The Comfort of Discomfort by Rachel Hasper, MA, LPC
4/5/2012 12:00 PM
Maybe we say that we’d like to learn to slow down, relax and not be so anxious. But when faced with the task of making quiet time, doing relaxation/breathing work, or changing our thinking that creates anxiety, the experience is weird, different, boring, or overwhelming. It can be common to find that doing the opposite of a behavior we’re used to just feels really uncomfortable - we feel impatient, awkward, or incompetent.
Can you remember learning to ride a bike? Most of us start with the first step of riding a tricycle. Then we graduate to a bike with training wheels. Once the training wheels are off, we need someone to hold on and balance the bike for us, help us to trust that even though it might be wobbly and we might fall, that we are not alone and that we’ll be ok. During the process we may have experienced fear, shed some tears, and ended up with a few scraped elbows and knees. But if we stick with the steps involved in learning, the final outcome is the independence and freedom of riding on our own - a feeling of accomplishment and mastery.
Sometimes we tell ourselves sabotaging thoughts that lead us to feel discouraged:
“this is just the way I am.”
“I’d love to ______, but right now I just don’t have the time.”
“This is too hard.”
“I can’t stand this.”
“I’ll never be good enough” or “I’ll never be as good as ______.”
But if we can figure out how to combat those thoughts with stick-with-it statements, we are more likely to keep working towards our goals of change. Those might sound like:
“This will get easier.”
“I’m not going to quit just because I feel ______ right now.”
“When I reach my goal, the work will be worth it.”
I wonder if there are any changes you’ve been struggling to make because the steps involved in change just feel too different? If there are, consider the idea that we often hesitate to change because we can more easily tolerate the discomfort that we already know. If this is true for you, here are some strategies that encourage change:
-Break your goal into small, specific, do-able tasks. Preferably, come up with a task that you can do each day that is somehow related to the change you’d like.
-Pay attention to your self-talk. If you are saying self-sabotaging thoughts, replace them with more realistic, encouraging statements.
-Find someone who will support you in your goal. Two great predictors of change are support and accountability.
-Give yourself a break. We all make mistakes. We all slip up from time to time. If you’ve gotten away from your goals, that’s ok. Be gentle with yourself and take a look at what it was that got you off track. Was it certain feelings that felt intolerable? Negative self-talk? Lack of do-able, specific goals? Create a new plan and try it out. Check back in after a few weeks and examine whether your new plan is working.