The usefulness of discomfort

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Problems are recognised as inherently negative beasties. They usually involve a great deal of doubt and uncertainty, and so we want them as far away from us as possible. Rarely have the words “I wish I had more problems” been uttered.

When an inevitable problem arises, we quietly swear and curse its existence. We’d hire a charcoal assassin to put a bullet between its eyes, if we could. Instead of tackling it, our brain reminds us that we haven’t checked our social media in the last 15 minutes, and that this is the prime opportunity to do so. Memes are much more fun than problems.

We do this because we absolutely hate discomfort, in any form. Our immediate reaction is to escape – into social media, alcohol, drugs, or whatever else floats your boat. But doing so only brings temporary relief, and the discomfort usually has to be dealt with eventually.

Discomfort is no big deal. Escaping is just running in the opposite direction to what will, in essence, grow you as a person. By running from discomfort, you’re choosing to be stunted, like a 10-year old boy who smokes 30 cigarettes a day. Every cigarette prevents the mind from growing; becoming more complex; more interesting; more fulfilled. Every time we take the easier route, we’re weakening our fortitude, and strengthening our cowardice.

Discomfort of any kind should be viewed as an opportunity to bolster our fortitude. The people written into our history books probably had this skill in common. Darwin didn’t ask the captain of the HMS Beagle to turn the ship around when the sea got a little rough. Instead they pressed on through the danger, and the entire world benefited.

Mindfulness is an invaluable tool to build fortitude, because it teaches you to catch yourself in the act. You realise that you’re about to do the thing that you’ve done a thousand times before: escape into something easier. Rather than going ahead, you might decide to do the difficult thing instead, and achieve something worthwhile. Mindfulness also helps with staying in the moment. You can detach yourself from the discomfort that you’re feeling, and recognise that it isn’t anywhere near as bad as you thought.

In addition to teaching you to be more conscious of your thoughts, practicing mindfulness has a ton of other benefits, including lowering stress, enhancing self-esteem, improving your memory and focus, reducing anxiety, and increasing your energy. Many psychologists recommend that you incorporate it into your daily routine (along with exercise), due to its bountiful, scientifically proven perks.

By practicing mindfulness, we can catch ourselves in the act of escaping discomfort, and slowly come to realise that problems aren’t the demons that they’ve been portrayed as, but invaluable opportunities to build fortitude, and become better people.

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Perseverance

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Procrastination is one of our worst enemies. If it were a person, it would be best friends with Donald Trump, cancer and ISIS. It would eat nothing but brussel sprouts, and regularly drown kittens. Why do we entertain such a rogue so often?

If we didn’t procrastinate as much, we’d get more shit done. We’d feel more confident in our ability. Others would admire us more. We’d know more stuff. The list of positives goes on, and yet we continue to put off what’s difficult, despite the fact that we’re quite clearly sabotaging our own happiness.

Procrastination has an arch-enemy; a challenger which aims to send it back to the fiery pit of hell, where it belongs. It’s called perseverance.

Persevering during times of struggle is very difficult to do. We instinctively want to run away; to get away from the discomfort. It’s helpful to remind ourselves why we should persevere, and the following should assist with that.

Helpful reminders on why you should cultivate perseverance

  • Remember that at times, you will fail. You’ll embarrass yourself. These are risks that come with doing anything worthwhile.
  • The brave aren’t fearless, they just continue despite their fear.
  • Understand that perseverance is the right quality to move you forward in life.
  • “I do not think that there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost anything, even nature.” – John D. Rockefeller.
  • Being comfortable is overrated. Nothing worthwhile is achieved through being comfortable.
  • “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”-Martin Luther King.
  • “A river cuts through rock not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” – Jim Watkins.
  • Realise that if you stop the difficult task, you’ll never know the outcome. You could be missing out on a great deal of satisfaction.
  • Anything worthwhile takes time, and perseverance.
  • Struggle and patience are gateways to victory.
  • “Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th.” – Julie Andrews.
  • “Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.” – Robert Collier.

In addition to the above, we might want to consider the following methods as ways to encourage perseverance:

Methods for cultivating perseverance

  • Do what scares you. Do what makes you uncomfortable.
  • Start the task. Don’t hesitate.
  • See the task through to the end.
  • Once the task is over, you’ll realise that it wasn’t as bad as the stories you were telling yourself about it.
  • Return to the task. Examine your uncomfortableness closely. Embrace and accept it.
  • Look back on what you’ve achieved by not running away.
  • Do the thing, don’t do the other thing that you’re using as an escape.
  • Don’t let your mind run wild with imagined failures; excite it with anticipated victories.
  • Examine the uncomfortableness closely. How does it feel in your body? How does it feel in your mind? How does it make you act?
  • Make what makes you uncomfortable a habit. It’ll become easier with practice.
  • Meditate. It’ll help you become more aware of your self-talk. It’ll also help you focus.
  • Don’t rush, it’s much more enjoyable and less stressful taking your time (even on an uncomfortable task).
  • Consider the rewards of achieving the task.
  • No matter how daunting the task is, just take the first step, and keep on putting one foot in front of the other.

As long as we’re being challenged, we’re always going to want to procrastinate. But the more we practice perseverance, the more likely we’ll be to just get the fuck on with it. And every time that happens, we’ll feel a bit better about ourselves.

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