We’ve seen a lot of pithy endurance slogans in our time: No pain, no gain. Get out of your comfort zone. Keep calm and carry on.
Sure we were pegged as slackers when we were young, but the truth is we’re no strangers to hard work. We put in long hours at our desks, yet still manage to get the kids to soccer practice at 6:00 a.m. We’re all about extreme midlife athleticism. And we’re at a stage where abrupt change, like quitting a 20-year career or getting divorced, happens.
Along with all of this comes discomfort, which experts agree is an excellent catalyst for personal growth. The trick is to get comfortable in that space, not just push through it.
Get into your discomfort zone
You don’t have to pull a Wim Hof by plunging into an ice bath to shock your system into resilience. The seeds of discomfort surround us, as does the evidence of our human nature to avoid it at all costs. Consider these fun facts: in the last two years, Gen X purchased 13% more wine than any other generation. And when it comes to zoning out to our smartphones, we’re worse than our kids.
You can choose to anesthetize or ignore the bumps in the road, or you can get on with doing the stuff of life, like sticking to a budget or workout routine. Learning to tolerate the little daily doses of discomfort is the practice.
When we’re not busy being carried away by a high, we’re left to confront the very subtle resistance we feel toward doing what we know, deep down, will actually move us forward.
Come to your senses
The impulse to avoid pain is built-in; our scuttling lizard brains are wired to run, hide, or duke it out. Becoming conscious of our reactions and confronting the fear behind the frenzy is the antidote.
According to Sheri Van Dijk, author of the book Calming the Emotional Storm, it’s all about learning how to sit with your uncomfortable feelings.
An exercise in mindfulness, it begins with observing your inner dialog. Get in touch with your body’s sensations, like a tightness in your chest or feeling like you want to cry. Rather than judge, validate how you feel. That way, you can see more clearly if your response is appropriate or if the situation triggered something else in you.
And then, shift your focus to the reality of the present moment. Rather than wallow in what was, you’ll find yourself more able to adjust to what is. Listen to the resistance, and then lean into that discomfort. You’ll find a better version of yourself on the other side.