There’s a reason humans crave repetition and structure, relying on habits to get us through life’s challenges. It feels good. It feels comfortable. We like it and it serves a purpose.
But there is merit in being uncomfortable. If you follow ‘Growth Mindset’ theory, you’ll be familiar with the concept that for humans to truly grow, we must move well out of our comfort zones.
For a long time, leaders, academics and practitioners have identified we must become more easy and familiar with feelings of uncertainty, agitation and challenge in order to improve and grow.
Personally, I am currently in the throes of renovating my home and it is has been the biggest lesson in being ‘uncomfortable’ I’ve ever had. After the excitement of picking colours, choosing fixtures and comparing tile patterns, I have been left with chaos, dealing with people who speak an industry-specific language and living in layers upon layers of dust and debris. It’s been a crash course in learning how to communicate clearly on unknown subjects and negotiating terms and conditions with new people. I’ll be the first to tell you I’m challenged by numbers, and every conversation I have about kitchens seems to end with an “additional cost”. I’m sure anyone who has ever dealt with trades will be able to empathise.
Nearly everything about this renovation has made me feel uncomfortable. I’m not in danger, nor am I afraid; I’m not sick or hurt in any way. I just feel off. I feel ‘out of my comfort zone’. It’s making me question my decisions and second guess the words I use to describe things to others. Here are eight lessons I now have the wisdom of, and will take back to my workplace, care of a new kitchen:
- Actively step into your discomfort, rather than away from it. Fight the urge to withdraw. On the other side of that difficult conversation or decision is a restful night’s sleep. You’ll free up brain space not worrying about what might happen if you take control of the situation and make it happen on your terms.
- Take some time to do some research. If you’re uncomfortable with a subject matter, take a quick 30 minutes and search Google. You may not find an exact answer, but you’ll feel better for having a wider knowledge base about the topic, helping you make a quality decision or communicate more effectively about it. I mean, who knew I needed to know the meaning of the word ‘Lappato’? (P.S: It’s a semi-polished finish on porcelain tiles).
- Trust your tribe. You probably already know the rule of ‘Six Degrees of Separation’. Look around you. Someone knows something, or someone, who can help shed light on the issue that’s making you uncomfortable. You’ll be amazed at the knowledge and skills in the form of your friends, family and colleagues. You just need to be brave enough to ask. When trying to work out how to remove my old kitchen to save some money, it was a previous boss who was able to show me how to remove cabinets and tiles from the wall.
- Break time down. When uncomfortable for long periods of time, with no end in sight, we can start to panic. Focus on small chunks of time and tell yourself you only need to get to that point before taking a breather. For me, knowing the contractors will stop at the end of the day helps me to focus on surviving until then. Working in bursts of time keeps things short and sharp and most importantly, achievable.
- Reward yourself with some space. Allocate time to have a break from being in the uncomfortable situation and give yourself a small reprieve by doing something you enjoy. For me and my renovation, it’s reading a book. I allocate 30-60 mins away from the site each day to just sit with my book and escape. It means I have something to look forward to and motivates me to power on for a little while longer. At work, I tend to take a walk around the block and sit in the sun for a little while. Physically leaving the building and being warm in the sunshine is my reward. Whilst they don’t seem like much, each of the rewards mentioned work for me because they are opposite to the actions making me feel uncomfortable and they physically move me to a different location.
- Remember you’re learning, you’ve got your training wheels on. If a child was to struggle to learn a new skill, we would give them space and support to grasp the new concept. We’d be patient and kind with our words and our time. Try employing the same principle with yourself. You’re simply learning something new. Be patient, because at the end of your feeling of discomfort is a more capable and improved you.
- Disassociation is okay. If being uncomfortable is becoming a bit too much, and you can’t physically leave right now, try separating your mental and physical selves for a moment. Just like they do in the movies, where people eerily watch themselves from above. Take your feelings and emotions with you and step up and out for a moment. Look at the situation objectively from above. Are you really in danger? Is the threat you feel active and real, or perceived and felt? Take a few deep and cleansing breaths and assess the situation from outside the moment. You’ll realise your body is reacting to the perception of conflict, rather than a real threat. Knowing the difference between the two will help you calm yourself without withdrawing from the discomfort and losing momentum.
- Treat yourself as someone else. Give yourself advice on the situation or subject as if it wasn’t you. It’s always easier to help others solve their problems, right? Try writing a letter to yourself and then sleep on it. The next day, answer the letter as if the person who wrote it was a friend, not you. What advice would you offer? How kind and supportive would you be?
I’m pretty sure the root of discomfort is fear. We feel a sense of fight or flight when facing an uncomfortable situation. Our brains start to send messages of panic. Luvvie Ajayi, author and activist, spoke at a TED Talk event in 2017 about that feeling of fear and pushing through it to achieve what she thought was unachievable. Long fearful of heights, she embraced her greatest fear for her 30th birthday – Skydiving! She described her thought process as she left the plane as, “I felt I shouldn’t do this, but I did it anyway because I felt I had to.” Facing discomfort, I’m choosing to embrace the same attitude – I feel like I shouldn’t do this, but I’m going to do it anyway because I feel I have to. I feel like I have to because on the other side is the possibility of so much greatness and growth. Oh, and a new kitchen!
If you’re interested, you can watch Luvvie’s TED Talk at: