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Discomfort, Our Teacher

What do we do when discomfort shows up? Before we dive in, what is the discomfort? Usually, when we talk about discomfort, we refer to a sensation initiated by an external experience. To demonstrate how a variety of influences on discomfort exist, I am separating them into two categories.

The first category relates to external experiences, like weather, traffic, lines, people, conversations, when things don't move smoothly, and moments of mundane and tedious work. And then, in the second category, we have the internal experience of physical pain, restlessness, avoidance, boredom, resistance, and a strange feeling in our tummies indicating something is off. I'll call this dissonance.

By reading through both categories, you might notice how one informs the other.


Let's say we are in a rush, and we choose the shortest line in a supermarket, and then the person in front of us is taking their time, products aren't scanning right, and it feels like an eternity, and something is happening inside of us. Discomfort or dissonance is arising, a feeling of "I want this moment to be over so I can attend to the next thing on my list and not be late."

Or looking at the image above, we are in winter, and seeing snow makes us think of all the clothes we need to wear, maybe shoveling snow, icy roads, cold, and what else you can think of. So our inner voice is telling us, "I don't like this, and I would do anything to change it." Well, right there, that's discomfort. The moment the dislike comes up. What happens next is where we will spend some time in. The point when our automated response kicks in, and we feel an urge or seek comfort to get us away from this uncomfortable situation. Most of the time, this all happens very quickly and subconsciously.


We have laid out some internal and external experiences that cause discomfort. I'm sure you can think of many more scenarios even throughout your days that bring up that sense that something doesn't feel right. What are some common ways we cope with discomfort? The easiest way to explore this is by using the internal experiences of the second category above, besides physical pain, because that has many different layers, so these suggestions might not apply well.

When we experience restlessness, avoidance, boredom, or resistance, our go-to isn't necessarily "Oh, look, here's discomfort. Let me see what it has to show me today?" No, our instinct tells us, "Oh, look, here's discomfort. How can I get away from it?" Some tactics we choose to get away from discomfort are, and these are from my personal experience, pick-up our phones and do anything on it, eat, get something to drink, turn music on, check our emails, call a friend, start a new project, or anything to avoid this uncomfortable feeling inside.

What would happen if we sit in discomfort and do not let our instinct take over and do any of the above actions to distract us? Things would get done, we would be able to resolve conflicts sooner, we wouldn't hold any "old" emotions for a later time, and we could feel freer and accomplished.

There are a few practices I remind myself of to help me stay on track so I can spend deliberate and present time with my family. They don't always do the trick, but it's a great start. Awareness: Noticing when our minds want to take us for a ride in a different direction than what we planned to do. Honesty: To acknowledge why we end up on our phones for hours to avoid discomfort and that it's counterproductive. Discipline: The ultimate supporter; by integrating awareness and honesty, we can create an environment and reminders that makes us stay with the task at hand and get things done regardless of how uncomfortable it might feel in the moment.


Another practice that tackles all the internal discomforts is meditation. Some people say they can't meditate. It might be because an internal urge tells them they don't want to stay with sensations of restlessness, boredom, or other discomforting experiences that can come up during meditation. Instead, we can see it as a practice to become more aware and reduce the instinct reaction of immediately getting to our comfort zone. We could discover that sitting still can teach us how discomfort will lead to the immense growth of embracing it as a good thing.


Now, you can go back to your task and let me know later how you experience discomfort, dissonance, and distraction in your life and how the above practices could help you grow.


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