Why We Should Embrace Discomfort
Life is balance.
I know. To some, this is old news. However, as I sit here with practically nothing to do except rejoice in my solitude, I am contemplative.
I am a fifty-four-year-old overweight diabetic. I can look into a mirror and see how I am the sum of some really bad life choices. I get winded easily. I have night sweats. My legs and knees hurt all the time from arthritis. Things could be a lot better.
I wasn’t always like this. When I was younger, I would work out five to six times a week. I had a gym membership and for the longest time, I had a thirty-two-inch waist. While many of my excuses for being overweight and out of shape stem from some long-term emotional issues as well as some extraordinarily creative psychological scarring, much of what has made me the man I am today comes from one thing.
I’m sure we’re all guilty of this. It is so much easier to remain sedentary than to get up and do something. It’s our default mode. We hear from so many physical trainers the phrase, “no pain, no gain”, but the vast majority of people like me have embraced the mantra “if pain, why strain.”
We like comfort. We like being in an environment where we are not in pain. We enjoy things that cause us pleasure. It’s what drives our id. We will impulsively go for the thing that will bring us pleasure or help us avoid pain.
It's just how we’re wired.
I am writing this article in support of discomfort. Why it is good, why it is necessary, and why we need to start embracing it.
How Discomfort Needs to be Part of Every Part of Your Life
I know this is all part of what Tony Robbins preaches.
It was also a huge part of fitness guru, Jack Lalanne’s philosophy. Lalanne went so far as to say if whatever you’re eating tastes good, you should spit it out. It’s hard to argue with someone who lived to age ninety-six – not just because they’re dead, either, because that conversation is very one-sided.
However, the point that all this drives home is that in every aspect of our life, we will not grow unless we pay some kind of physical or mental price. It’s a price paid through discomfort.
Do you want that great ass-kicking body and look awesome? You need to exercise. It will also cost you time, energy, and putting off all that fried chicken you love to eat and reschedule it for some time in “not your future”.
Did you want that great job that pays a lot of money? That will cost you.
It is easier for you to sit back and watch television for eight hours a day or “just doing your job”. If you want to get ahead or get a better job, you need to study, or work harder and go the extra mile. Sometimes getting ahead in your career requires you to talk to others. That can be quite uncomfortable for some people. Sometimes you need to take a chance and summon enough courage to talk to your boss about your career and advancement. But most of the time, you will need to get there through extra time, effort, study, and dedication.
And that will not happen with a television set… or video games… or other time wasters that we gravitate to in the name of comfort.
Stephen Covey said in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that your time and effort and the things you spend your time doing fall into four quadrants.
Quadrant 1 things are highly important and highly urgent – these are fires you need to put out immediately.
Quadrant 2 things are highly important but not urgent.
Quadrant 3 things are highly urgent but not important (also known as other people’s problems).
Quadrant 4 things are not important and not urgent. Those are your time wasters.
The problem with our lives is that we never live in Quadrant 2. Quadrant 2 is for your personal development. It is the time you need to spend doing things that are naturally uncomfortable. Your body and mind require maintenance. Therefore, it is necessary for you to spend time doing exercise to keep your body healthy and reading books you do not enjoy keeping your mind strong.
Life is more than that, though.
Facing Your Fears
True discomfort is doing something you do not want to do. Others would call it “facing your fears”.
Has anyone here read Dune by Frank Herbert? It is a great book – don’t see the movie. You need to understand one phrase from the book more than anything else. You need to know that fear is a mind-killer.
How many times do we not do something that will benefit our lives because we are afraid?
And just so you know that I’m not talking out of my ass, I’m not above this. There are things in this world that just plain terrify me. There are things that petrify me so much that I have procrastinated on them and I know my life is so much worse for doing so. It requires bravery and strength of character to fight your own personal dragons.
It is not easy, but it is necessary.
I have something in my life that truly threatens to destroy much of my lifestyle and who I am. I have an unreasonable fear of doing it. I know that if I took steps toward accomplishing it, I would sleep better and probably be able to move forward. Every time I pick up a phone to resolve this matter there is some mechanism in my mind that keeps me from doing it. It is my personal shame.
I need to remind myself that it must be done. It will take effort, bravery, and a fair amount of emotional discomfort. And when it is over, I will probably, eventually feel better about it.
I have a friend who is in terrible dire straits. He has a living situation that is ending soon. He has not saved enough money to get his own place and he must accommodate a pet with that situation. What he needs to do is get an additional job and raise more money to afford a new lifestyle. It will not be comfortable, but it will be necessary. And if it is not done, he could lose everything. I am sure he is terrified. Probably even too petrified to act. It is uncomfortable – spiritually, emotionally, and probably physically. But it must be done.
Do you want to be a good public speaker? Everyone at some point must speak in front of a group of people. It is a true hindrance when you cannot. People get afraid. They are afraid of failure and embarrassment. I believe the saying is that what most people fear more than death is speaking in front of others. Jerry Seinfeld said you should feel worse for the guy doing the eulogy than the guy in the casket.
When I coach people as a member of Toastmasters, I tell them to learn to find comfort in their discomfort. I tell them they can draw from that nervous energy. Once they find themselves in the middle of their speech, their fears evaporate. Why? Because they are focused on the speech and not how others are reacting to it.
When the fear goes away, they can perform.
Fear keeps you on your toes and keeps you at high alert. It is useless in any situation that does not require your immediate survival. Fear is uncomfortable. Fear is what you need to conquer. Getting used to the discomfort helps get rid of it. Once you do, your real self will come forth.
Doing without Pleasure
Remember what I said in the beginning – life is balance.
What happens to the person who has an all-Doritos and ice cream diet? He gets fat. Without a balanced diet, other health problems happen. Resistance to disease and bad immunity mean we are not playing at our best.
This is to say nothing about the risks of heart attacks and strokes.
Now, I am not saying you should do without the things you enjoy. Far from it. If you cannot have pleasure of any kind, what is the point of living? Old Star Trek fans who have seen the episode, Shore Leave, will say the more complex the mind, the greater the need for play.
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. That is true.
However, all play and no work make Jack a jerk.
Stephen Covey, as well as Tony Robbins, has stressed that real power comes through decisions and decision making. When you decide to break a bad habit in the middle of an action, that is you claiming your personal power. You are making the statement, “I will not allow this bad destructive habit to have control over me.” And the more you do that, the more control you have in your life.
But let us be real - that bad habit was something pleasurable in some respect.
I used to smoke. I can tell you that one of the greatest pleasures I have had in the aftermath of a traumatic event was the cigarette that I had shortly afterward. It calmed my nerves and gave me a psychological breather. Do I advocate smoking? No. However, what I can say is that cigarette is what I needed at that point in time to move forward from a place of immobility. My mind sought to stay in a place where it felt safe and needed to get a push forward. Smoking just happened to be the mechanism I had at that point.
So pleasure has its place. In moderation.
Robert Fulghum had stressed in his essay Everything I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten that you should live a balanced life. You need to learn some and eat some and grow some. However, he also said you should play every day – play some, sing some, and laugh some.
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing. When you realize that you should never be in that state of comfort too long. You should strive to get there, but only after a period of discomfort.
Eat your vegetables and then you can have some dessert.
Here’s what you should know – comfort does not equal bliss.
One of the biggest truths on how you should live your life and find your life goal is “to follow your bliss”. That means, find what makes you happy and pursue that. If making new things makes you happy, do that. If acting on a stage makes you happy, do that. Of course, you need to make a living – it is best when your job is what makes you happy. That’s ideal.
People who live their best lives have done a lot of soul-searching to find out what truly makes them happy. When they discover what their bliss is and they do it soon enough, they need to make a life decision about pursuing that agenda. When your bliss is what you do to earn a living, you are really living.
That does not mean you are perpetually comfortable. People who are living their passion are constantly working to refine their craft. I, as a writer, work on how I phrase things and I make it a point to work with other writers in a writer’s group. Why? Because I want to be a better writer and I want my words to come to me without effort.
And trust me, you do not know discomfort until you talk to an editor.
What does that mean? It means that my discomfort will come through reading more, writing more, talking more, and experiencing more. I need to think more and be more. And when I am writing I am, indeed, happy.
Happy – not comfortable.
Therefore, we call whatever we do “work”. We work toward something. When we have problems, we work to solve them. Sometimes, we are happy doing that. It is still work.
So where was I going with this?
I woke up one morning and looked in the mirror and did not like what I saw. My optometrist would say my eyesight is perfect.
In November, I found out I had type 2 diabetes. I’ve tried to modify my regular eating habits and realized that I still don’t feel good. I am still overweight, and I’m not allowed to enjoy most of what I put in my body.
With the new job I started during the pandemic, I know that working out is problematic. It is easier to not work out. However, that is not the answer. I realize that my lifestyle is not conducive to me living longer.
The common denominator in lifestyle and living longer is life.
I need to change.
This will require discomfort in a new radical diet. I promised myself that I would go completely vegan for a month to see where it goes. No more animal proteins. In addition to that, no alcohol, no dairy, and no sugar.
I know. It sucks. It is not comfortable.
I am not comfortable. I miss steak, and chicken, and fish, and ice cream. I have modified my sweets for fruit – cherries, blueberries, and bananas. I am having oat milk (instead of moo-cow milk) with my cereal – no more egg and pork roll. I am making my own meals and sticking to this.
I am not having my best pleasurable moments. I do feel better though after my first week.
I am finding comfort in my discomfort. I know this is the way to go.
I’m not liking it – but it is necessary.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Christopher Peruzzi