Whether it's a global pandemic upending our personal and professional lives, joining a startup with rapid growth and ambiguity, or changing a bad habit, we will encounter discomfort often in life. Wizeline Senior UX Manager, Rodrigo Partida, urges us to find comfort in the discomfort.
It is common to consider comfort as part of our decision-making process; “What you feel most comfortable doing.” This can be interpreted in different ways. Many times, it is about morality; You’re comfortable because you have peace of mind with a decision. This article is not about that. This one is about the other kind of comfort, the one you should overcome, why, and how to do it.
Daniel de Obeso is a cousin of mine who loves mountain biking, and he often invites me to join, but sometimes I find the activity harsh on my legs, which sparked the following conversation:
“You know? Every time I go, I get bruises everywhere and get back home destroyed. I’m not that comfortable doing this.” I claimed.
That’s me. Just kidding. That’s him.
“Getting tired and experiencing pain every once in a while is part of it.” He replied. “If you don’t like it, that’s fine. But comfort is overvalued… nobody who did anything great did so by staying comfortable.”
…Nobody who did something great did so by staying comfortable.”
Dick Araya R., mountain biker
Okay, I wasn’t convinced to bike every Sunday. But I loved the thought.
While “getting out of your comfort zone” is already a cliche, comfort is truly overvalued.
Often, the best way is the least comfortable
Here are some examples.
As humans, we evolved to feel fear because it prevents us from making fatal mistakes. It’s good to put attention to fear, not to ignore it. However, in current times where we are more often at risk of missing out good opportunities rather than being eaten by a predator, more and more fears cross the line of irrationality — or at least, stop being worth it. An effective way to overcome many of those — for instance, social anxiety — is through exposure therapy. It’s uncomfortable. It feels bad until it doesn’t feel bad anymore. Then it’s effective.
Public speaking is a text-book example of uncomfortable and irrational fears to overcome. Here’s one of our visual designers, Verónica Aguilar, teaching us lettering. I’m not saying she was scared, it’s just an example.
Maybe she was super chill.
Healthy nutrition and exercise
These take discipline because your bed, sugar, fat, salt, and alcohol are extremely comfortable. Is it necessary to say why it’s better to eat well and avoid sedentarism?
Beware of the downward spiral. Going into pilot mode, scrolling through addictive content while looking at a blue light-emitting screen and simply not going to sleep at the right time, is easier, as it requires only to go with your inertia. As you went to bed late, you might feel tired and groggy in the morning. It’s comfortable to remain there a little more instead of getting up early anyway and start correcting your circadian rhythm.
Being honest about disagreements and getting stuff out of your chest. Of course, pick your battles! Honesty without prudence is not a virtue. But if you get to a point in which you just can’t go along with something anymore (or you need something to start happening), you will need to overcome your own resistance and say so.
As industry experts, it’s easy to think we can predict how users will behave or what they will prefer according to our known heuristics. It’s uncomfortable to be uncertain. But that’s the point of research: to open our eyes and see the reality, whether it validates our assumptions (even our expert assumptions) or not.
It can be tempting to accept a mediocre deal if we are under external or internal pressure, be it because of a sense of urgency, a very insisting and persuasive salesperson, or due to certain biases, as loss aversion. However, by being ready to walk away from a bad deal and take our best alternative to a negotiated agreement, we can keep our standards high, and explore mutually benefiting compromises. That position, of course, requires effort as you will need to be ready, at any point, to say no.
Being a great collaborator includes uncomfortable situations such as receiving non-positive feedback, splitting tasks – in ways less than ideal for your personal taste-, and trusting others that you might not know well yet.
They say practice makes perfect, but that saying is incomplete. Good practice makes perfect. Practicing repeatedly a skill that you already mastered is staying the same. And practicing something wrong further reinforces your bad behavior, making it even harder to rectify. Good practice takes effort: It entails research, self-assessment, and continuously correcting your ways.
Now, here’s the catch. You probably read some of these examples and thought, “I don’t feel uncomfortable doing this.” That’s one of the keys; when you find something that is both uncomfortable and good for you, a good idea is to find ways of feeling comfortable doing it, instead of beating resistance with much effort. That’s what I call being comfortable in discomfort.
…For instance, working in a team takes effort and is at the same time a pleasure to me.
This is a happy photo of my design team.
Ego-depletion (or not?)
There is a common misconception: willpower is a resource that gets depleted: “If you use it a lot in a single day, then you will need to find instant gratification”. It’s kind of true, because if you feel you have put in a lot of sacrifices, and that you think you have a limited amount of “sacrifice capability”, after one of those days you will probably feel the need to let yourself go and drink one more beer than what you planned.
The wrong part of this outcome is not the amount of willpower you actually used, but your belief that willpower is a finite thing and how much you had to fight with yourself when you took the hardest ways between competing desires. Remember: doing something that is hard doesn’t automatically mean you will be less able to do another hard thing afterward. Additionally, if you’re OK with discomfort, doing the right thing won’t be that difficult anyway.
Yoga class at Wizeline in the Mexico City office.
An excellent strategy to feel comfortable in discomfort is to increase your general resilience, for instance in regards to your pain tolerance and will-power. Here are some techniques that will help you in this regard:
Acceptance. Welcome adversity. A whole life without problems is not just unrealistic, it’s boring. Of course, it’s easier to welcome minor problems as fun challenges and harder to smile in the face of tragedy. And maybe you should not do that. But keep in mind you could be wrong interpreting it; it’s impossible to predict all of the various ways in which happenings will impact us in the future. And even if you were right, and you were truly experiencing something bad, well, life also has that flavor. Maintain perspective.
“Sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.”
Motivation. Either intrinsic or extrinsic, motivation is a true enabler in comparison to not having any. Be intentional when you do something that is not pleasing, and keep those motives in mind. But be careful: since feeling motivated is an emotion, you can’t rely too much on it. Some days you won’t feel enthusiastic. Then you’ll need a different approach if you want to keep thriving.
Graduality. Try to improve incrementally. Keep your interest by balancing success and failure as you try harder things every time.
Exercise (particularly Yoga). Studies have shown this mix of postures and breathing exercises makes people more tolerant to pain.
Curiosity. This is a mindful approach: Instead of getting carried away by your feelings and sensations of resistance, accept them and explore them: “Oh, now my hands are sweating. Interesting.”
Sleep hygiene. Studies have shown that bad sleep hygiene makes us more impulsive and less pain tolerant. Sleep hygiene at the same time affects your ability to maintain discipline and is affected by it, so this is a positive feedback loop, either for your benefit or your harm.