In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown wrote about the need to “normalize discomfort,” meaning that rather than seeking feedback in a way that is comfortable, that for growth to occur we need to accept that at times the process will be uncomfortable. Brené urges us to build a tolerance for being uncomfortable.
I’ve written about embracing uncomfortability as an important tool for moving the needle on culture. I’ve also written about nature as a metaphor for how we can live our lives in a more meaningful and purposeful way, and in nature there is a constant rubbing of discomfort against comfort—all things in a state of comfort eventually decay or transform into a state of discomfort only to renew again and return to comfort. Not unlike our lives and work when we are growing personally and professionally.
Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook wrote Lean In, a book intended to inspire women in business to lean into their discomfort and keep their foot on the gas pedal even if they are planning on having children or are unsure of their worth.
Both Sandberg and Brown have received plenty of criticism for their writings, as I have noticed many people shying away from our culture work when we start talking about leaning into discomfort.
In all things we humans can become habitual. We have habitualized comfort and luxury in the physical sense, and we do the same in our lives and work when we avoid discomfort in the form of feedback and vulnerability. It is the habit of being in comfort that is the bane of growth. Building tolerance for discomfort is the boon to having everything worth having.
This doesn’t mean that we accept a monastic life of self-denial and hardship. It doesn’t mean we sleep on a hard mat and eat only leafy greens and rice. It also doesn’t mean taking a vow of poverty.
On the contrary, it means we live the fullest expression of what our life and work can be, exactly because we have built a tolerance to discomfort through leaning in to those things that we’d rather avoid. And like all things we do to strengthen ourselves it takes time and consistent effort, and most importantly, we start with small steps and work our way from there.
Tip of the Week
A small step of building the tolerance for discomfort is to go out in nature at exactly the time you would rather stay in. Take a walk in the rain or snow, do some physical work in the middle of a really hot day, take a hike in the forest, find a secluded spot and sit on the ground without cover and just melt with nature. Feel all that you feel: cold, hot, sticky, wet, or just plain uncomfortable. Notice that you are not harmed, only uncomfortable. Now apply this to just one area of your life that is in imbalance or turmoil. Open yourself to feedback and really take it in, express honestly what you are feeling to someone, share a fear with someone you trust, or just be with the feeling of being uncomfortable about the situation. This is how we begin to build our tolerance to discomfort.