Mastering Discomfort

An excerpt from Leo Babauta’s Discomfort Zone: How to Master the Universe published on his blog. It’s ones of those old-but-evergreen posts that one should read at times of distress. Like I am today — traveling back home on a train. My daughter’s yelling (on a sugar rush… we didn’t really mean to give her chocolates but then, she didn’t leave us with an option), my son’s crying and my wife’s frustrated. It’s chaos. And that sure will be an understatement.

I wish I could zone out, but I can’t. Writing can be hard at times but thankfully, sharing what’s on my mind is relatively easier. And I so much wish I had the skills to master discomfort. It’s something I need to work on else it’ll be hard to survive. Expecting “comfort” everywhere and all the time is unreasonable.

If you’re going through the same experience, perhaps the post below would provide you with some solace (and ideas).

The way to master discomfort is to do it comfortably. That might sound contradictory, but it’s not. If you are afraid of discomfort, and you try to beat discomfort with a really grueling activity, you will probably give up and fail, and go back to comfort.

So do it in small doses.

  1. Pick something that’s not hard. Take meditation as an example. It’s not really that hard — you just sit down and pay attention to your body and breath, in the present moment. You don’t have to empty your mind (just notice your thoughts), you don’t have to chant anything weird, you just sit and pay attention. If you don’t like meditation, try a new healthy food, like kale or raw almonds or quinoa. Or a fairly easy exercise if you’re sedentary, like walking or jogging
  2. Just do a little. You don’t have to start by doing 30 minutes of something you’re not used to doing. Just do a few minutes. Just start
  3. Push out of your comfort zone, a little. My friend and Zen priest Susan O’Connell has a favorite meditation instruction that you can use for any activity actually: when you’re meditating and you feel like getting up, don’t; then when you feel the urge to get up a second time, don’t; and when you feel the urge to get up a third time, then get up. So you sit through the urge, the discomfort, twice before finally giving in the third time. This is a nice balance so that you’re pushing your comfort zone a little. You can do this in exercise and many other activities — push a little
  4. Watch the discomfort. Watch yourself as you get a bit uncomfortable — are you starting to complain (internally)? Are you looking for ways to avoid it? Where do you turn to? What happens if you stay with it, and don’t do anything
  5. Smile. This is not trivial advice. If you can smile while being uncomfortable, you can learn to be happy with discomfort, with practice. When I did the Goruck Challenge in 2011, it was 13 hours of discomfort — raw and bloody knees, sand in my shoes as a hiked and ran with 60+ pounds on my back, carrying teammates and logs, doing pushups and crabwalks and other exercises, needing the bathroom and being tired and hungry and cold. And yet, I practiced something simple: I tried to maintain a smile through all this discomfort. It’s an important practice.

From that list, I guess #4 and #5 are the way to go for me! What about you?

Highly encourage you to read the whole post on ZenHabits.