Nobody likes to feel uncomfortable. Well, maybe there are a few masochists out there, but for the most part, discomfort is something that most of us avoid. Ironically, by avoiding discomfort though, we’re ultimately left with more of it. And it becomes debilitating for us individually and as companies.
From an evolutionary perspective, avoiding discomfort makes a lot of sense. The discomfort of walking toward a lion on the Savanna didn’t end well for our ancestors. As far back as Darwin, biologists studied discomfort as being a driving force powering predatory avoidance, resource gathering, and overall survival tactics that have been critical to keeping our species (and most others) alive. It was literally what caused us to deal with the necessities of survival.
While discomfort may have driven our ancestor’s survival, today it’s a different story. Modernity has ushered in an era where most of us are rarely in life-threatening situations. We’re provided with the luxury of not having to deal with discomfort because it’s often not critical to our survival.
We can choose (consciously or unconsciously) to avoid uncomfortable feelings like fear, anger, grief, or any other difficult emotion, without mortal danger. But unchecked, that avoidance can become a maladaptive coping strategy that hurts more than it helps. While it might seem that avoiding discomfort would be a way to be less stressed, less upset, or less uncomfortable, the smart move is to deal, head on, with the source of the discomfort to eliminate it forever.
As such, we’re left with a paradox, the more you seek discomfort and deal with the source, the less discomfort you’ll feel over time. Your life will be less stressed, less triggering, and more comfortable all around. And since you’re dealing with the source of things, your personal and professional results will undoubtedly improve. The pathway to less discomfort is through discomfort. In my work with companies and their leaders, there are 5 key areas of discomfort to seek out that generate the biggest rewards.
When considering anything, it’s predictable that we consider it first from our point of view. We take into account our background, our knowledge of the topic, our beliefs about how things work, and come up with a perspective. Superficial perspectives are usually easily distinguished as such, but the deep beliefs we have about ourselves, others, and the world can easily seem like the truth, when in reality they may not even be true at all. The more axiomatic, or core, those beliefs are to you, the more disorienting and uncomfortable they’ll likely be to call into question—and the more transformative the result.
Most everyone has self-doubt, and it’s not a bad thing, as it often highlights what’s really important to us. But when that self-doubt stops us from taking actions toward the things we want to achieve, it becomes incredibly limiting. How long have you been sitting on that book you wanted to write, business you wanted to start, or division initiative you wanted to take? By making commitments beyond our self-doubt, it will call us into action to move through it.
From an evolutionary standpoint, we not only want, but need, to be accepted by those around us. It’s a matter of survival. That’s why being exposed for what and who you truly are can be incredibly uncomfortable. It might even feel like a life and death scenario. You can start with family members or close friends in revealing details about yourself, what you ultimately want to accomplish, and your true objectives (you might have to see the reality about yourself initially as a first step)—and then expand it to other areas of your life or business.
With pandemic fallout, tech disruption, global instability, and accelerating change at a breakneck pace, challenges are bound to come up for all of us. We need to navigate those challenges head on, and not just when they’re forced on us. The small annoyances, things that can be put off, or things you’d rather not deal with will always be better handled today than when they’re potentially worse tomorrow.
Of all the discomfort we might experience, uncertainty rules them all. No matter how much time, care, or budget we put into something, nothing (and I do mean nothing) is guaranteed. Much of this kind of discomfort is due to the fact that many have forgotten this uncomfortable fact. As you reconcile the idea that tomorrow isn’t promised to us at any level, the more gratitude, humility, and joy will naturally emerge.
To be clear here, companies (or individuals for that matter) should not force discomfort on anyone. Rather, they can create empathetic, safe, and encouraging environments for people to move through their discomfort with the support of those around them. Uncomfortable feelings don’t have to be debilitating or permanent. But the more we ignore them, the more we’re left with them as a result.
Discomfort is a part of human life. It’s just not possible to not have uncomfortable things come up from time to time. But when people and companies recognize the necessity of discomfort and build it into their culture, they become unstoppable. Not because they don’t have discomfort, but because they’re willing to deal with the source of it.
Sterling Hawkins is an entrepreneur, public speaker, and the author of the book, Hunting Discomfort.