4 Steps to Manage Discomfort and Grow

As with most things worthwhile in life, often personal growth and transformation is required to help us reach our goals and dreams. However, change is almost always accompanied by discomfort, pain and ‘taxing’ effort.

Thus the conundrum that we all face is between:

  1. choosing to accept discomfort and grow, or
  2. choosing to avoid discomfort and therefore not grow!

Tolerating discomfort in the pursuit of growth can be made a lot easier if we learn ‘how’. Understanding and rationalising the reasons as to why we can feel uncomfortable is the first step towards becoming more tolerant.

But how else can we learn to become more tolerant of our discomfort?

In short, it’s all about acceptance and management of our thinking! Specifically, below are 4 useful strategies you can apply to yourself or teach others.

1) Avoid – avoidance – Upon feeling anxious and stressed about an upcoming event, there will likely be a strong urge to avoid. You may either feel like avoiding the activity entirely (e.g. like turning down a public speaking opportunity at your friend’s birthday), or you may avoid key behaviours related to the task or activity (e.g. you may ‘procrastinate’ and avoid studying to relieve your anxiety for an exam you’re anxious about).

Thus, the first step in handling discomfort is to simply ‘avoid-avoidance’ and accept the challenge knowing that;

a). you will likely hinder your growth opportunity if you partake in avoidance behaviour,

b). your feelings of discomfort are normal (we are all ‘hard wired’ to instinctively avoid feeling discomfort),

c). no matter how unsettling, your thoughts and feelings they do not dictate your success in your pursuit. It’s your actions that really count!

2) Accepting discomfort – Can you catch yourself in the moment of a stressful and/or anxious situation and simply acknowledge your discomfort?

The main reason we need to accept our discomfort is because of the consequences if we don’t; our stress & anxiety can be more severe and long-lasting without acceptance.

Our thoughts and inner dialogue can dictate the type and level of anxiety we feel. Not being aware of our thoughts provides the climate for our anxiety to take full affect. Without ‘checking’ and being conscious of our thoughts, rumination can spiral out of control, making us ‘become the anxiety’!

On the other hand, when our anxious thoughts are acknowledged from the onset, one is in a better position to manage the level of discomfort experienced. Proper acknowledgement means being able to identify and label specific thoughts in the moment – as they are occurring – plus being able to distance yourself from them so as to not ‘hijack’ your feelings and behaviour. You either manage anxiety or it manages you!

Practicing mindfulness is a key skill that can help improve your chances to more successfully ‘catch’ and accept anxiety and discomfort as it occurs. This is because mindfulness practice essentially improves our concentration, thus helping our brains ‘be in the moment’ and catch these thoughts– sooner rather than later.

3) Identify thinking errors – once we can successfully identify the nature of our thoughts and feelings, we can more easily identify the underpinning “thinking errors” that evoke unpleasant emotional reactions. Some of the most common thinking errors include;

  • Catastrophising and thinking the worst case – e.g. “I will fail miserably”
  • Personalising – e.g. “There is no way that teacher will give me a good mark”
  • Black and white thinking – e.g. “I am either good or bad at my subjects”
  • Making assumptions – e.g. “I will never improve”

4) Rationalise thinking errors – After thoughts and thinking errors have been identified, we can rationalise them by simply re-wording them to be more productive and/or positive. For example, if your thinking error is an assumption of your capability, e.g. “I never will improve”. You may like to instead think that; “improvement is possible if I commit to the work”. Rationalising your thoughts will ultimately improve how you feel and encourage your behaviour to be more productive.

After repeated acceptance and rationalisation of your thoughts, you will essentially train your brain to accept threats and discomfort that you wouldn’t have previously entertained! With early detection, your discomfort levels will be kept in check, and you are likely to feel more comfortable with tolerating discomfort.

However, the key lies in being able to successfully accept and manage your thinking ‘in the heat of the battle’ – a skill which requires lots of dedication and practice!

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