“In many instances, the likelihood of an individual succeeding (no matter what the goal) will be dependant on how uncomfortable that person is prepared to get and for how long.” C.A.H.

The Application of the Information

This morning I coached someone who asked me to expand on the ‘growth comes through discomfort’ theory. It’s something I’m always teaching and it’s a concept my client was having trouble getting her head around – from a practical application point of view. As the concept is relevant to most of us, I thought I would expand on it a little today.

What’s Growth?

In the context of this discussion, growth could mean a range of things: learning, improvement, adaptation, skill development, greater insight, better understanding, less fear, more confidence, greater productivity, less anxiety, more patience, fewer destructive habits and even something as practical and measurable as greater physical strength and improved health.

For an athlete, growth might mean more points per game, a higher vertical leap or a faster time. For a shop-aholic it might mean eliminating debt and changing spending habits. For the person with a social phobia, it might mean looking someone in the eye and initiating a conversation. And, for the chronic people-pleaser it could mean saying ‘no’ to somebody, taking a stand and not backing down. In simple terms, growth means creating positive change in some area of our (personal) world.

What’s Discomfort?

Discomfort, on the other hand, could be anything that (in a general sense) we’d rather avoid. It could present itself in the form of a work problem, a financial situation, a conversation we’re always deferring, a fitness challenge, a health issue, a habit we need to break, a fear we need to confront, a relationship we need to end, a dynamic we need to change or even (as many people have experienced) an unexpected illness. It could arrive in the form of an emotional, physical, psychological, sociological, financial or professional challenge. Or, a combination thereof.

Individually Uncomfortable

The interesting thing about the discomfort/growth paradigm is that it’s completely personal in terms of how and when it works and what it means to us. By that, I mean one person’s discomfort (and, therefore, opportunity to grow) will be another person’s minor event. There is no universally relevant discomfort scale because we all think, feel, experience and react differently. A scale like P.R.E. (a widely-used scale which gauges an individual’s Perceived Rate of Exertion while completing a physical task) tells us that comfort or discomfort, hard or easy is all about the individual. Which tells us that learning, adaptation, change and improvement are also about the individual.

Standing on a stage and talking is simply part of my job. For me, that task is about as stressful as driving a cab might be for a cabbie. That is, not very. For someone else, it might be an exercise in anxiety or maybe even terror. And, at the same time, a major opportunity for growth. Knowing that things only have the meaning we give them, we can safely assume that there is no single experience, process or situation that will produce consistent or equal results in terms of positive or negative change across the board.

Naturally, not all discomfort serves a positive purpose (standing in front of a moving bus for example) and, of course, we need to be wise and discerning about how, when and why we ‘get uncomfortable’. Having said that, it’s important that we find the awareness, courage and understanding that allow us to see problems, hurdles, barriers and catastrophes for what they really are: opportunities to grow and learn.

Is it time for you to address that thing you’ve been avoiding?

Don’t get mad at me – you keep putting it off. I’m just reminding you.

Image: Jeff Black

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