7 Surprising Breakthroughs From Moving Through (Instead of Away From) Discomfort
Montezuma Waterfall, Costa Rica
Have you ever faced an uncomfortable situation, had a difficult conversation, felt generally down and defeated, or felt like what you want to do in the world is just too damn hard? Or have you ever felt so overwhelmed in making some kind of transition (a major life change, moving overseas, changing jobs, starting a business, etc.) that you wanted to walk away?
Today I want to share with you a recent experience I had with immense discomfort, how I almost buckled to its pressure, and what I learned by leaning into it, instead of turning away.
A few weeks ago, I headed off on my first solo international trip since Scott’s passing last September.
I planned a two week trip to Costa Rica – a place I visited a few years ago. It was an idea I was toying with but I kind of pulled the trigger last minute since I really am trying to take things day by day these days!
But once I did make the decision, I was really excited to go for a couple of reasons. I lay these out to give you an idea of where my head was going into the trip:
1. I do believe that my soul was meant to fly. The first international trip I ever went on was on my own. I honestly have no idea what possessed me to go when I think back on it, but at the age of 20 I hopped on my first international flight to Spain to spend 8 weeks of my summer break learning Spanish in Granada. Since then, not a single year has gone by where I haven’t taken one (if not more!) international trips. The spark was lit back in 2003 and I have been hooked ever since.
2. I was excited about my focus of the trip – practicing Spanish, surfing, doing yoga and working on things for all you amazing living legends. I have always wanted to go to the Caribbean side and to the Osa peninsula in Costa Rica but I specifically went back to an area I was familiar with. I didn’t want the trip to be a lot of moving around or exploring because I was looking at this trip as ‘an experiment.’ To see how it felt to travel alone and how it felt to work at this capacity on LYL from the road. So while I headed back to the Nicoya Peninsula, I specifically chose towns I hadn’t spent time in with Scott so that it felt safe, but at the same time not a place filled with memories.
3. Even though it’s been difficult to be alone at times, over the past few months I have noticed that my solo days are the days where it feels like the deepest layer of healing happens. I need, want and love to be around my close friends and family, I honestly have no idea how I would get through this without them, no question! But the moments where I have focused time to really think, be, reflect, feel, question, answer, etc. are moments that I feel like I make new discoveries – about myself (my soul, my thoughts, my wants, my needs) and about this vast universe we live in. Over the past few months, some of my most difficult moments have happened when I was alone, but so have some of my most profound!
4. I was really looking forward to warm weather. Scott and I strategically planned our trip in 2015 to “avoid winter.” I got ripped out of that trip and sent to San Francisco, where it was cold (at least by CA standards). So as silly as it sounds, I was really looking forward to warm water and warm nights!
5. I was looking forward to the other travellers I might meet. I can’t really explain it but one of the feelings I have had over the past few months is that I don’t really know where I ‘belong’. I think it is safe to say that Scott and I did things a little differently. When many of our friends were buying houses, we sold everything we owned and headed out for a year long trip. I am not saying any one thing is better than the other – the house probably would have come for us at some point but in a moment where many around us were doing one thing, we chose something completely different.
It’s definitely not the easy route to walk an alternative path, which is why we created this amazing community! But I now know it is a lot easier when you do it alongside someone with the same beliefs. So anyway, based on past experience I know that anytime I am out on the road, I have met people doing things a bit differently so I was excited to see who I might cross paths with.
A Rough Start
I set my alarm for 7:00am the day I was scheduled to leave and while I woke up much earlier than expected, I also woke with a terrible fever…
I noticed I didn’t have much of an appetite the night before but didn’t think too much of it. I also haven’t been sick in so long, I kind of forgot how awful it can actually be; so I simply thought “nothing a little Ibuprofen won’t help with”. I arrived at the airport, bought some almonds (since I still didn’t have an appetite) and some Ibuprofen and boarded the plane.
About 2 hours in I got the overwhelming feeling I was going to throw up so got up to go to the bathroom and the next thing I know, a doctor was in my face asking me if I was alright. Are you diabetic? Have you ever fainted before? Are you traveling alone? No, no and yes, sir, I am freaking ALONE!
Nothing like that had ever happened to me before but I guess my blood sugar dropped really low from lack of food + medicine + flying. After some OJ and some food, I was feeling much better but this wasn’t exactly the start I had hoped for…
I proceeded to spend the next 3 full days on my back. It was pretty brutal – and I think we all know that anytime you are sick, when your energy is that low and you feel that bad, everything is intensified, especially negative thoughts. So I pretty much spent the entirety of 3 days in a really low place… But mostly I felt really, really alone.
As I started to feel better, I had hope that perhaps those feelings might diminish. But then I started doing things like going on hikes, going to dinner, watching the sunset… and even though I was feeling a bit better, I was still alone.
Also, I think there is an important differentiation to make here. I have always been able to do things by myself in the past, but there is something drastically different, drastically more dramatic about having to do things without your favorite person rather than choosing to do them that way.
Quite honestly, I think being able to be alone is an important skill for everyone to develop but there was a real permanence about the loneliness I was feeling.
To Stay or To Go: The Decision of Indecision
There is no denying that I was considering pulling out and heading home. I was telling myself things like: “This was a terrible idea, what was thinking?!” “Maybe I am not meant to travel alone.” “Maybe in this new version of my life, travel just doesn’t fit the way it used to.”
But on the flip side I was also thinking “Is there any chance something good could come from the way I am feeling?” “Do I really want to go back to San Francisco, where everyone else seems to be living their normal life and mine feels everything but normal?” “Yeah, I am lonely but at least I am lonely and warm!”
I was having an internal battle but the worst part about it was that I felt like I was trying to decide between two things – neither of which felt right. This only added to my feeling of ‘not belonging’.
Note: Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming article all about this science behind the need to belong – as this has spurred me to go on a bit of a research project. 🙂
Thankfully I have amazing people in my life: my family and friends and my coach Debra Russell, who I have worked with over the past 8 years. In talking with those people, I made the decision to stay – or at least stay through the weekend and reassess how I was feeling once I had moved a little further out of my sick, low energy, and negative state.
So that I did… And now as I sit and write this on my flight back to the US after completing the full two weeks in Costa Rica, I cannot tell you how happy I am that I didn’t throw in the towel, that I didn’t give up the moment things got hard, that I chose to work through what I was feeling instead of run away from it.
And I am happy to report that things did turn around! The second week felt completely different than the first. In the first week, I couldn’t wait to get home, but when I left Costa Rica last week, I wanted to stay a little longer…
I am sure waking up out of my sickness and discovering how to find joy in an uncomfortable situation contributed, but I really think the major factor was that I chose to move through the feelings of discomfort. Was it hard? Heck Yeah!
It would have been way easier to run away from, to push away, to avoid those feelings, but as they say… fear, uncertainty and discomfort are your compasses towards growth. And you simply can’t run from something you turn around to face.
So by leaning into instead of turning away from the discomfort I felt, I learned a ton. And I know I will carry these lessons with me on future trips and in my everyday life. Because let’s get real, there is bound to be more discomfort ahead… not only for me but for every single one of us!
7 Breakthroughs of Moving Through Discomfort
1. Something is Always Happening, Even if you Don’t See it
I truly believe that there are no ordinary moments in this life. In any given moment, something greater than we can see is happening. Whether that moment is preparing us, testing us, nourishing us, whatever. If you are open to seeing it, feeling it, learning from it, every moment presents an opportunity – even the difficult ones.
Think about the healing of a broken bone… Do you see what is going on internally for the 6 weeks you are in a cast? No. And you wouldn’t ‘see it’ even if there wasn’t a cast. But the body is intelligent; the body will move along the path of healing if we do not resist it.
However, we all too often live life from our head, not from our heart – the place of intuition, gut feelings and knowing. And on top of that it is our nature to do things to avoid pain. Tony Robbins claims that every decision we make is for one of two reasons: to find pleasure or to avoid pain. And often avoiding pain is a much stronger motivator!
That is likely why I wanted to go home. Were there moments of pleasure that first week – awesome hikes, beautiful sunsets, good food? Did I meet some interesting people, practice my Spanish, swim in a beautiful ocean, do yoga in the rainforest? Absolutely. But those moments were not outweighing the pain I was feeling when I was down.
But by moving through instead of away from those feelings, I realize looking back how much was actually happening, even when I couldn’t see or feel it in the moment. By talking it out with my friends and family back home, writing it in my journal, answering the difficult questions that come to mind and being open to the opportunities those moments were presenting, I was able to take small steps forward.
Now there is a very clear distinction between getting stuck in a place and moving through something. Many people get stuck in feelings that last years, decades, lifetimes! That is why it is important to recognize and notice a feeling but not attach to it or assume it’s truth; but rather be aware and present to it while recognizing it for what it is – not a permanent state, but a temporary experience and an opportunity to learn.
It is very difficult to lean into the unknown, into uncertainty, into the lack of an ‘outcome’ but that is also the place where you allow the body to do what it knows how to naturally do – to heal, to evolve, to expand, to grow, to flourish.
Key Lesson: Become the Observer, not the Victim, of Your Thoughts
Next time you are having a difficult moment – whether it’s a perceived failure in your business or a challenge in your personal life, recognize instead of reject the feeling. Rather than trying to push it away, allow it to evolve – even though it may be hard!
Answer the questions that come up, recognize why you are afraid (there is probably something deeper in there), and think about what you are thinking about. This is one of the simplest yet most powerful things you can do to evolve from being a victim of your mind to a master of your mind.
But at the same time, don’t let yourself get stuck in it. Remind yourself that ‘something’ even if you cannot see it, will come from this experience. That this is not a permanent state, it’s merely a moment in time.
2. Don’t Trust Feelings that Come From Extreme States
As mentioned, I was super sick and trusting the feelings that were coming from that state as my true feelings. But all emotion is, is energy in motion. My energy levels were incredibly low, so it’s no wonder why my emotions followed suit!
It’s not wise to trust the decisions that come from that place. If you want to make a decision, get yourself in a good state first, and then decide.
Key Lesson: Notice Your State First, Take Action Second
Notice the place you are in when you are trying to make a decision and write it down. Are you high on life or are you down in the dumps?
If you aren’t in a resourceful state, you have a few options:
- Change your state: For me my favorite jams, getting out in nature, and practicing gratitude tend to pretty quickly shake me up and put me in a good place, and obviously the more you practice this, the more quickly your body becomes accustomed to making a shift.
- Revisit the decision when you are in a better state: Even if that means you need to wait a few days to get there! Sometimes you just need to tell yourself and others, “I need a little more time.” Your head will be a lot clearer and you’re much more likely to make a decision from passion rather than fear.
3. Look at all Sides, Not Just the one you Want to Verify
I owe a huge thanks to Debra for this one! I told her about how I felt lonely and the reasons why that was making me want to go home. She asked me what was contributing to those feelings and in doing so, she helped me gain a broader perspective. Because as it turned out, I was only looking at what was happening on my side of the equation in Costa Rica.
In discussing a realistic picture of what would happen should I go back to San Francisco, I began to realize that things would be different in the sense that there were be the security, comfort and knowing that I could be around close friends; but in a typical day in San Francisco, I still spend a lot of time alone, as I generally work from a coffee shop most of the day.
So in reality, when I actually broke it down hour by hour into a side by side comparison, I realized that my days wouldn’t actually be that different from what I was doing in Costa Rica. Realistically, I was trading working from a coffee shop for working from the rainforest and a few potential dinners with friends or family for evening surf sessions. To do that for one week was not not a bad trade off when I thought of it that way!
The truth is going home really wouldn’t have made things all that different. It was just an outlet, an idea, a quick fix to avoid the discomfort I was feeling.
Key Lesson: Be Honest and Weigh Out the Realities of All of Your Options
The important point here is to be honest. If I wanted to, I could still convince myself that things would have been SO different had I gone home. So it’s important to be really brutally honest with yourself. If you are feeling discomfort, you likely want to verify that feeling. This is where it might be helpful to get an outside opinion.
When I truly looked at what a typical day would like in SF (instead of just assuming the grass would be greener), it gave me a clear black and white comparison and allowed me to see exactly where I was trading one thing for another.
I did this same thing at one point a few months ago when I was feeling very low. I literally estimated the hours in the 2 months I had been home where I felt that low – because it was a really hard place to be. I was surprised that it turned out to be only about 25% of the time at that point. In my mind it was “all the time” but when I put it in plain numbers, I realized it was actually only a percentage of the time.
4. You Will Learn Lessons – It’s up to you how Long it Will Take
What you resist persists and what you face unfolds. This is a lesson that I have definitely worked through over the past few months. And I was reminded of it again during my time in Costa Rica. However, not right in the moment, only once I looked back on it (and this is why breakthrough number one above is important to remember!).
I can now look back on this whole experience and realize that if I would have jumped ship and headed home (resisted the feelings and the situation), it would have persisted. I would have maybe gained the courage to go out on my own again in another 3, 6, 12 (or who knows 50 months?!) only to have experienced similar feelings then.
There is a lot of newness in my life – quite frankly almost everything I do feels like a ‘first’ and firsts are always a little hard. But I wholeheartedly believe that whenever my first solo trip would have happened, whether that was this month or 5 years from now, I would have felt some discomfort. This discovery/opportunity/lesson, whatever you want to call it, is something that was part of my process, something I needed to face and to overcome. And I truly believe that if I didn’t face it now, I would have faced it later.
Interestingly enough, I am now excited about my next adventure! So instead of sitting in fear, I now get to use my precious time on this planet doing one of my favorite things – seeing the world! But this breakthrough only happened because I chose to turn toward instead of away from the obstacle I was facing.
Key Lesson: Recount Overcoming Resistance
Think of a time when you gave into something you were resisting – a feeling, a relationship, a reality about your life. Take a few moments, don’t let it be fleeting.
Look back on the process you went through when you recognized and faced that experience. What happened? Did you truly face it? Did it unfold into something new? What was the outcome?
Now take a moment to think about what you are resisting in your life right now? How long have you been avoiding this particular thing? What would be the outcome if you faced what is, instead of resisted it? Would your life feel lighter? Might you experience more joy, more freedom?
Odds are you are suffering longer and harder by resisting it than by facing it. Is there fear and pain in ripping off a band-aid? Yes. But isn’t it better than slowly peeling it away – for minutes, days, months, years?!
5. Your Focus is Fuel
I have said this before, but it is worth repeating… In any given moment, you have the opportunity to focus on yourself or others, on what you do have or what you don’t, on what is good or what is bad.
And of course in every moment, you aren’t going to be perfect. Perfection is a myth. The purpose of this post is about moving through discomfort, which means you actually have to feel it! So there will be times that you choose to focus on what you don’t have – but your power comes the moment you recognize you are actually making that choice.
And I think that this is the clear differentiator between ‘getting stuck in’ and ‘moving through’ feelings. The people who see themselves as victims of life don’t recognize they are making that choice – to focus on what happened to them, or what they don’t have, or that they just are how they are. And that is why they remain a victim.
I’ll repeat myself… in any given moment, no matter how bad or awful the situation is, you have the choice to focus on what you do have or what you don’t. And if you are here on this planet with the ability to make that choice, you have a lot more than you might realize.
You have the mini miracles that take place every day (so sadly we take them for granted) – a heart that beats without you having to tell it to, a body that functions and process without you thinking about it – that allows you to wake up each morning, sleep each night, that digests your food (even when you feed it crap!) so you have what you need to survive – a sun that provides you warmth, access to the conveniences of the modern day world we live in, etc. When was the last time you were forced to pick, hunt or look far and wide for your next meal? I could go on and on..
Anyway, the point of my long winded rant above is that you have a choice of what to focus on. I mentioned earlier how I was really feeling like I don’t ‘belong’ and I’ll be honest in saying that I am still figuring that out. But even though I may not feel it all the time, there are moments where I do feel it. So I have the choice: to focus on the moments where I do or the ones where I don’t.
And this is why I am an advocate of writing things down. I did feel a sense of belonging when I met a girl who had just embarked on a year around the world trip on her own, when I was out in the ocean surfing among other novice surfers, when I was on a very interesting public bus going from one small beach town to another and laughing about it with other young travelers and when I met the guy who gave up his successful career with a Florida newspaper to move to Indonesia and become a surf videographer. I made sure to jot these moments down in my journal.
And every week when I review my journal entries during my weekly planning process, I am reminded that it isn’t ‘always’ that I feel one way or another. But without this review and reflection I might forget that I have those moments and put all my focus on the times where I feel like I don’t belong. But since my thoughts fuel my actions and my emotions, I like to recognize, remember and focus on the fact that there are moments I where I do! When you take responsibility for your thoughts and actions and you will begin to manipulate your mind instead of having your mind manipulate you.
Key Lesson: Create a Routine to Refocus your Focus
If you are feeling a negative emotion, say self-doubt, think about the opposite emotion. In this instance that might be confidence. Any time you feel the emotion you are striving for, even if it is for a split second, write down what you were doing and why you felt that way.
Even if it doesn’t automatically become your dominant emotion, in writing it down you will gain some insight on the situations that make you feel that way – so hopefully you can start to engage in more of those!
And the more you recognize that you do actually feel that emotion (e.g. confidence), your confidence will begin to grow. Where your focus goes, grows. Simple as that.
6. Replace Expectation with Experimentation
Scott was a big advocate of life experimentation so I had a very good teacher. 🙂
And it makes perfect sense, how are you ever going to know what ‘right’ feels like if you don’t know what ‘wrong’ feels like?!
I cannot tell you how happy I am that I told myself “This trip is an experiment” instead of “This trip is going to be exactly what I need.” The moment you replace expectation with experimentation, you eliminate the option for disappointment and give yourself the space to learn and grow.
And funny enough, in a roundabout way, the trip actually turned out to be exactly what I needed! But only because I went into it with well-managed expectations. The only expectation I had was that I wanted to learn a little more about what I do and don’t like – and that I did!
I honestly think we can learn something from every interaction, every conversation, every experience (which is why there are no ordinary moments!). But you have to go into these experiences without being attached to a particular outcome. It is when we become attached to a specific outcome, result or definition that we set ourselves up for disappointment.
What if instead we looked at things and simply realized they would help us learn something one way or another? And both are equally important. You have to know what feels good in order to know what feels bad. You have to know what feels wrong in order to know what feels right. Every experience is an opportunity.
Here’s a quick example: I met a beautiful woman last week at the San Francisco Live Your Legend Local World Party who was an artist. She said her biggest fear was that she was gonna leave the world and have nothing to show for it. In her next breath, she mentioned how she had 4 binders worth of artwork that she created…
After she finished, I kindly offered up another perspective. Based on what she told me, I felt that she already did have something to show for her time on this planet (her 4 binders of artwork!!!) – and in a more physical, long lasting, tangible way than most of us ever will!
But you see, she wasn’t seeing it that way because her definition of success (i.e. her expectation) meant having her work featured in a large gallery. Because she was attached to that outcome, she couldn’t see what she had already done, and therefore she was disappointed. Every single piece of art she has created has been a mini experiment in her life – to see what resonates with others, what does sell, what doesn’t, what makes her feel good, what doesn’t. She took thoughts inside her head and turned them into a physical product. I don’t know about you but I definitely see that as success!
So, it’s important to remember that the moment you start to experiment instead of expect, you remove pressure, you create space, and you start to always be ‘successful’ – since your intention is to simply learn something one way or another.
Key Lesson: Experiment Rather than Expect
In experimentation there’s a hypothesis, but that’s all it is – a theory that you take action on to discover whether or not it is true. And to live your life not attached to expectations or specific outcomes (other than constant learning and growth) is when you truly find freedom.
So experiment away, try new things, talk to people, get out there, do things differently, try and retry what didn’t work. And the next time you feel disappointment, notice the expectations you had going into that situation? What outcome were you attached to? Then ask yourself what else could this mean? What have I learned in this situation?
Be ok with the fact that you’ll always learn something! And remember you need to know ‘bad’ in order to ever actually know ‘good’.
7. Sometimes it is in the Moments of Silence that you Actually Hear the Most
I will admit, it can be hard to spend time alone – but that is also exactly why I think it is an important skill to build up. 🙂
If you cannot discover how to find joy within yourself, without anything else around, then you are relying on external factors for your happiness. And if there’s anything that is truth, if you depend on others for your happiness, you are bound to be unhappy… because the only thing we can truly control is what is within is.
You have to master what is happening internally because you cannot control what is happening externally. – Neale Donald Walsch
It may sound harsh but it is true. People and things are unpredictable – people change, things change and no one and nothing is always going to mold willingly to your ways. People may do so out of fear or compromise… but that is not going to serve either one of you for the long term. And this is why many relationships suffer, because they are so reliant on one another for happiness that it is never actually achieved.
So, while it is hard to be alone and in silence, I really do think that is when you actually hear the most. That is why I have a meditation practice, why I try to spend a little bit of uninterrupted time every day in nature with no devices and no distractions. Because it is in those moments of silence where you create space to listen to what your heart and soul has to say, rather than just your mind.
We tend to resist being alone, in silence or without distraction because it is uncomfortable. But that’s the whole point of this (now very long!) article. It is in the moments of discomfort that you create opportunity – to grow, to learn, to discover.
And in moments of silence you open that space for you to hear, not what you have to say to others or what others have to say to you, but what you have to say to yourself.
Key Lesson: Schedule Your Stillness
You can start as small as three minutes. And you may need to because it will feel so wildly uncomfortable at first! But spend a few minutes each day to just be. Schedule it, set an alarm, do what you need to actually take action, and if it all seems pointless, refer back to point number 1 of this list. 🙂
This can be done in a number of ways that fit with your particular lifestyle.
- Turn off the TV while you eat breakfast to be present with the tastes and smells of your food
- Start each day with meditation
- Take a walk outside (without your phone!)
- Don’t check your email the second you have a free moment (like when you are on the bus to work, in the grocery store or at a freaking 30 second stoplight!) but instead just observe what is going on around you
- The list goes on…
You never know when there will be a magic moment. If you aren’t paying attention, it might pass you right by…
Every Moment is an Opportunity
So as you can see, this trip was so much more than sun, sand and surf. It was a collection of moments that turned into opportunities that turned into lessons I will carry with me as I continue to navigate and tack back and forth along this journey.
I hope in sharing these lessons you too can move through, instead of automatically away from, the discomfort that shows up on your journey.