Think about all the things that you do that can make you stronger. Lifting weights breaks down your muscles before it builds them back up. Practicing mindfulness pushes you to be curious, open, and accepting, making you more resilient. Babies fall time and time again before they learn to walk or run. Yet so often, we humans find it extremely uncomfortable to grow. Do you ever wonder why?
New research from Cornell and the University of Chicago provides great context for why discomfort leads to better results. The researchers found that seeking out discomfort, not hiding from it, will help you associate any growth as progress and help you achieve your goals faster. Yet human nature makes us so afraid of it. Instead of hiding behind fear, the best thing you can do is challenge yourself to get uncomfortable.
Why seek discomfort?
There’s a great quote from Albert Einstein that I love because it illustrates this research so beautifully. Einstein said, “One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved. One must develop an instinct for what one can just barely achieve through one’s greatest efforts.”
Obviously, we know Einstein today because he developed the theory of relativity and was one of the most influential physicists of his time. What you might not know is that Einstein made numerous mistakes in his lifetime as he pushed toward the success of that theory. Yes, I am telling you that even Einstein was human. And look where his mistakes led our world. Because he pushed himself through his discomfort, we have a better understanding of our universe, and of space and time. We even have a particle accelerator in Switzerland where researchers are pushing the limits of science and technology.
I can’t imagine where our world would be if Einstein had settled into his comforts.
Beauty comes from discomfort
One of the most fascinating creatures on our planet is an oyster. A member of the mollusk phylum of animals, oysters are great for making waters healthier through water filtration, or for a good old-fashioned oyster shucking. Of course, they’re also known for making pearls.
Here’s what’s cool about how oysters make pearls: a pearl starts as a parasite in the oyster’s body. Some kind of irritant—often, it’s sand—enters the oyster’s shell. Then the oyster goes to work. The discomfort signals to the oyster that change must happen. It then begins to secrete nacre, which is the material from which its shell is made. The nacre begins to encase the irritant to protect the oyster. Once the oyster covers the irritant, the result is a beautiful pearl.
Without discomfort, we wouldn’t have pearls. It’s just that simple.
How to embrace discomfort
How can you get through that discomfort to build your success? Here are a few suggestions for embracing that uncomfortable feeling and setting your sights on the end goal.
- Focus on what you can learn. The research from Cornell and the University of Chicago tested how its participants thought about how they were learning. When told that discomfort would lead to skill development, participants focused on the outcome, not the process. The result of the entire experiment found that those who were willing to get uncomfortable felt they met their set objectives. Treat yourself with that same grace.
- Celebrate small wins. If you’re pushing yourself and making yourself uncomfortable, take the time to celebrate how well you’re doing. Even if your small win is telling you, “I’m pushing myself out of my comfort level,” that will build your mental stamina and help you see the positive.
- Break your own mold. Discomfort creates growth. If you’re forcing yourself to change and adapt, that means you’re looking for something more. Challenge yourself to see things differently and to not settle into what’s worked in the past. Look for new perspectives, consider acquiring new skills, and push your own boundaries. It will help you get there.
- Don’t beat yourself up. Make mistakes, then examine them. What went wrong? What could you do differently next time? What can you learn from them? Understand that mistakes are part of the learning process, so remind yourself of that regularly.
- When you’ve achieved success, applaud yourself for what you’ve done. Don’t be afraid to share how you got there with your cohorts. You deserve to be celebrated for getting out of your comfort zone. And you’ll help others see the benefit of pushing past that discomfort.
Shifting into a space of discomfort isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. The success of your career, your business, and even you as an individual is worth getting uncomfortable. I promise.
Jim Allen is a business leader and entrepreneur who has built one of the top-producing real estate groups in the Triangle. He is President of The Jim Allen Group, which is consistently named one of the top real estate teams in North Carolina and even North America.