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Lessons in Discomfort

Lessons in Discomfort

    “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

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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