People are creatures of comfort and habit. We don’t like to do things that brings us discomfort. So we procrastinate and sometimes avoid the uncomfortable thing altogether. Neither of these actions achieve anything except delay what is inevitable. Actually, that’s not true. It does achieve something – not tackling the uncomfortable task leaves us feeling somewhat incomplete. There’s a nagging feeling we have not done something we need to do. We constantly think about the incomplete uncomfortable task that we still have to do. Every time that thought rears its ugly head, we push it to one side, hoping to not have to deal with it.
But not dealing with it only makes things worse. It continues to eat at us, nag us and tries to get our attention whenever we have a moment of quiet in our mind. And every time this happens, we continue to push it to one side. We continue to distract ourselves with other things that are ‘more urgent’. In other words, we keep ourselves busy so that this uncomfortable task remains a lower priority than something else we have to do. And we justify not taking action by saying that we’re too busy.
The result of this thought cycle seems so obvious when analysed in writing. We know this is never going to end well. Not tackling the uncomfortable task will continue to leave us in a state of anxiety until the task is completed. No matter how much we ignore it, the task remains. It beckons us. Keeping busy to deal with the anxiety is going to lead us into burn-out. But the anxiety remains until the uncomfortable task is complete.
Positive thinking is over-rated
For a long time, I thought being uncomfortable with a task is a state of mind. With enough self-talk, prep-talk and positive thinking, I will be able to psyche myself up to do the uncomfortable task, to muster enough courage to ‘just do it’. This sometimes works, but more often, it doesn’t. The positive self-talk leaves me feeling somewhat unreal, unauthentic. Telling myself that I have what it takes to tackle the uncomfortable task isn’t being true to myself. If I knew I had what it takes, I wouldn’t have procrastinated. I wouldn’t have avoided the uncomfortable task to begin with. Prep-talk and positive thinking is like ‘fake it til you make it’ – and I don’t believe in this. I don’t believe anyone should fake it until they make it. I believe everyone should be true to themselves, to remain authentic.
What is causing the discomfort?
In my search for why I procrastinate doing uncomfortable things, I’ve had to work out exactly what I am uncomfortable with. What is it about this task that causes discomfort? Often the reason is its effect on other people. Despite having the courage and self-confidence to do what I need to do, it is the unknown outcome that is holding me back. If I knew the outcome would be positive, I’d have no problems doing what needs to be done. It is often the possibilty of a negative outcome that holds me back.
So what makes it uncomfortable is the unpredictable possibilty of a negative outcome that might eventuate. I’m a realist and therefore engaging in positive talk with myself isn’t helpful. Positive self-talk relies on altering my state of mind into believing my ability is greater than what I give it credit for. It is simply to psyche myself up to take action. It tells me that I have the ability to tackle the uncomfortable task. However, it doesn’t change my perceptions of the possible negative outcome (or in some cases, the possibility of a few negative outcomes) that can eventuate from my actions. Whilst I can control my actions, I cannot control the outcome.
This is what I need to be comfortable with – the possibility of a negative outcome – the idea that a negative outcome, should it eventuate, is okay.
What’s the solution?
There are a few ways of being comfortable with the possibility that something might (to my mind) go wrong:
- convince myself it’s okay for things to go wrong, no one is perfect and I am only human.
- telling myself it won’t be the end of the world if the worst possible outcome eventuates.
- I have to stop being a naysayer. The chance of something going wrong is as possible as the chance of something going right.
Again, these sometimes works. But again, that is denying my true self be heard. I know I’m only human, but it is also human to feel awful when things go wrong. It might not be the end of the world for other people, but for me, my world comes to a stop for a while. Being a naysayer is part of being me. Whilst I wish to have a Pollyanna personality, that is simply not me.
Don’t avoid, embrace discomfort
I recently tried to tackle an uncomfortable task by reminding myself that the only way to become comfortable with discomfort is to practice discomfort. Just as with public speaking, people don’t become comfortable with public speaking simply through self-talk. The only way to get comfortable with public speaking is to actually do more public speaking. It’s the same with uncomfortable tasks that we must do.
The only way to get comfortable with discomfort it to continuously practice discomfort. That feeling we get in the pit of our stomach whenever we have to do something uncomfortable doesn’t necessarily have to be a feeling we dread. It is a feeling that we can get used to and embrace. The more often we have those feelings, the more we know that we’ve been in a similar situation before. When we get comfortable with discomfort, we train ourselves to know that we can deal with the discomfort.
This type of thinking can serve us well in any uncomfortable situation we find ourselves in. Whether it is talking to the children about money matters or having a difficult conversation with family, friends or colleagues, getting comfortable with discomfort requires practice. We often hear that money is taboo. The reason we are uncomfortable talking about money is the fear of the possibility of a negative outcome. So we can either change our self-talk about that possibility of a negative outcome or we can embrace that possiblity and get comfortable with discomfort. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.