Warren Buffet—the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway and one of the world’s richest men—was terrified of public speaking. His stage fright was severe, but he made the decision to embrace his fear and make “being uncomfortable” work for him. Thus, he enrolled himself in a public speaking course and overcome what he felt was holding him back.
Years later, after countless instances of delivering speeches before crowds, he said, “If I hadn’t done that, my whole life would have been different. So in my office, you will see the certificate I got from the Dale Carnegie Course.”
Sadly, we’re not all like Buffet. Most will do everything they can to avoid being uncomfortable. From an evolutionary perspective, staying away from discomfort ensured the survival of our species. However, most of those same health and safety threats have since been mitigated. That means the same self-preservation mechanism that we so often tap may now be stifling growth and cause personal stagnation.
Understanding Discomfort and How to Make it Work for You
Comfort around being uncomfortable requires an understanding of what discomfort is all about—where it stems from, what nourishes it, and how to tame it. It helps to know that the feeling of discomfort is oftentimes triggered by fear—fear of the unknown, fear of instability, fear of upending the order of things, or fear of failure.
However, for some, avoiding discomfort has become their game plan. This is because being uncomfortable pushes people towards ending the discomfort as soon as possible. Discomfort compels them to think farther and push boundaries, sometimes even risking criticism from people around them. As it requires more effort and energy, seeking discomfort is usually left to the risk-takers and daredevils. In other words, it’s left to the people who make their discomfort work for them. Here are some ways to make discomfort work for you:
Identify where the discomfort is coming from.
Brushing it aside will just strengthen its power over you. Much of your energy will be spent on blocking the source of the discomfort. At the onset of the feeling of being uncomfortable, find the time to reflect and ask the questions— “What is it that I am so afraid to lose? Will I gain more or lose more by trying?”
Acknowledge the feeling, then do something about it.
Once you have identified the source of the discomfort, you now have the advantage of devising means to address it. This does not eliminate the feeling of discomfort, but the thought that you are taking steps to resolve it means you’re already winning half the battle.
Learn from failures and try again.
Actively seeking discomfort does not guarantee success all the time. However, you can stand up, dust yourself off and try again. Former Airbnb Chief Marketing Officer Jonathan Mildenhall says, “If you don’t have room to fail, you don’t have room to grow.” Failures are an opportunity to start over again.
Trigger discomfort in your life over and over again.
Resting on your achievements is another form of stagnation. This means that being uncomfortable with comfort itself is necessary for growth. After the success of the Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling did not stop challenging herself. She continues to inspire fans by publishing more stories, supporting numerous organizations, and even established her own children’s foundation. For Rowling, challenges and setbacks are there to help people realize their greatest potential. She says, “The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.”
So many facets of life involve the use of discomfort as a means of self-improvement. From tough homework assignments at school to monstrous course loads at college, and from killer workouts at the gym to work projects that keep us up burning the midnight oil, it’s all about weathering the discomfort and being better than before at the end of it. So step out of your comfort zone, embrace the discomfort, and live boldly!