Confusing discomfort with real pain…

by | Jan 30, 2017 | Mindfulness

Any fool can be happy. It takes a man [or a woman] with real heart to make beauty out of the stuff that makes us weep.

—Clive Barker, Days of Magic, Nights of War

With the holidays over, our first order of business is looking for a new place to live. In December our landlord told us we had to move and in short order, with no argument or extended negotiation, Sébastien decided that none of the reasons he had used to explain why we shouldn’t move were true: there are areas that are more comfortable for us to live in, the move won’t actually be difficult, there are apartments better suited for us and our dogs, etc. I complained about where we lived, but I didn’t push the issue because Sébastien liked the location and the neighborhood. While I’m so excited and happy, I’m also left wondering why I didn’t try a little harder to get his buy in… The short answer is that I wasn’t being mindful. I wasn’t listening to that voice inside of me that knows what I do and don’t want.

So here we are and since I wasn’t listening to my own internal guidance systems, I needed to be pushed into a zone of uncertainty (by my landlord) in order to even try to move into the type of apartment that I’ve dreamed about since… well since I moved to Paris five years ago. I think there are several reasons why I didn’t push the issue. And first and foremost I didn’t want to be uncomfortable. Not unusual at all, like so many of us I confused discomfort with real pain. Discomfort makes us feel uneasy, anxious, or embarrassed, but no real harm is done. Whereas pain signals physical suffering, illness or injury, so we can act to stop life-threatening trauma. Pushing past any resistance is uncomfortable, so I stalled.

The second reason why I didn’t push back is that life has been “good enough” so it was hard to make a meaningful change. Unfortunately, there are three problems with “good enough.” 1) It’s vague. It covers the entire spectrum from being actually uncomfortable to comfortable enough that you don’t want to make too many changes because you don’t want to loose what you have to actually pretty good. 2) “Good enough” is rarely optimal, so we’re almost never positioned for success. 3) And it often demotivates, it make you less enthusiastic and leaves you not wanting to do what it takes to get what you want.

Finally, there are the multitude of other supporting characters that keep good enough strong like, we don’t feel we deserve better, or we feel guilty for wanting more, and on and on. With these ideas nagging at me, it’s so easy to settle for less than the best for ourselves. Tangled up in all this, I didn’t realize… until this very moment as I type… that by doing nothing I was actually not taking responsibility for myself and I was giving away our power. Now that we’re moving forward it’s so very clear to me that the cost of settling for less is actually harder than just taking the steps to get closer to what I actually wanted.

Fortunately, even without really figuring out what is holding me back, there are ways to break past these blocks. The first and foremost I need to get used to embracing discomfort. Michael Hyatt business coach says there are three reasons why you and I should come to terms with discomfort, whether we deliberately choose the discomfort, or life simply happens to us.

  1. Comfort is overrated. It doesn’t lead to happiness. It makes us lazy—and forgetful. It often leads to self-absorption, boredom, and discontent. But it doesn’t prompt us to change anything.
  2. Discomfort is a catalyst for growth. It makes us yearn for something more. It forces us to change, stretch, and adapt. It prepares us to meet opportunities when they arrive.
  3. Discomfort is a sign we’re making progress. When you push yourself to grow, you will experience discomfort, but it will be worth it.

Marc Chesley talks about that in his Tedx Talk, “The power of discomfort” and provides a few recommendations on how to leverage discomfort. I’ve boiled his recommendations down to the following.

  1. Notice how you feel, when you feel it. Take moments to check in with yourself, even if it’s just a deep breath at your desk.
  2. Once you notice how you feel. Acknowledge it. And, recognize what you are saying yes to and no to in response to how you feel. But don’t judge yourself; just identify what’s going on.
  3. Then accept uncertainty. You don’t always have to know how things are going to turn right away. Be patient and don’t pressure yourself that way.

Nikola Tesla describes our ability to handle uneasiness like this “With ideas it is like with climbing dizzy heights: at first they cause you discomfort and you are anxious to get down, distrustful of your own powers; but soon the remoteness of the turmoil of life and the inspiring influence of the altitude calm your blood; your step gets firm and sure and you begin to look – for dizzier heights.” If that doesn’t impress you enough remember that every time you’ve been faced with a challenge you’ve won. We may not have won the way we hoped, but we learned something and we survived, therefore we won. I can say that with confidence because we are still there. Your own experiences have already proven me right.

All this said, just as a reminder we all have these feelings. That’s what makes us human. But by not looking at and understanding how we feel, even that which is uncomfortable, we stop life from happening in the real yummy way that many of us long for because another crazy truth is that reality is almost always more gentle then our perception of reality. That’s why leaning into how we feel and what we think through prayer, meditation, yoga or any number of other methods helps us see past the what dilutes us and helps us see what really is.

Abhijit Naskar explains why this way in his book Autobiography of God: Biopsy of A Cognitive Reality “You are not even seeing most of what’s going on in the universe. On top of that, your brain filters out much of what it receives from the environment. So that what you are consciously aware of is only a fractional representation of your universe.” That is to say that for the most part the thing we imagine and stop us from daring to create a life we love are just not as bad as we suppose. So, be kind to yourself.

As I look forward this year, I think it’s a good time to take stock of things that have made me uncomfortable. Some I don’t appreciate today, maybe not even tomorrow, but remember Brian Greene words “the tantalizing discomfort of perplexity is what inspires otherwise ordinary men and women to extraordinary feats of ingenuity and creativity; nothing focuses the mind like dissonant details awaiting harmonious resolution.” We are those ordinary men and women. We’ve experienced some scary stuff and survived, and we can do it again. Seneca says, “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” And you know what? We are so brave.


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