Engaging With Discomfort

Changing a negative habit or starting a good habit both have an element of discomfort.

For better or for worse, discomfort is a necessary part of change. So, if you want change in your life, it behooves you to get comfortable with (or at least accept the inevitability of) being uncomfortable.

This is true for any area of your life. At the Club, there are many opportunities to experience discomfort: in the form of reaching out to new members to play a match, pushing your heart rate in a Ride class, or staying in a pre-exercise mobility drill or post-exercise stretch.

We get it. We really do. Each of us here has had to work through our own discomfort to gain a new skill, meet a new friend or reach a new level of fitness.

What’s the key?

Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is not ‘thinking your way out of your issue.’ It is  simply noticing your automatic thoughts, feelings and body sensations - without judgement and without trying to ‘fix’ them. Mindfulness is a practice of focusing on your present experience, even if that means experiencing negative sensations. And it works. Research shows  “… engaging in mindfulness has been associated with increased activation in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region located deep in the brain, behind the frontal lobe." This part of the brain is crucial for planning and suppressing impulsive reactions, in turn enabling us to make more effective decisions when faced with aversive circumstances.

Start slowly and in small measures. Depending on what you are working on changing, that could mean being mindful as you stretch – noticing the thoughts for those agonizing 30 seconds. Immerse yourself  in the experience. Just be there with that uncomfortable feeling. And breathe. (If you’ve been in one of my classes, this may sound familiar). Breathing helps so much! Then, name the feelings coming up: anger, frustration, fear. Let them be seen and named, and don’t try to change them.

As you gain more skill with this, start to seek discomfort. I have friends who do cold therapy – they seek out opportunities to feel cold. (Personally, I’d rather pull my toenails out, but everyone has a different discomfort practice). Start to notice where you run from discomfort. Ask yourself, “What is the feeling I am avoiding? What issues arise as a result of running from that feeling? What story have I made up to justify staying comfortable?” The more curiosity and awareness you bring, the more you can manage the trajectory of your thoughts and then, your actions.

Finally, as a process of making peace with discomfort, you can start to recognize that discomfort is actually a good thing. When you are uncomfortable, you are experiencing something new, you are expanding your capacity to experience life in new and different ways. So, while other people continue to wish and think about changing, you can explore the unknown in the process of change and truly appreciate the experience of growth and change.

Want to learn more? Email me at roxanne@betrainingtennis.com.

In the meantime, check out some of my favorite resources on this topic:

https://zenhabits.net/discomfort-ruin/

https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2016/11/01/why-we-need-to-learn-to-sit-with-discomfort_a_21596817/

https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/sit-with-discomfort/