Dealing With Discomfort

  • -Nathan Greene

We’ve all had something we’ve been uncomfortable doing. Whether it be because you were not prepared for the task, that the task is not something you enjoy, or that you do not enjoy being in a group/alone environment, there are many reasons which may cause discomfort to surface during anything we may do in life. Even with things which we may enjoy in other situations, like hanging out with your friends, may cause some discomfort if, for example, one of your friends decided to bring their friend along who is nothing like the rest of you.

The results of uncomfortability vary just as much as the reasons which cause it. Sometimes we just get a feeling in our gut, and we power through that feeling. Other times, discomfort can be much more severe, especially in one’s professional life. For example, if you are newly hired for an office position, but all of your office-mates are introverted and closed off, the resulting discomfort can cause anything from a lack of productivity, low self-esteem, to even a desire to resign (depending on the severity, of course). One thing is for certain though; it is absolutely a bad thing.

With that in mind, the first thought that sprung into my mind (and I’m sure for many reading this) is, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could just cut these tasks and responsibilities out of our lives, so that we do not need to deal with the feeling? As much as I’d like to say this is possible, I don’t think there’s anyone who feels that this is feasible in any way, shape, or form. With this in mind, we are logically left with two options when an uncomfortable situation arises; we can either do nothing to mitigate it, in which case the feeling might grow. Or, as is the point of this post, we can learn to control and live with our discomfort.

We’ve often heard the phrase, “stepping outside of one’s comfort zone” when referring to doing something that one is not used to doing. But this begs a question; can we, in fact, expand these ‘zones’? The above phrase, in its terminology, seems to posit that the realm of things that one is used to doing is static and unchanging like a circle drawn on the ground; yet, I believe that one of the marks of a true leader is to expand their zone and the zones of those they lead. Unfortunately, we are led to believe from a young age that these discomforts are inherent and unchangeable. However, I do not believe this to be the case; discomfort is only temporary, and while we may not overcome our discomfort, understanding it may be just as valid a solution.

The first step, I’d say, is figuring out why any one action or person makes us uncomfortable. This is arguably the most important step in solving any problem; by figuring out what the problem is and putting all the cards on the table, we have the best chance of actually solving it, as we can look at it in more ways than one. As 99U puts it, “To get things going again, you need exposure to new stimuli, but there’s where the rub is. Trying something new may not only fail to make you better, it might actually make you worse. In fact, you’re likely to get worse before you get better. The problem is that getting better means putting at risk what you’ve already gained, and that butts up against a powerful human bias of preferring to avoid losses over acquiring gains, called “loss aversion.”

Now, as there are as many discomfort-triggers as there are stars, so too are there as many reasons for why said actions may be discomforting. There is no one method to understanding everyone’s unique forms of discomfort. As such, perhaps the most important trait to overcoming discomfort is possessing a critical eye.

The next step is recognizing whether or not your discomfort is something you can overcome or whether it is something you need to simply accept. For instance, one may have a fear of dogs because they were attacked by one as a child, and therefore become uncomfortable around even the friendliest dogs. Yet over time, as one spends more time with the friendly ones, that discomfort and fear may disappear. On the flipside, there are some things which are just part of our nature; introverts need to have alone time every now and then, and there is nothing that can be done to rectify this. It is up to the individual to determine whether it can be overcome.

In the latter situation, however, I do not mean that being an introvert is a bad thing. In fact, there are many discomforts that individuals face on account of their personalities. Yet, this does not mean that their personality need change. Rather, these instances are challenging in a different way from simply overcoming one’s discomfort; rather than working over time to decrease discomfort, you instead use your rationality to best determine how to minimize encounters which would cause such discomfort while also not just curling up in a ball at home and never leaving. As an example, for introverts, there is always going to be times when we have to interact with individuals that we don’t want to. For our own personal health, we must find moments which may counterbalance those times we must unwillingly be sociable. It becomes a rewarding challenge of managing your social time and alone time to do what creates the most comfort for you.

The final step is simple; put it into practice. Despite its simplicity, it is often one of the most difficult things to do, precisely because it is uncomfortable for anyone to change themselves. But I think I’ve given some good advice on how to deal with that. It’ll be long and arduous to be sure, but any leader worth their salt, I believe, wouldn’t flinch at the discomfort that challenges afford, and instead use it as an opportunity for growth.

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