Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

You have probably heard this before. Step outside your comfort zone to push your limits and bounce back after hard times.

In your life, you regularly take actions that will allow you to step outside your comfort zone. However, you feel that stress, anger, or fear will be there too. They don’t seem to want to disappear over time. Despite your efforts, these emotions continue to affect your performance and your daily life…why?

When you think about stepping outside your comfort zone, you think about taking action, to do something which is unusual:

  • Practice your sport wearing new shoes or with a new ball;
  • Spend time training the areas you are weakest in;
  • Speak to someone who you don’t know;
  • Train under extreme conditions.

In my coaching, I have learned that you step outside your comfort zone by taking ACTION, but what will really make you stronger is learning how to be comfortable with your EMOTIONS.

Living with discomfort and uncertainty

The actions you take are triggering factors which will lead you to step outside your comfort zone. Afterward, being outside your comfort zone provokes different emotions, depending on the situation.

There are pleasant emotions such as joy, pleasure, love, friendship. There are also uncomfortable emotions like frustration, fear, stress, sadness or anxiety. To become more resilient, the first step is learning how to live with uncomfortable emotions.

Taking action when feeling frustrated or afraid will not help your performance. In fact, it will have the opposite effect. Here are a few examples.

Frustration. You train the areas you are weakest in and you cannot manage to perform them correctly. You become frustrated and yet you persist. Your performance becomes worse and worse. After some time has passed, in order to increase your confidence and feel better, you practice what you excel in instead.

Doubt. You speak to a teammate who you don’t really know. They seem distant, so you ask what they are thinking. You worry and you begin to devise a scenario in your head that your teammate is judging you. You become more and more suspicious towards them and you create numerous assumptions. As you dwell on these assumptions, you find more and more reasons to believe they are correct.

Fear. You train when you are extremely tired and you hope that your body will be able to handle it. You are afraid that you will injure yourself, which creates physical tension and reinforces your feelings. You end up telling yourself that you lack stamina and that you cannot push your body to such extremes.

The comfort of certainty and perfection vs. the fear of uncertainty and being suboptimal. This is the struggle. Let me let you in on a secret: no one is free from this struggle. ― Leo Babauta

Learning to live with the uncertainty and discomfort of unpleasant emotions subsequently allows you to act with discernment. You become more neutral and detached, which allows you to analyze the situation and make the right decision.

Acting with discernment

When we feel an unpleasant emotion, our first reflex is to avoid it as quickly as possible. The next time this happens, choose to act differently. Instead of avoiding it, acknowledge the emotion, identify your behavior and take a pause. Feel the emotion again (for example, anger) which then spreads and becomes stronger and stronger…then gradually decreases.

Here are two previous examples, regarded from a different angle:

Frustration. You train the areas you are weakest in and you still cannot manage to perform them correctly. You notice that you feel frustrated, and you tell yourself that that is normal. You take a pause, breathe, and you feel the emotion subsiding. Suddenly, you remember an exercise that your coach gave you. It could be the solution to your problem. You put yourself in the moment.

Doubt. You speak to a teammate who you don’t know very well. They seem distant, so you ask them what they are thinking. You acknowledge that this worries you and you have the tendency to create assumptions. You take a pause, you breathe. Then, you realize that they behave this way with other people too – not just with you – and that perhaps they are simply reserved and quiet.

Take the time to ask yourself: which emotions suddenly arise in difficult situations? How do you usually act in response to these emotions? The key to developing your mental strength is to observe your automatic reflexes to then detach yourself, which will allow you to find the appropriate action for the situation.

Discernment is the ability to see things for what they really are and not for what you want them to be.