On Being Uncomfortable [And not running away!]

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As a culture, we’ve become uncomfortable with the notion of being uncomfortable. We’ll do a lot of things to avoid being emotionally or physically uncomfortable. Some of these things are small, like going the long way on the backroads to avoid waiting in traffic. Others are bigger, like lying to ourselves about who we are so we don’t have to face the things we don’t like about ourselves.

First thing to keep in mind: we all do it; no one is immune. Second thought to keep in mind: you can slowly but surely change this. Lately, I have been actively working to lean in to my discomfort. It isn’t always easy, but increasingly, it is worth it. While we all try to different extents to avoid uncomfortable moments, in the process we miss that when we are uncomfortable, we are in a place of growth.

Never being uncomfortable is like never taking risks, in a way. If you don’t take a risk you can never fail, but you also won’t succeed. If you are never uncomfortable, you will remain comfortable, but you will miss the opportunity for growth. While it may seem a bit counterintuitive at times, once you get the hang of leaning into discomfort, it becomes less scary--like the quote above.

So how in the heck do you begin leaning in to something as vague as discomfort? One thing I try is in the moment of discomfort, asking myself “why am I uncomfortable” and “what do I stand to learn here?” This way, I can take the proverbial view from the top. Sometimes it’s an easy process....I can pinpoint it right away and make a new decision based on the information.

Other times, when it’s something big, for instance, when I have screwed up, it can be harder. I’m going to give you an example, hopefully one you can relate to. I was on the phone with my mom, discussing a personal conflict I was having. She asked me a question that made me very defensive, so immediately I reacted in anger. The conversation completely unraveled and got more and heated to the point where my mom said, “I’ll just talk to you later.”

I hung up the phone, practically fuming. Then I took a moment to lean in. I asked myself why I was uncomfortable. At first I tried to talk myself out of it...I tried to put it on my mom for asking me the heated question. Then I realized: her question hit a nerve, and it made me feel ashamed. I had a choice to make: I could take responsibility for the way I reacted or I could put it on her.

I picked up the phone and called her back. “I’m sorry I acted that way. I was ashamed because you pointed out something that really struck a nerve. I shouldn’t have treated you that way and I would like to talk about it.” It was a hard to do that for me. I began crying, but I also felt better.

Leaning in was uncomfortable, but from the top, I conquered two big things: having the strength of character to admit when I was wrong, and also the opportunity to discuss the personal issue that was obviously hard to discuss.

The next time you feel uncomfortable, I urge you to lean in.  Start small and work your way up if you have to, but don’t lose a moment to learn something or surprise yourself. Tell me, what is one way (big or small) that you have or could lean in to your own discomfort? What is something you stand to learn? Leave it for me in the comments section below.

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