Comfort with the Dis-comfort

“All beginnings are hard. You have to work at the job of studying. Go over it again and again … All beginnings are hard. You cannot swallow all the world at one time.” – ChaimPotok – In the Beginning.

In my article, I wrote about ontological coaching and the importance of building range to help us become more effective in our personal and professional lives.

I see a large part of my work as supporting people in going beyond the selves they have become – developing range – by taking on new practices – extending oneself for the sake of one’s own growth. Unless we are willing to change and develop the selves we are through consistent regular practice, then whatever learning we get will simply be another insight.

That’s what’s so hard about real change – it takes practice. Not only that, but it means practising something which will, for some time (sometimes a very long time), feel unnatural and uncomfortable to us.

For example, if I am someone who is independent, and values self-sufficiency, then I might need to practice being vulnerable and asking for help. And, even though such practices might help me to grow, I will probably experience resistance because of my judgement that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Similarly, if I am someone who likes to take a back seat and let others take charge, I might need to practice being bold and standing up for what I believe in, and I will probably be hindered by my judging such behaviours as being risky or pushy.

What I often see in my clients or participants in the courses I lead is that they usually arrive saying that they “are hungry to change”. However, when it comes down to implementing a new practice as a result of what they learn our work together, all their resistance comes up. They will often decline the practice, or fail to maintain it, largely because they don’t want to feel the dis-comfort of extending themselves into a new (and, to them, alien) way of being, even if that would lead to their growth. I’m no different, of course – just because I know and teach this stuff doesn’t make me any less resistant to moving out of my own comfort zones.

Often a client will ask for a short-cut, or for a pain-free route, to changing herself or himself, but there aren’t really any short-cuts to transformation. We have to do the work. Consistently, regularly, and over a long period of time. And it will be uncomfortable.

If I want to learn to speak Spanish, it’s not enough to study from a book or online. I can’t, as one of my clients hoped, simply get good enough at speaking Spanish before I actually have conversations with native Spanish speakers. I’ll learn Spanish by being in the game of speaking Spanish, by making a fool of myself – over and over again – when I stumble over grammar, or pronunciation, or use the wrong words, or say something completely different from what I mean to say. And, uncomfortable step by uncomfortable step, I will slowly (and sometimes painfully) increase my capacity to speak Spanish. And it might take years, decades even. My parents both learned English at school in Iraq, so they had a good foundation in English before they arrived in the UK in their late thirties, but even after thirty years of living here, and speaking English every day, they never managed to be fluent.

Learning any new way of being, extending ourselves and building range is no different. If I’ve spent my life being independent, then learning to accept and receive help isn’t going to come overnight. If you’ve spent thirty years not speaking up for yourself, you’re not going to become proficient in a few weeks. And we’re not going to achieve any significant progress if we’re not willing to face a lot of dis-comfort and pain along the way.

What I always tell my clients and students is that the real trick to change and growth is a willingness to become comfortable with dis-comfort. It doesn’t necessarily make things any easier, but it gives us a context with which to hold the inevitable pain of extending ourselves in life.

Further Reflection.

Think about an area in life where you’d like to extend or grow (or something you have tried to change in the past).

What practices might support you in this change? What judgments do you have about those practices? How does that judgement get in your way?

What could you do to go beyond your own judgements? Are you willing to choose your own growth and development over staying the same? To put building your character over your own personal development for the sake of living a fuller life? 

Are you willing to become comfortable with the dis-comfort?