Have you ever considered discomfort to be a positive thing?
This article is cross-posted from my weekly newsletter, The Sunday Soother, a newsletter about clarity, intention, and useful tips for creating more meaning in your life that goes out every Sunday morning. Subscribe here. I am also a coach who works with sensitive people so they can stop second-guessing, make decisions confidently and live the life they’ve always dreamed of. You can learn more about working with me here.
I remember the first time I tried breathwork. This wasn’t the kind of yogic or mindful breathing practice you might be aware of; this is a sustained, active, rhythmic and kind of intense active meditation that, in the way it’s done, involves rapid inhaling and exhaling.
Your body starts to tingle; parts of you cramp up; and if you’re me, the entire time, your mind is screaming at you “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS WHEN NETFLIX HAS BEEN INVENTED? PLEASE STOP! I AM THE ONE USED TO BEING IN CONTROL AND I DON’T LIKE ALL THESE FEELINGS IN MY BODY!”
After my first breathwork session, though, I knew I was hooked, even though I was literally kind of actively miserable DURING the sessions. Because afterwards, as I tingling and cramping dissipated and I lay there, I literally felt heaviness leaving my body. Things felt… unstuck. I felt as though I’d spent the past 30 minutes wrapping into a tight, intense, dark little ball and at the end of breathwork, I exploded into sparkles of fairy dust, releasing into the ether.
Even though I’ve been doing breathwork for almost a year now, I still semi-dread it because it can be physically uncomfortable, and really, REALLY mentally uncomfortable, especially if you have a hyper-active mind like I do.
But the discomfort is worth it. And in fact, perhaps even beneficial to me.
I was driving around this past week when on a podcast I heard the phrase “beneficial discomfort” and thought immediately of breathwork. Doing something uncomfortable in order to increase your resilience and tolerance for future emotional experiences, or for healing purposes, or simply as a practice.
I was thinking of beneficial discomfort as I was walking around with my boyfriend the other day. We were reminiscing about the weekend I came to visit him as a friend in NYC and ended the weekend blurting out my feelings for him.
“God, I wanted to vomit for literally 48 hours because I knew what I was going to do,” I said. “I barely slept, too. It was awful.” Then I paused. “But all that pain was worth it because even if you had flat-out rejected me, I feel like I grew in that weekend. All the discomfort would have ended up helping me grow, because after I worked up all that courage and got over myself to tell you how I felt, even if I headed home alone, I would have been like, ‘Hey… I’m still alive. And now, I think I can do anything.’”
So often I see people fear expanding their discomfort in order to increase things like their emotional resilience or their capacity for things that scare them. And I get it. Discomfort in the service of growth is not an easy thing.
But I want to challenge you that you may be more ready for beneficial discomfort that you bring on for yourself than you think.
Because we’re already living in a world where we’re experiencing discomfort, and often worse, at the hands of others… and we still are able to maintain resilience through much of it.
We’re in a world where discomfort, pain, tragedy is at every corner. We’re in a pandemic. We’re living through a centuries-needed social justice and racism awakening. Senseless, cruel and brutal murders are taking place. We’ve got the most demonic, narcissistic man literally in control of the country.
And for those of us lucky enough to have the privilege to do so, we’re adapting. It’s not great, I hate that it has to happen, but we’re doing it.
So when I see somebody (and to be clear, I’m talking to those of us who have existing privileges, who are merely experiencing discomfort, not active oppression from the state) who is already living through all of this today but won’t do something like…
- Quit their job to start their passion business
- Tell their crush about their feelings
- Have a difficult conversation with a relative
- Begin and finish a creative project that means everything to them
- Set a boundary
- Tell off a racist
- Phone bank for a cause
- Stand up for themselves and their worth
Those of us in particular, who have privilege — of race, of class, of body — well, we’ve gotten way too used to the comfort afforded us by our privileges, even now.
So why don’t you try choosing a different kind of discomfort now, one that may end up benefitting you in achieving a dream?
A discomfort that you choose to experience in service of you? Your wants, your needs, your hopes?
A discomfort that may feel like a leap of faith without a net, but one that will probably teach you, either way, you were always going to land just fine?
A discomfort that teaches you to trust you? To trust your instincts? To have your own back? To speak up for what matters to you?
I dunno. Some people may read this and think, “Damn Catherine, you want me to survive all this AND do something that scares my soul? I’m barely hanging on by a thread as it is.”
And I get that. And, it doesn’t have to happen all at once.
But think of some small way you could try beneficial discomfort this week. Step outside of that comfort zone. Say a thing out loud that you’ve only permitted to echo in your head.
Maybe you’d even like to join me in a breathwork practice. Here’s a video from Chauna Bryant, a D.C.-based facilitator.
Being uncomfortable isn’t always a bad thing, especially when we decide to actively step into it.
Because it can support change, both in ourselves, and in this world at large that so desperately needs it.
Make a commitment, if you have the privilege and capacity, to practice beneficial discomfort this week.
Share with me what you’re going to try! I would love to hear, and I’ll gather responses for a future Soother.