Think about the most common problems we deal with in our lives – from laziness to lack of exercise to unhealthy diets to procrastination, and so on.
In most cases, problems like these are not caused not by a physical ailment, but by a weakness of the mind – a weakness that urges us to avoid discomfort.
Discomfort is a form of pain, but it isn’t a deep pain – it’s a shallow one. It’s the feeling you get when you’ve stepped outside of your comfort zone. The idea of exercising in many people’s minds, for example, brings discomfort – so they don’t do it. Eating green vegetables brings discomfort too. So does meditating, or focusing on a difficult task, or saying no to others. Of course, these are just examples, because different people find discomfort in different things, but you get the general idea.
The bottom line is most of us don’t want to be uncomfortable. So we run from discomfort constantly. The problem with this is that, by running from discomfort, we are constrained to partake in only the activities and opportunities within our comfort zones. And since our comfort zones are relativity small, we miss out on most of life’s greatest and healthiest experiences, and we get stuck in a debilitating cycle.
Let’s use diet and exercise as an example…
- First, we become unhealthy because eating healthy food and exercising feels uncomfortable, so we opt for comfort food and mindless TV watching instead.
- But then, being unhealthy is also uncomfortable, so we seek to distract ourselves from the reality of our unhealthy bodies by eating more unhealthy food and watching more unhealthy entertainment and going to the mall to shop for things we don’t really want or need. And our discomfort just gets worse.
Amazingly, the simple act of accepting a little discomfort every day, and taking it one small step at a time, can solve most of our common problems, and make our minds happier, healthier and stronger in the long run.
Now, let me give you some examples of how I’ve experienced this in my own life…
Strengthening the Mind… One Small, Hard Step at a Time
Years ago, when I was incredibly focused on weight lifting and physical strength training, I gradually learned that you can’t be truly committed to any goal if you have a weak mind that’s unwilling to be uncomfortable. To combat this, I wrote two simple questions on two different post-it notes and stuck one on my bathroom mirror and the other inside my gym locker:
- How many workouts have you missed because your mind, not your body, told you that you were too tired?
- How many workout reps have you skipped because your mind, not your body, said, “Nine reps is enough. Don’t worry about the tenth”?
To this day, the answer to both questions is probably hundreds for most people, including myself. Weakness of the mind is a real dream killer, and the only way to fix this weakness is daily practice.
Far too often we think that mental strength is all about how we respond to extreme circumstances. How did she perform on stage during that nationally televised event? Did he bounce back after his business associate betrayed him and bankrupt their company? Can she keep her life together even after suffering from a major, debilitating bodily injury?
There’s no doubt that extreme circumstances test our bravery, determination and mental strength, but what about common, daily circumstances?
Just like every muscle in the body, the mind needs to be exercised to gain strength. It needs to be worked consistently to grow and develop over time. If you haven’t pushed yourself in hundreds of little ways over time, of course you’ll crumble on the one day that things get really challenging.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Choose to go to the gym when it would be more comfortable to sleep in. Choose to do the tenth rep when it would be more comfortable to quit at nine. Choose to create something special when it would be more comfortable to consume something mediocre. Choose to raise your hand and ask that extra question when it would be more comfortable to stay silent. Prove to yourself, in hundreds of little ways, that you have the guts to get in the ring and wrestle with life.
Mental strength is built through lots of small, daily victories. It’s the individual choices we make day-to-day that build our “mental strength” muscles. We all want this kind of strength, but we can’t think our way to it. If you want it, you have to do something about it ritualistically. It’s your positive daily rituals that prove your mental fortitude in the long run.
The bottom line is that when things get difficult for most people, they find something more comfortable to do. When things get difficult for mentally strong people, they find a way to stay on track with their positive daily rituals. (Angel and I build positive, life-changing rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
How to Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
The idea of building up enough mental strength to be OK with discomfort may sound daunting, but it’s really not. It’s relatively easy when you take it one step at a time. This is a discovery Angel and I made many moons ago when we were trying to dig ourselves out of a hole and get our lives back on track.
We started to accept a little more discomfort by trying to live with less physical possessions and less debt, but we hated the feeling of not being able to buy things when we wanted them. At first, it was truly uncomfortable to resist that forceful urge. Our minds resisted, tried to run from this discomfort, and tried to make up all kinds of excuses for buying stuff we didn’t need.
But we learned to be one with the discomfort, and stay the course, by spending just a little less every week. When we did, gradually, spending less got easier and easier. Our world didn’t end – it just got better. We were a little uncomfortable for a while, and then we weren’t anymore.
Then I watched this same process transpire with my daily workout regimen. I didn’t want to lift weights because it was too hard. My mind made up a bazillion excuses. I found ways to avoid the gym. But then I caught myself, and gradually gave in to the discomfort, a little bit at a time, and it wasn’t as hard as I imagined. I lifted weights, and grew to love it. Then Angel saw my progress, and she started working out too.
Angel and I repeated this process for improving our diet, reducing our alcohol consumption, conquering procrastination, working through adversity, and more.
Getting comfortable with discomfort – and gradually building up our mental strength in the process – has easily been the biggest key to our long-term happiness and success.
If you can learn to get comfortable with discomfort, your life will be filled with fewer limits and a lot more opportunities.
Here are some tips to get you started:
- As discussed above, try embracing discomfort in small doses by building positive daily rituals to support your goals. If you’re averse to exercise, for example, take a 5-minute walk to the end of the block and back every morning before breakfast. Don’t overthink it – just put on your walking shoes and go. You probably won’t like it much at first, and that’s OK. You don’t have to like it to feel good about getting it done. Believe it or not, before I started with weights, this is how I started working out at the very beginning. And now I love it.
- Pay attention to your tendency to avoid discomfort. What tasks, goals, or issues have you been avoiding simply because they make you feel a little uncomfortable? What good ideas have you been rejecting? What problems do you have that stem directly from an unwillingness to accept some discomfort? What have you allowed your mind to make excuses about? Become aware of your mind’s weakness with discomfort, and see if you can start taking small steps forward, one by one. (Angel and I discuss this further in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Focus on the full extent of your emotions when you’re feeling uncomfortable. Are you angry, or scared, or worried, or sad? Instead of ignoring those emotions, face them. Embrace them, accept them, sit with them. For example, if you catch yourself procrastinating with a difficult task, eliminate the distractions, sit with the task, and don’t shift to something else. Just be there with that uncomfortable feeling of dealing with the difficult task in front of you. How does it feel? Are you in deep pain? Or are you really OK? Take a deep breath. And then take the next smallest step.
- Set yourself up with tiny discomfort challenges. Simply do slightly uncomfortable things at regular intervals: Say hello to strangers. Be sensitive and tell someone how much they mean to you. Say no to people when you know you should. Get to the gym. Eat kale. Skip the Starbucks. Etc.
Follow the tips above and you will gradually learn that discomfort can be a very good thing – when you’re uncomfortable, you’re trying new things, you’re learning, you’re expanding, you’re becoming more than you ever were before. Discomfort, in most cases, is a sign that you – mind and body alike – are growing stronger… and growing closer to becoming the person you always dreamed you could be.
How have you been avoiding (necessary) discomfort in your life? What’s the next smallest step you need to take to make progress? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us. We would love to hear from YOU.
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Photo by: Jordan Sanchez
Excellent post! I agree, discomfort is a required part of human growth.
What I have learned during my 57 years of life is that, to a degree, we have to go against the grain. Because if we follow every little thing that society has told us is the “right” and “comfortable” path to follow, we will likely not succeed or find our version of happiness.
I certainly learned this the hard way.
And this in one of the reasons I fell in love with your blog, book, emails, etc.. Much of your writing reminds me that happiness and success is not handed to us, but earned by diligently taking small, uncomfortable, positive steps forward each day.
Marc Chernoff says
I love your sentiment, Jamie. Thank you for the kindness, and for following our work.
Ben Pruett says
I’ve been avoiding the positive rituals you speak of. There’s a side business (a passion project) I’ve been working on haphazardly for over a year now. It’s something I enjoy, and there’s an end product that has been somewhat profitable, but I haven’t been consistent. I keep procrastinating, and resisting putting in the work necessary to really take things to the next level. And yet, it’s something I want to do. So it’s time I start acting like it! It’s time I start getting comfortable with putting in the work and being a little less comfortable on the weekends. It’s time I stop wasting time on the wrong activities (TV shows in my case). I’ve really got an opportunity here. Thank you for kicking me in the pants!
Eamonn Elliott says
I am the exact same with my vocal exercises Ben. I am an actor who needs to lower and stenghten my voice and have got lazy. Acting is what I have dreamt of doing all my life. Now I am working at it I ve got lazy doing the exercises and discouraged that am not getting work. Thank you for sharing makes me realise sm not the only one who is lazy about something that I am passionate about. Cheers? Thanks Marc and Angel for that well needed burst I needed.
Marc Chernoff says
You are welcome, Ben (and Eamonn). Now, do your thing! 😉
Your posts, emails, course, book… are a refreshing collective source of tonic that always supports me to have an even better day. You continuously remind me to be brave and bold… to inch away from comfort – so difficult and yet so worth it – in the quest for a happier and more well-rounded life.
I honestly don’t have anything specific to add right now, but I really struggle embracing discomfort in all walks of life, and I really appreciate this insight.
Marc Chernoff says
Rachel, you have been making incredible progress. Keep taking those small, calculated steps forward.
Ken Butler says
Just be there with that uncomfortable feeling. That, exactly that.
When I read the title of the post, I tried to think what this one thing could be. I came up with ‘follow your dreams’.
My little world collapsed yesterday as I found out that the man I so deeply fell in love with is taken. It was out of my comfort zone to fall in love, to tell him my feelings, to learn the truth, and from now on to continue my workouts with him after learning this. However I feel so much more alive. I dared to be me and speak the truth. A weight has been lifted.
This is just what I needed today. I have indeed been avoiding discomfort. Knowing what I need to do, but finding excuses to avoid that initial period of discomfort before the new routine becomes comfortable. The reminder that being brave sometimes is going to make us sad, tired, uncomfortable in those initial stages. But the true test of who we are is how we keep going.
This was just what I needed. I’ve been avoiding finding out what I would like to study further, out of fear that I’ll choose something that’s wrong for me and regret my decision. I have to be okay with the discomfort of not knowing and plunge right into it; do some research, see what I like right now and go for it. Thank you for this great reminder.
I’ve maintained relationships with friends I’ve outgrown or those who have hurt me to avoid feeling uncomfortable. I have avoided looking for work because of the discomfort of rejection. Applying for multiple jobs and not getting a response has really impacted my spirit.
After reading your post this morning, I will acknowledge and be present with discomfort instead of avoiding or feeling guilty about it, realizing it’s necessary for my wellbeing and growth. Connecting with my feelings will provide an opportunity to address the untruths I’ve continuously told myself about myself. This will allow for a mind equiped to honestly handle life’s challenges and a knowing that the end goal will make it all so worth it.
This was truly a blessing to read this morning. Thank you!
Tribenee Bhattacharyya says
Truly, when we keep finding comfortable zones we forget our real inner power.
Piper Presley says
I’ve recently joined your blog and this is one of the most powerful blog posts I’ve ever read. Thank you for the tips.
Same here. Total agreement. Thank you.
I’m glad you God-given pair are here to inspire me and the rest of your readers. I have never been disappointed yet with any of your posts ,and everything had always been extra helpful. I hope you continue your awesomeness. Thank you so much for this incredible and priceless concept. Please continue to help people grow and get strong in your own special way. You have changed many lives. 🙂 Thank you.
Avoidance of discomfort is the root cause behind many addictions as well. We feel uncomfortable, so we comfort ourselves with a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, a cookie, a few glimpses of porn, a hookup, a line… So many faces for the same core issue: an unwillingness to feel what we feel and move on.
(Sorry for the “smart” phone typos)
Carrie Harding says
I love the simplicity with this idea – you are exactly right with it, it is at the heart of everything we struggle with. There are many things that I have stopped myself from doing because I don’t want that uncomfortable feeling. Here’s to all of us continuing to move forward with positive change (and getting over our avoidance of the uncomfortable).
Dave Crocker says
Great article, thank you!! Gives me the motivation I need to keep going and not to get hung-up on minor set backs.
Rashmi Meher says
Excellent !! and very very Inspiring. I came across this at a very appropriate time as I was struggling to deal with my habit of procrastination and loving my comfortable space. I am so scared to move even an inch from anything which required me to move out of my comfort zone. Thank you for sharing your own experiences.
Zamir Tarmu says
This is a beautiful, well written, true, to the point, article. It’s inspiring. Nothing I didn’t know or think about but something I absolutely needed to read in black and white. Thanks for writing it. Next time I feel lazy or don’t feel like doing something I will think of the article and “just do it”.
I have been taking an online Spanish course for about 10 months now. I am lucky that I don’t usually have to struggle to achieve things, but this course has been a big challenge that has proved to be very frustrating at times. Some days I have to walk away for awhile, but I leave the computer up waiting for me to come back and finish the lesson. I admit I have shut down the lesson early a few times.
This post was just what I needed to remind me not to slack off. After all, if I’m having problems retaining what I learn now, how much harder will it be if I slow down and let what I know slip away.
I’ll accept this tiny discomfort challenge, but I’ll never eat kale or brussels sprouts again…. LOL!
Marc Chernoff says
Haha… regarding Kale and Brussels Sprouts. And congrats on your newfound acceptance of discomfort and self-discipline.
Thank you for the post.
I am learning to take on new tasks at work and as a result I am out of “the office clique”.
It definitely feels “uncomfortable” but it’s ok because I know that I am growing and what doesn’t kill me will make me stronger.
I can imagine the discomfort I went through during College, learning very difficult subjects. Enduring the discomfort has made me brave and versatile. What you have said is very true.
Thank you Marc and Angel
Its all a sacrifice when you make yourself uncomfortable for your greater good.Example studying.
Your body needs to be fatigued for you to appreciate exercising.
And in general life’s discomforts Build character build strength .
I will re-read this artcle and also share.
Victor XD says
Your Articles are really helping my life alot. I don’t skip ’em any day… it’s been three years I’ve been reading your articles. Super-magnificos! Your Wisdoms and Knowledge will continue touching my life more. I’m a beginner in weight-lifting and physical strength training, and nothing was a lie on what you outlined about yourself in the gym and every other weight-lifters!
This post is an answer to my prayers! Finally something that makes sense to me. Since last August I have gained 35 pounds and I’ve been avoiding the discomfort of giving up my daily soda, chocolate and other junk food. The discomfort would get so bad that I would just go back to piling on more junk food which was the cause of the discomfort in the first place!
I’m a young widow with no family and no children. I just obtained a copy of Marc and Angel’s book. I know it’s going to help me!
Love this. Have been consciously fighting my inner demons and discomfort for about 4 years now and. I can feel myself moving towards the person I am supposed to be! Yay for me!
I needed to read this thank you I really need to get out of my comfort Zone on move on from a bad relationship.
Great post! I’ve been following you for a while now and I’ve read about this before, but it’s still so helpful. You describe the crucial point perfectly: you don’t have to LIKE IT to FEEL GOOD ABOUT GETTING IT DONE (sorry about the caps, but I wanted to underline the difference). This is where our mind trips up and the pleasure principle gets in the way. Thank you for expressing it so efficiently.
Really interesting and enjoyable post. I agree with everything you wrote.
I like to think of the brain as a muscle, and every time I do something that is slightly discomforting, like that tenth rep, skipping cake or a run in the rain, I’m training that muscle to make healthier choices, and I’m also teaching myself that a bit of discomfort isn’t the end of the world – especially since in the end, it only makes me feel better and healthier.
I’m tend to stay in my comfort zone out of embarrassment. My husband always has something negative to say, when I was younger I could blow these things off. It really hurts me now. I just stay away from doing most of the thinks I like.
Hi Marc and angel,
I have always tried to be in comfort zone when I feel in comfortable I try to find excuses and fly away from there…I usually go to gym after finishing my work until last month but this month I am finding excuses so that I won’t go to gym since I felt uncomfortable in gym….When I am discomfort I do some weird mistakes in my life in my relationships..so I always run from my discomfort and go to comfort zone….if I don’t run and stay in uncomfort zone and I involve in any thing I seriously make some regrettable mistakes whether in my work or in my relationships…this is my problem..please give me some ideas so that I change ….
I have been avoiding looking for a new job. At 53 & an AS degree this is not comfortable but I am so unhappy where I am at I know I need to write up a new resume (something I am dreading). It is time for me to step out of the unhappy yet comfort zone.
Matt Kohn says
Totally agree. We need to be strong minded and decisive in order to be healthy and successful. It is hard to embarce uncertainty with our decision making, but that is truly where the growth occurs. Thanks for sharing.
Yep, you’re right. Knowing how to deal with discomfort is part of growth process.
I think this is one of the major lessons an individual needs to learn in his/her life.
It is only when a person steps outside his present comfort zone that a new comfort zone is created.
Ritika Dutta says
Like you said, it’s true many people do leave out things out of laziness, discomfort or procrastination and I am one of them. I want to be a solo traveller. It’s my dream but it’s not easy for me to do. There are several things that I need to consider. So to get out of my comfort zone I am gonna start exploring the places alone in Hyderabad (my city) and then take bigger steps.