The Power of Discomfort

Comfort is great. We all want and need it. What’s not to like? But we do not always sing the praises of being uncomfortable and that is a shame because discomfort can be the greatest thing in the world. It is often at those places in our lives where we are uncomfortable that we are pushing the boundaries of our life and initiating growth. Perhaps none of us would wish to be constantly uncomfortable, but living a life that is too small for us is worse.

Comfort Overrated

In fact, comfort is overrated. Sure, a life devoid of all comfort would be barren and bleak, but comfort is its own prison. People that seek comfort above all else miss out on the best things in life. When you climb up the hill to see it, the view is just better and when you face the difficult parts of your relationships and work through them, they are richer and more fulfilling. Think about the people you know that think that they can buy their way out of discomfort. In my experience, they spend a great deal of time being upset and irritable as the reality of life’s ebbs and flows brings them discomfort despite their best efforts. Added to this is that they tend to become isolated from anyone different from them as they seek to avoid people and events that will upset them and this isolation is worse than any discomfort they seek to avoid.

The Flow of Life

Life is many things, many of them wonderful, but discomfort is unavoidable. There is no way around this. Seeking to elude it means becoming disconnected from the flow of life. Sometimes things are great and sometimes things are hard. That is the way of things. It is better to face discomfort squarely when it comes so that then you can move on. Pay attention and you will see that it is the struggle to avoid the unpleasantness that causes most of the suffering, not the discomfort itself.

Seek Discomfort

I would go a step further and say it is better to seek some discomfort in life. There is a reason that most anxious people are also depressed: when fear is in the driver’s seat of our lives, our lives become smaller and that is depressing. We need elbow room in our lives. We need options. We need the space to try out novel things and take risks. We are alive and therefore we need to keep going forward, whatever than means for us.

Paying Attention Brings Options

When we push at the boundaries or our lives in a mindful way, we are much more powerful. Just knowing that we are up against an edge helps a great deal. When we are aware of what is happening, then we can bring compassion to ourselves as we do something hard. If you are paying attention, then you can make choices.

For example, I might be at a party with people I do not know and became overwhelmed with social anxiety. I could beat myself up for not living up to a standard I have created for myself that I must always be outgoing and loved by all. The other option, and the one I am suggesting here, is to bring awareness to what is actually happening. If I am aware that I am doing something hard, I can acknowledge this and try being kind to myself. Being kind to myself gives me lots of options: I can see if I feel strong enough to keep pushing myself. I can take a break. I can look for ways to make it easier to relate to others or find people that might feel easier to talk to. I can just go home and fight this battle another day.

Sometimes Life is Best When It’s Uncomfortable

Think about some of the times in your life when you have been uncomfortable. Maybe it was when you went camping or traveled to a foreign country. Maybe you gave a speech or asked someone out on a date. Maybe you had to do something you thought was beyond you, like replace a part in your car or just figure out how to do something on your computer. Yea, so it was uncomfortable, but how did you feel afterwords? Could you talk to people more freely or imagine doing other things that you previously felt beyond you? Could you breath just a little more deeply and move just a little bit more freely with that extra space you just created in your life?

Many years ago, I was living in Tokyo, Japan. On a whim, a friend and I decided to climb Mount Fuji and so we jumped on a bus to the base of the mountain and started up the trail. It was a hot summer day in Tokyo and, being young and naïve, we brought nothing but the t-shirts on our backs to climb the 12 thousand foot peak. Many Japanese people hope to make the pilgrimage to the top once in their lives and, when they do, they come prepared. Not us, though. We trudged through the night so we could make it to the top in time to see the sunrise (something that we read in the guidebook was the thing to do).

By the time we reached the peak, we were so cold that we could hardly stop shaking and we were bone tired. We were not comfortable. Yet the beauty of that view and the sunrise that morning were breathtaking! Words cannot do justice to how expansive and content I felt way up there. I felt so good, even later that day when we made it down to finally sleep on the bus ride back to the city. I would not give up that experience for anything.

Looking back, how many of the best experiences of our lives were uncomfortable?