’t have to work for. Instead, become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Read more about how I follow my path and work on the things I should be working on.


Discomfort, Growth, and Innovation

How To Embrace Discomfort

Purposeful Discomfort: How Leaders Encourage Growth Through Discomfort

SPI 243: How To Create Your Life Vision Plan With Michael Hyatt

Ep #137: The Case For Pain


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