Get comfortable being uncomfortable.
I know I bang on about it a lot. But for a good reason. From running ultra marathons to quitting my 9-5 and working for myself to moving to another country, I wouldn’t have done any of these things If I hadn’t got comfortable being uncomfortable.
I feel uncomfortable 70% of the time these days. And when I say uncomfortable, I’m not talking about discomfort that is emotionally or physically dangerous, or just plain stupid. I also don’t mean that I walk around, day-to-day with a troubled expression on my face, not enjoying life and constantly pushing myself to breaking point. Being uncomfortable for me simply means that I resist resistance.
Resistance comes in many guises, and it mostly shows up when I am about to do something I decide is not pleasurable or important in the short-term. Things like exercising. Or when I’m on the verge of pressing the send button on an email, pitching an article to a website where my writing could be read by millions of people. Or admitting to someone that I am sad or upset or disappointed.
I find all of these things pretty uncomfortable and my initial reaction is to step away or shut down or avoid, avoid, avoid in any way I can.
And yet I’ve learned, over quite a number of years now, that the things I resist the most are the things that are good for me in the long term – things that help me grow as a friend, as a sister, as a mum, as a daughter, as a coach, as a human – and that avoiding them is a such a massive, asshole-y disservice to myself.
One of my lovely clients wrote to me yesterday and asked how she can learn to build up her, as she described it, ‘uncomfortable emotional muscle’.
My reply? Start small. Get uncomfortable doing things that don’t have massive consequences. That don’t take huge amounts of effort or time or resources. Things like doing one extra pushup at the end of your workout, or one single pushup if you’re not the pushup type, or making a note of something when you think about it, instead of telling yourself, “I’ll totally remember this later”, because you probably won’t. Upon waking in the morning, instead of reaching for your phone to bog-eyed scroll through Facebook, you can do something else; maybe a five-minute meditation with Buddhify (my favourite meditation app) or some cold shower therapy or drinking a pint of water with some fresh lemon. My good friend, Nicole, in her fascinating discussion with Alexandra Franzen – over on her new podcast – explained that she makes herself do things she doesn’t feel like doing, such as putting her empty bowl in the dishwasher instead of leaving it in the sink for later.
Starting small tricks your brain without it noticing, so that it doesn’t automatically send the message to resist or run. It’s a bit like creeping around a sleeping tiger. Only you’re less likely to get your eyes gauged out.
Step by step. For most of us, it’s how we learn. And as those small steps get easier, as we get comfortable being uncomfortable, we pave the way for the moments when we come up against the big stuff and it’s really time to flex our uncomfortable emotional muscle.