The Upside of Uncomfortable

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I used to be a corporate litigator, so I’ve experienced my fair share of uncomfortable situations. As I’ve continued to navigate my career, though, I’ve realized that discomfort is an unavoidable part of every new step I take or goal I set.

The good news is, I’ve also discovered a great way to move past this discomfort. No, it’s not distracting myself with reality TV or wine. I’ve found that the more effective approach for long-term resilience is to train my mind to be more comfortable with discomfort. 

My exercise of choice for this training has been yoga. Your personal discomfort-buster may be different, a creative writing or improv comedy class, for example. The goal should be to step outside the safety of your routine — both in thought and in behavior — and then stay in that discomfort for a while. I can tell you from experience: The longer you can be in that uncomfortable space, the more supercharged your growth will be.

Self-improvement for my Fringe clients isn’t typically physical. They might be eager to speak more freely in meetings, rid their inner dialogues of nagging self-doubt, or be more effective managers. Regardless of their goals, however, I offer them the following lessons, no Down Dogs required.

Say Goodbye to the Comfortable

The coaching tools we use at Fringe aim to help ambitious, talented professionals develop a more productive response to uncomfortable moments. This “training” eventually cultivates within them an ability to be less afraid of discomfort — to overcome that fear and become unstoppable in going after their goals.

  • Redefine pain and discomfort. Physical activities help our bodies learn the difference between pain and discomfort fairly easily. Pain signals that something might be wrong and that we should back off. Whereas discomfort is that “good hurt” that signals a lengthening or strengthening of our muscles. This distinction is worth applying to the other areas of our lives as well. If your natural response to a lofty goal is anxious rejection, then consider that your gut is sometimes wrong. There’s a strong possibility that what’s actually best for you is to keep going.

  • Test your boundaries. Any experienced yogi will tell you that falling out of a pose is a good thing — so long as you do so safely, of course. That’s because you’ve embraced the risk of moving beyond what’s comfortable and easy. The goal isn’t to master a pose; it’s to find the edge of your comfort zone and move beyond it. By definition, continuous growth requires you to keep moving toward the unfamiliar, which means you won’t always get it right the first time. This logic applies equally to handstands and to client presentations. But once you know what failure feels like, then the limits of your unknown have officially expanded.

  • Stay present. In moments of discomfort or failure, notice what’s going on in your mind and body. Is your chest tightening? Does your head feel light? Are your thoughts bouncing around like lightning flashes inside your skull? If so, take note. And also, take a breath! Your automatic response isn’t necessarily your only option. It’s just what you’re used to. Once you know the current programming of your triggers and reactions, you can begin the process of changing this default wiring for the better. Knowing how you habitually react to discomfort, and what other options are available, actually helps you change your experience of discomfort into one of comfort. 

It may sound strange to the overachievers out there, but mindful activities like yoga have actually been the most instructive techniques I’ve experienced for personal and professional growth. They teach us that you can’t (and shouldn’t) escape discomfort entirely. But learning about your own discomfort goes a long way to helping you stay resilient and stay uncomfortable. Let us know if we can help you with that journey.

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