Get comfortable with the discomfort
Life brings many challenges and we often face situations that are hard to bear. We can often make changes that improve our situations, but at other times, we cannot do so.
We have to make changes in our lifestyles to achieve success. That often means that we have to change habits, face painful realities, or re-think strategies that may have helped us previously and are not working now.
Change often means that we have to move out of our comfort zones and face difficult areas. Success can sometimes be a sure thing. But often, there is uncertainty and there may even be crushing failure.
One of the most important character traits men and women must have is resilience, the ability and resolve to recover quickly from difficulties.
Well-known examples include the late British prime minister Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, former US presidents Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Barack Obama, and the late Singapore prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
The definition of resilience indicates that it is shown within the context of difficult and seemingly impossible situations, against the odds. Such conditions force one to step up to the plate to rise to the occasion and dredge the inner depths of resolve to gather that strength and power to come back up and fight again, and then again, and then again…until the result is visible, he or she quits or dies trying.
Physical trainers know that the best way for muscles to develop and grow is to give a combination of weight and resistance training. The weights help build muscle mass and they also act as resistance that helps contract and stretch the muscle so that they develop their full growth and potential. Lack of one aspect leads to incomplete and insufficient muscle development.
While it can be hard to keep bouncing back up after numerous ‘attacks’ that bring you down, e.g, startup failures, relationship or marriage breakdowns, retrenchments, and the such like, such bouncebacks are essential if we are to see the success of our ventures or the realisation of our goals. It would be heartbreaking if we were to give up the fight, only to later see someone else take the mantle and run the race to eventual completion and success.
We also have to realise that while some setbacks will improve steadily on the road to eventual success, others may stay the same or get worse before they improve. Having to continually face such uncertainty is daunting but it is at such times that we must learn to become comfortable in the discomfort.
When the trouble continues to linger with no end in sight, when the humdrum continues to hum, when your brain has turned to mush and there is nothing more you can make your brain do except tell you that it is now “Mind over matter”.
That is when you can either keep hitting the brick wall and getting mortally wounded, or decide that you will make the best of the bad situation and dig in your heels until the job is done.
In a 2013 article in Forbes, executive coach Margie Warrell, author of the book Stop Playing Safe, said: “Only in giving up the security of the known can we create new opportunity, build capability, and grow influence. As we do, we expand the perimeter of our ‘Courage Zone’ and our confidence to take on bigger challenges in the future.”
In short, if you want to keep thinking new thoughts and dreaming big dreams that nobody else thinks or dreams, you have to have the “Bring It On” attitude. Of not shying away from discomfort but not evading it either.
Instead, you should replace your risk-averse behaviour with an open mind that makes discomfort and trouble your friend and ally, instead of your enemy and rival.
One of my dearest friends, an entrepreneur I will call Jake in this essay, had a near-death experience several years ago. The ordeal made him re-examine his life and he decided to live for his dreams instead of following his parents’ wishes or societal expectations. He set out to become a writer and worked with a writing coach to help him realise his dream.
Jake’s journey was filled with more downs than ups, more valleys than peaks and more droughts than showers. His natural ebullience soon faded and he was in danger of turning into a cynic and quitting the race.
But that was when his writing coach took him aside and shared four points. Jake told me: “Those points got me back on my feet and raring to fight again.”
1. Life is unfair. Get used to it.
Like it or not, Happily Ever After seldom occurs in the real world. No wonder few writers dare tell the story of what happened to Cinderella after her wedding to Prince Charming.
You can either let life make you bitter or better. Choose to let it make you better.
2. The world does not owe you a living. But you owe your life to the people who really matter.
Bosses may chew you out, marriages can go south, and relationships can flounder beyond repair. But our parents and siblings assure us of their love, while good friends and confidants are the ones who stand by you and live by four words — We Have Your Back.
Get these people behind you and they will make the pain bearable. You will be glad that they stood by you.
3. Never be afraid to start at rock bottom or the lowest rung of the ladder. The only way after that is up.
Never be afraid to work any job to stay afloat during the trying times, so long as it is not illegal or immoral. Working from the bottom up builds humility and character. It also gives you a good name. All bosses and head honchos put a high value on hard work, humility and a cheerful disposition.
4. Nice guys will eventually finish first. No matter how successful you are, be kind, be kind and be kind.
During the difficult times, the world often subscribes to the jungle mentality and scarcity mindset — that you have to sell out to survive. Instead, be kind and helpful and subscribe to an abundance mindset, one that believes that there are enough goodies for everyone to enjoy and share.
5. Pay it forward
When success finally beckons and you get the house on Beverly Hills, or the swanky Tribeca pad, don’t keep quiet about your struggles. Share them with others. Give a TED talk, talk to school kids, share the tale with community groups — turn your struggles into motivational stories to help others. Soon, one success story grows to two, then to four, and eventually whole communities can be transformed from despair to hope.
Sharing about your struggles also builds you up and gives you ‘immunity’ against the next personal obstacle that hits you (and they will, trust me!).
When you have learnt to be comfortable in the discomfort that life (and love) often will bring, you will rise above your circumstances and teach others to do the same. Then you can build resilience and the spirit that says: “I will not be afraid of difficulties. I can and will weather whatever storms life will bring me.” Then the rainbows come after or in the midst of the storms.