Using Emotional Discomfort to Succeed

  • May 26, 2023
  • Posted by Dr Gurveen Ranger

Using Emotional Discomfort to Succeed

We are designed to avoid discomfort. No one wants to feel awkward or anxious right?? We are evolutionarily primed to seek security and safety, so it makes sense to shy away from things that push us outside of our comfort zone – our brains and bodies are just doing what they think is best for us! Alongside this, most of us grow up believing we should only feel happy, be successful all the time and generally ‘good’ emotions are the acceptable ones.

Emotional discomfort when faced with a task or opportunity might be described as this feeling in the pit of our stomach perhaps, or that feeling of unease or stress. This discomfort may be accompanied by worry thoughts – related to a fear of failing, a fear of being rejected, or exposed in some way.

BUT that very discomfort can be a powerful tool to help us develop, grow, learn, and succeed both personally and professionally. What if we interpreted it as a sign of being challenged and pushed rather than a sign of danger?

Hmmm sounds easier said than done…

Fair. It is a big ask. But we can learn how to use that discomfort to our advantage believe it or not. It involves a bit of risk taking, a bit of patience and a bit of ‘riding the wave’ but it can lead to positive things.

Why would I want to do this?

So many reasons. Some of them include:

  1. Increased resilience – leaning into discomfort can help us bounce back from setbacks and challenges, so future challenges won’t feel so big or daunting.
  2. Improved confidence – when we face our emotional discomfort head-on, we develop a sense of self-efficacy and self-trust. We start to realize that we are capable of handling difficult emotions and situations, which can boost our confidence and self-esteem, as well as sense of control.
  3. Greater creativity – by stepping out of your comfort zone and leaning into what arises, you open yourself up to new ideas, perspectives, and opportunities.
  4. Improved relationships – When you are willing to take risks, be vulnerable and/or spontaneous, you may be more likely to have more authentic relationships, and others may be more likely to trust and respect you.
  5. Better boundaries – Leaning into discomfort may mean you actually say no when you want to say no, rather than giving in, or getting pulled into people pleasing as we so often do. This may help in the long run, in terms of protecting your time and headspace, allowing you to devote your energy to what you can and reduces the risk of burnout.

Ok, how?

Well, the first step is to embrace the discomfort. Be open to it, lean into it. There is the quicksand analogy I mentioned in an earlier blog on emotions – the more we struggle to get out of quicksand, the further we sink into it. Lying back tends to be more effective, we stop sinking and we can roll out to safer territory. Uncomfortable feelings are a natural part of the growth process. The full, rich, human experience means we need to feel everything, not just the good stuff, and because of this you have the capacity to feel them whilst still feeling in control on the whole. We can embrace discomfort as a driver rather than a hinderance. Then:

  • Identify Your Triggers

Identify the situations or challenges that trigger your emotional discomfort. Is it public speaking? Asking for a raise or for what you want? Making a difficult decision? Saying no to people? Once you know your triggers, you can prepare yourself to face them head-on.

  • Set Goals

Set goals that require you to step outside of your comfort zone based on the triggers you identify. Whether it’s learning a new skill or taking on a new project at work or asking for what you want, setting goals that challenge you will help you grow and develop as a person. Make these goals SMART – specific, measurable, achievable realistic and timely. You might grade your identified goals on a hierarchy and start with a smaller, easier goal and work your way up the list. As you tackle each one, your confidence will grow, and those bigger steps won’t feel so daunting.

  • Do it!

Take action towards your goals. Say no instead of yes when you want to, delegate rather than maintain control, speak up in that meeting where you usually stay quiet, sign up to do that presentation you have been avoiding and so on. Remind yourself that the discomfort you are feeling is a natural part of the growth process, and the more you face it, the easier it will become – you are actively choosing discomfort here.

  • Practice Self-Compassion

Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes and things not going as expected is a natural part of the learning process rather than a sign of failure. Taking risks means it may not always pan out as we wanted or expected. Ask yourself what would you say to a close friend or close colleague in the same situation – we often find ourselves being a lot more compassionate and considerate towards others than ourselves, so capture some of that for yourself too!

So, hopefully there are some helpful ideas here on how to start getting used to discomfort and using it to your advantage. If you think you could benefit from extra help in learning how to embrace difficult emotions or perhaps a fear of failing, then you might find it helpful to speak to a therapist to think about how they can help, there are often specific tools and strategies that can help us ‘lean in’ when we want to.

Written by: Dr Gurveen Ranger
Clinical Psychologist at Sage Clinics

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