The Change You Look for Is in the Discomfort You Avoid

If it’s not painful, it’s not worth the effort.

Marianna Saver
Oct 21 · 4 min read
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Photo by Mihály Köles on Unsplash

According to psychological research, putting yourself in new and unfamiliar situations triggers a unique part of the brain that releases dopamine — nature’s make-you-happy chemical. This region of the brain is only activated when we see or experience completely new things. In other words: we only grow when we seek the unfamiliar, the unknown, the uncomfortable.

Few people enjoy feeling uncomfortable. It’s much easier to hide, to stay, to avoid risks, to never leap, to never begin. But the change we are looking for is often in the discomfort we are avoiding.

We tell ourselves that things will change — that we will change. But we don’t realize that change never happens in the future. It always starts in the present. And more often than not, it starts when it’s the only option left.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” — Theodore Roosevelt

Most people will never outgrow their past selves and become the person they always intended to be because they never had the gift of a breakdown. They were never forced to face adversity and to rise to their fullest potential.

But you don’t always have to wait for your comfort zone to collapse to start your life. You can — and you should — break your mental barriers before they break you. We don’t only grow when we are forced to experience discomfort. We grow as much, and perhaps more, when we are willing to embrace it.

We are, by nature, comfort-seeking animals. We are in constant pursuit of the familiar, the tangible, and the simplistic. We may not realize it, but most of our life is spent seeking security over purpose and comfort over happiness. Our lives are punctuated by those shell habits we create for ourselves and have since become addicted to: We are addicted to our phone, our laptop, our routines, our relationship, our Sunday night’s takeaway, and so on.

These shell habits are the most dangerous because there’s a risk of never becoming aware of them. They feel good, unharmful, and comforting, so you continue to play the reinforcement loop in your head that makes you compelled to act on them. Until the cycle starts breaking, you never wake up.

When you choose to watch one more episode instead of working on your side project in your spare time, to have the umpteenth cookie and not the apple, to walk the same path because it’s safer, you are choosing out of fear of being uncomfortable. But saying no to discomfort means saying no to life.

Said Robert Greene:

“The pain is a kind of challenge your mind presents — will you learn how to focus and move past boredom, or like a child will you succumb to the need for immediate pleasure and distraction?”

Nothing worth having comes without effort. Your job is to learn how to accomplish difficult things without continuously distracting yourself with your addictions.

You want to develop what Greene calls “a perverse pleasure” in experiencing internal conflict, and becoming comfortable with it. In other words: your goal is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable so that you may run towards obstacles rather than away from them.

The Navy SEALs have a 40% rule, and it’s the key to overcoming your mental barriers. Jesse Itzler, the author of Living With A SEAL, explains the encounter that changed his life:

“The first day that “SEAL” came to live with me he asked me how many pull-ups could I do.

I did about eight.

And he said all right. Take 30 seconds and do it again. So 30 seconds later I got up on the bar and I did six, struggling.

And he said all right, one more time. We waited 30 seconds and I barely got three or four and I was done. I mean couldn’t-move-my-arms done.

And he said all right. We’re not leaving until you do 100 more. And I thought — well we’re going to be here for quite a long time because there’s no way that I could do 100.

But I ended up doing all of them one at a time and he showed me, proved to me right there that we’re all capable of so much more than we think we are. And it was just a great lesson.”

Most people will stop when things get uncomfortable because they think they can’t possibly bear the struggle. But when does uncomfortable become too uncomfortable? It’s up to you to decide. A reasonable answer might be: not as soon as you think.

Being uncomfortable is the key to getting unstuck. Doing the work is hard but leading a life of regrets is harder. Often, the solution to our problems is in the obstacles we avoid facing. Be it doing 100 pull-ups, reaching a professional goal, or writing a piece of text, every objective you set for yourself is a test you can only endure if you are willing to sit with your discomfort.

In trying to avoid pain we become a shadow of the person we were meant to be. In being forced — or willing — to experience it, we rise to our fullest potential and become who we had always intended. Life is ironic like that.

At Big Self School, we believe that outer impact starts with inner growth. To start living from the inside out, download our free checklist 7 Soul Needs You Must Meet To Avoid Burnout.

Big Self

Play big without the burnout.

Marianna Saver

Written by

I write to understand what I don’t know. I also send weekly love notes: bit.ly/themorningair

Big Self

Big Self

Magazine of the Big Self School. We publish stories on positive psychology, leadership and personal transformation. More on https://www.bigselfschool.com/

Marianna Saver

Written by

I write to understand what I don’t know. I also send weekly love notes: bit.ly/themorningair

Big Self

Big Self

Magazine of the Big Self School. We publish stories on positive psychology, leadership and personal transformation. More on https://www.bigselfschool.com/

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