If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt over the years, it’s how important it is for you to feel uncomfortable. It’s strange to think of it that way at first, but being comfortable is the worst thing if you are looking to grow.
We only get comfortable when we aren’t being challenged. Without challenges and without pushing our limits, we won’t grow. Our body doesn’t grow new and bigger muscles unless there’s a need for them. That’s why bodybuilders always push themselves to failure. It’s uncomfortable, but like our muscles, stress creates growth. I’ve learnt that being comfortable is a huge red flag that I’m stagnating.
Being Uncomfortable Learning A New Skill
When I first started snowboarding in 2018, I remembered myself falling every other moment because it was so hard to find my balance on the snowboard. My butt, my wrists, my knees, my ribs — they would all hurt at one point or another because of all the falls that I would be taking. Falling wasn’t something that I wanted, but I had to fall before I could learn the movements needed for snowboarding. It was uncomfortable but necessary.
As with any skill that we try to learn though, give it enough time and effort, and you’ll improve. After a few weeks, I became a lot better with snowboarding. One day, I was snowboarding when I realised something: I had learnt the basics and was comfortable with snowboarding. I wasn’t falling anymore. I could travel around the mountain with relative ease, and I could even start to carve. I was no longer the beginner snowboarder. However, this posed a new problem.
There comes a time in any learning journey when you start to stagnate, and I was stagnating in my snowboarding progress. You know the moment has come because you will start feeling comfortable again, and I was definitely getting comfortable with snowboarding at that point. When you feel comfortable, you know your mind has absorbed all the movements necessary and converted it into muscle memory, which means you aren’t learning anything more.
That’s how I knew that I had to find new ways to push myself. I started looking for new snowboarding skills to learn. If you’re familiar with snowboarding, I’ve started to force myself to learn how to jump, to butter, to do presses, to ride switch. I’m starting to fall all over the place again, and I’m feeling unsure and uncertain about all these new movements. It’s uncomfortable, but I love it because I know I’m growing again.
Being Uncomfortable Starting a Business
When I first started my business with my co-founder, we were students and had no idea what we were doing. We weren’t trained entrepreneurs. We had to find ways to do everything. Nothing was guaranteed nor promised – we didn’t know if the business would succeed, nor if it would even work out. What both my co-founder and I knew was that the market desperately needed a good service provider, so we kept at it even though it was uncomfortable for both of us.
There were so many problems that we face while growing the company. For example, hiring the company’s first employees was a tough act. How do you even create an employment contract? How do you know how much to pay your employees? What do you say in job interviews, as the interviewer? Everything was very uncomfortable because it was new and foreign, but my co-founder and I had to do it because it was necessary for the business. It was do, or die.
What we faced wasn’t taught in textbooks. We didn’t have a guide to follow, and most things that we did were uncomfortable. But we learnt to associate that discomfort meant that we were growing. That was the mentality that got us through every single business problem that we faced trying to grow the business.
Being Uncomfortable Getting Fit
Some time ago, I decided that I wanted to get fit. I wanted to look good aesthetically, and also have functional fitness because I wanted to do more sports better. To get fit, I had to embrace discomfort again.
One part of my fitness goal was to have six-pack abs. That involved two things – working out, and watching my diet. I had to ensure that my body fat percentage was low enough and that I work my abs hard enough. To do so, I needed to schedule regular workouts, and change the way I ate.
No matter what the diet was, the base concept remained the same: calories in, calories out. I had to be below my maintenance calories in order to lose weight. For me, that was 1800-2000 calories. I threw everything that I didn’t need out of the window just so that I could hit this caloric goal every day. It was an uncomfortable change because it was a new way of eating. I stopped drinking sugared beverages and reduced my intake of oil and fats. I focused on eating smaller portions and stopping snacks so that I could hit my caloric goal.
I also made it a point to wake up early, so that I could have time to work out. I was always a night owl, but the mornings were the best time for me to work out due to my work schedule. It was an uncomfortable change, but I forced myself to do it every day.
After a few months of this, I formed new habits that became my new lifestyle and I hit my goal of having six-pack abs.
Being Uncomfortable Chasing Your Dreams
Dreams are nice. They give us hope. But unless we actively make it a point to make our dreams a reality, they will always remain as dreams. To do so, we need to make sacrifices that will push us out of our comfort zone.
With only 24 hours a day, the largest sacrifice that we have to make are our activities. Do you have a goal that you want to reach, but constantly have excuses, such as “I have no time”? Well, everyone can make time. You sacrifice other things in order to get the time that you need. It can be family time, fitness, errands, sleep, entertainment, but whatever it is, it won’t be an easy sacrifice. It will be uncomfortable to make.
Things that you might have spent a large part of your life doing will have to change. Just like a diet, you can’t eat everything and be at a weight that you want. You have to cut things out. It might be reading the newspaper, watching TV programs or movies, playing video games, or hanging out with friends. When your friends meet for drinks, you’ll have to decline because you have to sacrifice that for something else that matters more to you.
All these activities that you grew accustomed to will have to be cut away from your life, and it will be uncomfortable. However, it’s a necessary part of chasing your dreams. You’ll need to be in the discomfort zone before you get the time to work on pursuing your dreams.
I don’t have a TV, I don’t have cable, I don’t play video games, and I limit my social media time. These activities are very entertaining, but I made an active choice to avoid them. There are many dreams that I want to pursue, and these entertainment activities aren’t that high on my priority list. It’s still uncomfortable for me whenever I cut these things out, but it’s easier since I’m aware of why I’m making these sacrifices for.
Start Embracing Your Discomfort Zone
The area that you’re comfortable in is known as your comfort zone, and anything else outside of it is your discomfort zone. If you stay within your comfort zone, things will be extremely comfortable. However, your discomfort zone is the zone in which you will experience growth. Over the years, I have grown to love the discomfort zone and that’s where I always try to be in, as I’ve associated being uncomfortable as necessary to my growth.
You can start to ease into your discomfort zone too, with baby steps. First, start by becoming familiar with the idea of being uncomfortable. This requires a re-framing of the concept of being uncomfortable: pain, frustration, embarrassment, and especially failure.
Failure is an uncomfortable concept that people try to avoid because it’s a commonly-held misconception that it’s a bad thing. On the contrary, failure is necessary for growth and success. Try something that you know that you’ll fail at, and notice how failure isn’t a big deal at all. Try thinking of failure as a signal that you’re doing the right thing, or as a marker on your journey to success. Similarly, identify all the other negative thoughts about discomfort that are holding you back, and reframe them as positive allies in your journey of growth.
Actively seek out opportunities to test your limits and do something that you’ve never done before. Difficulty and challenge are both catalysts that force you to grow because you’ll need to adapt, change, learn, and stretch in order to overcome them. Start small. If working out is difficult for you, try just doing 10 push-ups every day for 2 weeks. If talking to strangers is tough for you, start by saying “hi” to service staff. These would be behaviours that, though small, are sufficient enough to test your boundaries and show you what’s possible.
All these small actions help you become used to the discomfort zone. Once you embrace how it feels like going into your discomfort zone, growth will naturally follow. If you have stories or thoughts to share about being uncomfortable and of your discomfort zone, feel free to email me or leave a comment below.