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Most people would like to improve some facet of their life. It’s not that everyone is walking around miserable, but in general, life in the modern world makes it profoundly difficult to achieve substantial physical and mental balance. So much of what we live with everyday–environmental pollutants, stagnancy, light box foods, computers, iPods and iPhones–makes true balance with our external environment virtually impossible.
None of us likes discomfort and we’ll avoid it at all costs. And the reality of today’s world is that there are effective tools to help us do so, but only for short periods at a time. We have quick-fixes that allow us to mask any discomfort as soon as it appears—a mild headache is met with ibuprofen, fatigue with caffeine, loneliness with technology, sadness with alcohol, drugs and/or light box food, and temperature fluctuations with air conditioning or heating. We’ve even invented the electric toothbrush, and just in time because the discomfort I was experiencing from manually pushing my toothbrush back and forth had frankly become exhausting.
So, what’s the big deal?
I believe discomfort is inherent in the struggle to achieve greater health and happiness, and when we continually mask it, we rob ourselves of personal growth and improvement. By avoiding discomfort at all costs we 1) don’t find out what we can handle, and 2) don’t attend to the underlying issues in our lives that are the cause of the discomfort in the first place. For example, by masking the discomfort of a crappy job by hitting the bar every night, we’ll never take action to improve the situation, much less look for another, better job. We don’t move in our lives because we don’t ever let ourselves feel like moving.
To be clear, I’m not saying we all should intentionally put ourselves in supremely uncomfortable situations by, for example, drastically changing our diets, quitting our jobs, or crazily pushing ourselves at the gym. Remember, I’m the Small Step Advocate. Instead, my small steps approach introduces discomfort in measured, manageable amounts. While two squats daily can be a discomfort (especially if one had previously not been exercising), most will find it only minimally so, and therefore will be less inclined to dread the activity or quit altogether. What this means is that we can gain the benefit of both the healthy activity and the confidence from knowing we have the strength to introduce new long-term behaviors into our lives at any age.
A little discomfort in our lives is actually a good thing. If most of your energy and attention is devoted to avoiding it, you may be missing out on a more fulfilling and exciting way to live. Starting now, introduce a step that causes you a little discomfort and see how it goes—just for one minute, delay the gratification you’ll get from that light box meal, and use that minute to take some deep breaths, to think about how you’d like your life to be.
I’ll leave you with this—often the discomfort we seek to avoid pales in comparison to the chronic discomfort we experience while avoiding it. Here’s an example of what I mean…By avoiding the uncomfortable conversation of confronting a friend or co-worker with whom we have an issue, we end up walking around disgruntled, fuming, unhappy for way longer than the conversation would actually be. Or, by escaping the unhappiness in our lives with a light box food meal, we end up walking around most of the time not feeling well and being ashamed of our bodies—again, more overall discomfort than the perceived discomfort of eating a healthier meal.
And so…By first accepting that discomfort exists in the modern world, we can either cause ourselves more of it overall by expending energy avoiding it, or we can small step into new behaviors and habits that will mitigate the real causes of the discomfort in the first place.