30 Sep Finding Freedom in Discomfort: A Life-Changing Practice
“It’s risky out on the limb, but that’s where all the fruit is.”
Written by: Scott Dinsmore
Average Read Time: 3.7 Minutes
Think back on a time when you were ridiculously uncomfortable. Perhaps even terrified. Your palms are sweaty, your heart’s pounding, it’s tough to sleep. I’m talking about a feeling you’d do almost anything to avoid.
Got it? Ok, now what caused it? Whatever created it, chances are you are a better person as a result.
If you ever find yourself stuck in a rut, making zero headway on your big plans, you can bet it’s because you’re scared. Scared of the uncomfortable.
The biggest killer of progress I’ve seen with friends, clients and myself, hands down is comfort. To have a chance at living the extraordinary life, we have to get uncomfortable.
As humans we naturally do all we can to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Unfortunately this causes one to settle for mediocrity, leading to a whole host of problems. Not the least of which is fearing your path and living your purpose. You’ll simply find too many excuses.
Freedom comes at a price. Earn it.
When was the last time you got something super rewarding, with lasting value, without having to put some serious heavy lifting into making it happen? Other than fluke incidents, the true rewards do not come without taking some risk. You must earn your freedom.
We’ve come to think all pain is bad (here I refer to pain as discomfort and not the physically harmful and dangerous incidents most of us associate with the word). But the right pain is a crucial part of getting the best out of life. It’s what makes goals, accomplishments and victory so desireable. Without the effort, we wouldn’t value them. It’s responsible for close to 100% of our development. Without pain, you’d surely never reach your potential.
When you’re uncomfortable, you’re growing.
If you could pick one rule to experience amazing things, I suggest: If it feels uncomfortable then you’re doing something right.
The only way to experience a dream is through a little healthy discomfort.
Unlike a hiking boot that’s too small, this type of discomfort is what makes life rich. To really have a shot at living on your terms, the only choice is to learn to love it.
Life begins just outside of your comfort zone. That’s where the magic happens.
- It’s the last few brutal reps at the gym that create the results.
- The torture of public speaking makes the best influencers and communicators.
- The terrifying job interview may give you a shot at your dream career.
- Starting a business initially exposes life’s darkest doubts but it’s the price you pay to do what you love.
- It’s intimidating to ask someone on a date but it’s the only way you’ll find your soulmate.
- Publishing your writing risks a world of criticism but it gives you the chance to be discovered.
- Switching to a healthy diet is brutal at first but is the foundation of an energy-rich, beaming life.
All of my most amazing life experiences have been a result of major initial discomfort: moving out of the country, starting my investment fund, beginning to write and coach, teaching my first speed reading class, proposing to my wife. The best fruit really is out on the furthest limbs.
Don’t worry about the fear. It’s natural. All the growth comes from stepping into the unknown and trying new things. They will be uncomfortable. You will find a thousand reasons to put it off. You’ll think of quitting. But that’s what makes the experience that much more amazing. Embrace it. Allow the fruit to ripen. Then begin the feast.
Take the Comfort-Killing Challenge.
The only way to break loose is to go at it head on. Instead of avoiding these uncomfortable situations, commit to doing the opposite. Do something that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck. When opportunities come up, dive on them. You’ll know when they do because you’ll feel it in your gut. That feeling won’t go away unless you confront it. Once you overcome it, your standard of what’s possible will rise and the world will be in the palm of your hands. I first learned of the comfort challenge from Tim Ferriss and it’s made all the difference.
Agree to getting out of your comfort zone at least once a week. Here are a few ideas:
- Volunteer to give a talk to a group of friends or office mates. Any speech at all will do.
- Start a conversation with someone new. Ideally an attractive member of the opposite sex if you’re single. Start with a smile.
- Call a celebrity or famous mentor of yours and ask them 3 questions. Make them meaningful.
- Negotiate a better deal on a fixed price item at a retail store. Don’t let them tell you no.
- Pitch an idea to someone who could help make it a reality.
Once you’ve done a few weeks of the above, switch to daily comfort challenges for a week. You’ll be changed for good.
It never goes away.
The only way to avoid discomfort is through inactivity, i.e. laziness. Say no to every opportunity that crosses your path and you will be free of the anxiety that comes with stepping outside your zone. But be warned that with inactivity comes boredom. Your learning and growth will end. Without growth comes death. The first to die will be your passion and love for life. And if it goes on long enough, the rest of you will follow. No kidding. It’s these moments of truth that make us come alive.
Even little things can make all the difference. Last week I was invited to a small organic farming event at my favorite olive oil shop. I couldn’t find someone to join me, and almost didn’t attend for fear of not knowing anyone. Then I sacked up and went anyway, only to come away with my best local S.F. experience yet, and a handfull of inspiring friends, including a very cool French wine maker.
Let discomfort ignite your breakthrough.
Most people will stay in a job that makes them want to poke small pins in their eyes for no other reason than it’s comfortable. There’s no more dangerous place to be. When things are comfortable or manageable, there’s no motivation to make a change for the better. Don’t let fear of the worst case scenario suck you into this fate. It’s never as bad as it seems and the opportunities will be worth their weight in…well, your freedom.
It takes courage to try new things. It takes courage to blaze your own trail.
The crowd lives in comfort. An extraordinary life thrives in testing the limit.
Let the testing begin.
What uncomfortable experiences have led to major (or minor) breakthroughs for you? Join me in the comfort challenge and share your experience in the comments below.
If you liked this article, please Tweet about it or tell your friends on Facebook using the links below. And please forward it to anyone you know it could benefit. I’d appreciate it.
Other Resources to Help You Along the Way:
The Most Dangerous Word In the World
How to Find Life-Changing Opportunity in the Worst Situation
AprilPosted at 09:50h, 30 September
This post definitely got me thinking. About a year and a half ago I made a terrifying decision to quit my stable job with amazing benefits as a therapist for at-risk adolescents, because it was completely draining. The only time I had energy was when I was at work, because it was so demanding.
I got the push I needed to change career paths when I moved with my husband from New York to Virginia. I mean, I couldn’t commute from VA to NY, so I had to get a new job. I could have taken the easy route and found another social work job, but I decided to follow my creative dreams. And, I’m so glad that I did. I continue to help people, but in a different way–a way that gives me energy instead of consuming all of my energy.
It was probably one of the scariest decisions I’ve ever made, but it was also one of the best decisions I ever made.
ScottPosted at 00:04h, 01 October
Hats off to you for making the transition April. I’ve been there and I know it’s not an easy one. Sometimes your life situation has an interesting way of moving you along the path you know you are meant to travel. Your move may have been just what you needed. I love nothing more than to hear of a transition that ends in living more on purpose. Looking back I bet it seems easily worth the fear. Don’t forget that because who knows when another fun shift is around the corner!
Here’s to the path,
jessePosted at 14:58h, 30 September
Great job Scott, there is a rich evidence based literature in psychology about this very topic. Systematic desensitization and exposure therapy are two similar ways of getting people to stop the avoidance that is so “comfortable.” learning theory, the whole positive and negative reinforcement stuff, says that when you avoid something anxiety provoking you feel good (which is reinforcing) so you are now more likely to repeat that behavior. Like you mentioned, avoidance has short legs…it works in the short term, but there are long term problems such as the bordom you wrote about as well as the learning that takes place. The biggest problem is that the learning then generalizes to other areas. If the avoidance works in one area that brings up anxiety pretty soon you are using it in so many areas of your like that you find you are not really living a life, just avoiding it.
I can think of examples of times in my life where I have stayed comfortable and others where I have made some drastic changes. This article allowed me to reflect on both. Thank you for the inspiration which allowed me to reflect.
ScottPosted at 00:08h, 01 October
Right on Jesse! Very cool to hear the thoughts from a deep theory and professional side. “avoidance has short legs”– I could not have said it better. It comes back to the classic short term vs long term trade off. Usually the short term things that feel the best do nothing at all for the long term fulfillment (if not detract from it, which they usually do). So if in doubt, do something that makes you uncomfortable. That one works for me!
WiktorPosted at 00:12h, 01 October
Thanks for this article. It is what i needed today:)
ScottPosted at 11:51h, 01 October
Awesome Wiktor. Hope it gets you to do something wild today!
Tess The Bold LifePosted at 07:28h, 01 October
This is so true. I’m preparing to do a day’s training for an organization in communication. I’ve never done a full day and I’m procrastinating about the entire thing. Which is crazy. At least now I know I’m on the right path;) We have an olive orchard and shop a few miles from our home…it’s awesome. I followed your link!
ScottPosted at 11:55h, 01 October
I think if I would overdose if I had an olive orchard down the street!
The fact that you’re preparing for the training means that you’ve already committed to it. Deadlines set by others are awesome (since you can only procrastinate so long-until the event actually starts). Getting help from others to push out of your comfort zone is a very powerful (and fun) way to do it.
Here’s to being on the right track Tess,
jptexasPosted at 09:17h, 01 October
Scott, it’s amazing how well-timed this post was for me. I am in my late fifties. I did several entrepreneurial things in my adult life, but ended up with no business by the year 2000. It seems during the last decade I’ve been sinking into non-action. My wife has a great job, plus I helped her launch a successful side-business. As for me, several big flops in this last decade made me stop even trying. I recently realized that I’m acting like my life is over, and if I keep it up, it could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. I am determined to get out and face the fear just like I used to. And your little article here has helped seal the deal.
ScottPosted at 11:59h, 01 October
Sounds like you have done some amazing living in the past few decades. Hats off to you. I’ve always thought the prize should go to the most failures, not the least–Since the best way to avoid failure is to sit on your butt and do nothing.
I can’t imagine what you’ve picked up from your experiences and my guess is you’re just getting started. Let the big flops be nothing more than big chunks of education for the next fun project. Come back and let us know what you start building. I’d love to hear about it.
Thanks so much for the comment and I’m really glad it connected.
Pat HughesPosted at 18:30h, 05 October
Nice post Scott.
As we raise our daughters we’re doing our best to help them identify that feeling, and know that when they feel that, they’re doing something great, and that they should smile and charge forward.
Their ability to delineate between that kind of fear and fear / anxiety coming from unhealthy or dangerous situations is huge – and the earlier they understand the difference the better.
Keep up the good work Scott.
ScottPosted at 09:47h, 08 October
Pat you have done a better job of this with your family than anyone I’ve met. I had a feeling about it from that first day you convinced me to hit the swim/run at Nite Moves is Santa Barbara. Then I really got the picture when I saw your girls doing it right along with me and then finishing the season with a triathlon! For them getting out of their comfort zone is likely natural at this point. Hat’s off to you for what you’ve created. I stand to learn a lot. See you down there soon.
RyekanPosted at 18:45h, 05 October
This is where I am at: I thought that once you’ve challenged and conquered things that make you uncomfortable, that’s it. You’ve basically conquered yourself, you’ve made it no matter what. “It never goes away.” was something I needed to affirm and start embracing.
This is what I have: a bucket list and I’m revisiting this list using the “Take the Comfort-Killing Challenge.” perspective and curious to see how my list will look after but really more excited to pounce on it’s potential to change/better my life.
Curious, what’s with the picture for this article? Is this random? If not, why this particular one?
ScottPosted at 09:50h, 08 October
Thanks Ryekan. That’s the beauty of a comfort zone. Not matter what you do or accomplish, you can always get outside of it!
As for the picture, I just felt she looked a littler uncomfortable up there by herself, yet still willing to stand up. Wouldn’t you agree? My wife helped me pick it too ;).
Sara ThomspnPosted at 05:54h, 06 October
Amazing post scott! I used to be someone who is very narrow-minded and skeptical. I don’t dare to take risks, don’t dare to take challenges, don’t dare to do things that I fear I won’t get much success in return. I was very timid and I had no dream. I felt like I was tied to a chain. Everything changed when I met my husband, who is a very active social worker. He kept insisting me to help out with his voluntary work. I was quite okay with that but I didn’t expect what I was going to face. I face the challenge of my life. That is to help the kids in poverty in India. It totally changed my life when I had to interact with them, learn more about them…I then learn that Life is not about comfortable clothes, money…through this experience, i have finally unlocked my freedom that has been missing from my heart all this years.
ScottPosted at 09:52h, 08 October
That is so amazing to hear Sara. Sounds like a major breakthrough. One of the best ways I’ve found to put things into perspective is by spending time with people who have significantly less than I do or who have much more difficult things to worry about. It not only let’s me stop worrying about the little things in life, but it gives me a chance to really help and add some value. What an experience. Great thanks to your husband too!
SamPosted at 06:43h, 06 October
Through living in discomfort, only then you will appreciate all the things you have. Always remember that if you think youre facing some discomfort, there are many others who are facing much worse than you. Think of the african kids for example. Or the people in Palestine. I’m sure they are well valued people, if only we can reinstate their lives.
ScottPosted at 09:53h, 08 October
You nailed it Sam. See me above comment to Sara. I of course fully agree.
ChelseaPosted at 22:18h, 11 October
What a great reminder! Thanks for writing 🙂
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Paola GranadosPosted at 21:29h, 10 October
Thanks Scott, I have to say Freedom comes at a price, earn it…quite surprised me…why if I am “choosing” to stay quiet, I am not free? Why if I force myself to do something I am not?
NeilPosted at 17:43h, 05 March
I once called a celebrity and asked if they would mind me ‘improving’ their Wikipedia article. After they agreed and I did the write-up, I called and asked if they would mind doing an exclusive interview. They agreed and we conducted an interview over the phone. Before the interview I called an international magazine and spoke directly to the editor who asked me to send it in ‘on spec’. Within 10 mins of sending it, the editor was discussing payment term. All of this was way out of my comfort zone but it was definitely worth the pain!
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