Why You Should Choose Discomfort... Even Though You Don't Want To
Updated: Nov 19, 2021
“I SHOULD go for a walk because I enjoy the movement, BUT THEN I sit on the couch and watch tv instead”.
“I WANT to feel energetic and eat healthier foods, BUT INSTEAD I eat chips and cookies until I feel sick”
“I WANT to feel connected and I SHOULD go meet a friend for coffee, BUT I END UP staying on my couch alone watching Netflix”
I know... me too.
So often, we are desperate for change… but we don’t actually want to do anything differently.
Einstein famously said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
So many of us are caught in this cycle of wanting things to be different, but not following through on the actions we know will produce the desired outcome.
How can we have a different result if we’re not willing to do anything differently?
The simple reason we don’t want to change is because we don’t want to feel the discomfort that comes with doing things differently.
For so long, we’ve practiced giving in to ourselves; deferring to the thoughts and feelings that demand immediate pleasure (ie your couch) over long-term pleasure (ie satisfaction of feeling great in your body).
If this approach worked, we would all be in bodies we love, have easy uncomplicated relationships with food, and feel deeply connected to ourselves and those around us.
Well, if that’s not where you are right now, then you are a human being with a thinking brain!
Let’s try something NEW.
Let go of instant gratification.
Practice getting comfy with discomfort.
Tell your brain it’s ok. Nothing has gone wrong.
Your brain is acting exactly as you’ve taught it to.
The good news?
You can teach it another way.
*** THE INNER WORKINGS OF YOUR BRAIN***
Think of your brain as housing both a Toddler and an Adult/Parent.
Lower Brain = Toddler (in a bad mood):
Your Lower Brain is distinctly focused on survival, and seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Visualize a toddler in a candy store. This kid wants candy, and he wants it now.
This is the part of your brain that says, “Turn that alarm off, we need more sleep!”, “Go ahead and have another drink, we deserve it after the day we’ve had”, “Come on, have another cookie, we’ll start eating healthy tomorrow”.
The Lower Brain thrives on habits and efficiency; it wants to continue doing what it’s always done. It is super reward-driven and loves taking the easy way.
Much like that toddler in the candy store, your brain is going to throw a fit packed with excuses, demands, crying and whining to get what it wants. This toddler is quick-witted and super persuasive (ie very hard to say no to).
If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten.
Listen to the demands of your Lower Brain if you want immediate pleasure and zero growth.
Higher Brain = Rational, Calm Adult
Your Higher Brain is that thinking, forward-facing part of your human brain. There is planning, judgment and forethought and contemplation of consequences. It’s what distinguishes us from other animals.
It is in the Higher Brain that we find our consciousness; the mind’s awareness of itself and of the world around it. This ability to think about your thoughts is KEY to a deeper understanding of yourself and why you do the things you do.
Listen to the rationale of your Higher Brain if you want progress, growth and evolution.
So - to summarize….
Lower Brain: Toddler; Immediate Gratification and Habit
Higher Brain: Adult; Delayed Gratification and Growth
You get to choose which voice to listen to.
So, what does this have to do with me hitting snooze instead of getting outside for a walk?
*** ENTER CONFLICTING DESIRES ***
You know those tv shows where they show an angel and a devil on each of the character's shoulders and they are talking the person into and out of doing something simultaneously??
It’s so brilliant because we can all relate to it. It’s the exact nature of our brain when we are faced with making a different choice than we have in the past.
This struggle between the Lower Brain’s desire for the easy way, bumps up against the Higher Brain’s future-focus and leads to Conflicting Desires.
And that’s when we experience discomfort.
Discomfort is really just the tension between Conflicting Desires of the Higher and Lower Brains.
When we try to change, the Lower Brain immediately resists, even if the Higher Brain logically knows it’s for the best.
Your Lower Brain doesn’t care whether a habit is good or bad; it only cares about whether it is efficient, and if there is a reward.
The way forward?
Try something NEW.
Your work is to get comfortable being uncomfortable.
Tap into the logic and forward thinking of your Higher Brain and choose the short term discomfort in favor of the long term gain.
Yes, it will be challenging and not always easy, and maybe not very fun at times (Ha! Are you sold yet?!).
BUT, it will be rewarding. And you will come to think of yourself as someone who can do hard things (because you can!).
Your Higher Brain is gonna love this ;)
*** GET COMFY WITH DISCOMFORT! ***
* Remind yourself that it’s OK to be uncomfortable.
We think something has gone wrong if we experience un-ease. NO! Nothing has gone wrong. Our lives are not meant to be made up only of happy, wonderful, enjoyable moments and sensations. When we know that discomfort is just part of life, we can open up more fully to the experience, and when that resistance and that struggle is gone, we are able to move through challenges more effectively.
* Try practices that get you in touch with your internal environment; yoga, meditation, breath work, journaling etc…
Yes! Try these embodying practices so you can understand what a variety of sensations and emotions feel like in your body. Emotions are experienced as vibrations in our body. And with time, we recognize that we can handle difficult emotions, we can handle anything because it’s simply a vibration in our body. It loses a little of the importance and the heaviness we’ve been putting on ourselves all these years.
*PRO TIP!! If you don’t currently have a practice like this in your life, try one. Try it today. See how it feels. Try something new. Stay open to the discomfort of not knowing what to expect.
* Use the STOP practice.
STOP, take a physical pause.
TAKE a deep breath (or 5, or 20….)
OBSERVE what’s going on in your body; thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.
PROCEED with this newfound awareness.
*PRO TIP! This is a great practice to have in your back pocket to handle challenging times. It can take 10 seconds or 10 minutes and it’s still effective.
* Write your thoughts down so you can observe them.
Ooooh! This is a favorite. Writing your thoughts out serves the dual purpose of helping you through a challenging moment by giving you something productive to do, as well as the added benefit of reviewing after the fact from a calmer place and working to better understand your thoughts and what results they are creating in your life.
*PRO TIP! The next time you are caught up in the discomfort of Conflicting Desires, grab a pen and paper and write out your thoughts about it. Don’t worry if it’s spelled correctly or if you are using proper grammar, just get it out onto paper. Remind yourself, they are just sentences running through your mind - they aren’t necessarily the truth. Separate out fact from fiction, what are you left with?
* Keep practicing - let observation and curiosity become your new habit, your new autopilot.
Continually coming back to this internal observation is some of the most important work you can do for yourself. Do it consistently and your life will never be the same.
*** 3 KEY TAKEAWAYS ***
1. Discomfort is a prerequisite to change and growth.
2. Conflicting Desires are just your Lower Brain (tantrum-y toddler) angling for things to stay exactly the same while your Higher Brain (rational adult) knows there is So. Much. More out there for you.
3. It will take some time, but you can learn to sit with discomfort.
*** JOURNAL PROMPT! ***
Three parts for this one:
1. What is one area of your life where you are indulging in the short term pleasure over the long term gain?
2. What does that discomfort feel like in your body (tensing, tightness, heat etc…).
3. List three ways you can handle the discomfort of Conflicting Desires when it inevitably comes around.