Although seeking comfort seems ideal, embracing discomfort is key to creating happiness. This post takes a deep-dive into uncomfortability and the best reasons to boost yours.
What is Uncomfortability
I found a few different definitions of uncomfortability, none of which were in dictionaries. Not finding it in dictionaries would indicate that it isn’t technically a real word. Yet. Although it doesn’t show up in a dictionary yet, it is used often in books and articles. Obviously, all the definitions revolve around a lack of comfort:
Who Feels More Comfortable With “Discomfort”?
In a post on BYU’s Cougarboard, a college professor states that graduate students mistakenly use uncomfortability instead of discomfort*. The graduate students first started using it in 2017. So use the word began recently.
Also, graduate students are the main culprit. That is to say, educated people are using this word. It will be a word soon.
Who Best Dishes Discomfort?
Uncomfortability appears in Rice University’s online database of neologisms**. (In other words, it’s a new word.) The definition:
The act of making another extremely anxious or upset.
How annoying or disturbing can a person or thing be?
However, my searches rarely found the definitions that those two references suggest. The primary use of uncomfortability I found was…
How Much Discomfort Can You Tolerate?
Most uses of the word referenced the benefits of increasing your uncomfortability. To put it differently, how much discomfort you can tolerate?
Uncomfortable + Ability
The ability to tolerate discomfort.
What Uncomfortability is Not
This does not mean you should tolerate others making you feel uncomfortable. Don’t allow anyone to touch you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable or say anything to you that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Although I recommend learning to take a joke, it’s also important to know what is appropriate and what is not. My friends and I always joke around, and it often includes put-downs. However, we know each others’ boundaries and don’t cross them. Among work friends, we know what is appropriate for work and what is not. When joking among ourselves we have to be mindful of making those around us uncomfortable.
Practice speaking up when you’re uncomfortable.
We’ve had family members whom our kids were not comfortable hugging. We never forced our kids to hug anyone they weren’t comfortable hugging. Even though it created some awkward family moments saying “goodbye” after a weekend visit, we wanted our kids to understand that it is okay to say, “No.” At the time we wondered if we might be sheltering our kids too much, but now we know we did the right thing.
Now, why should you increase your uncomfortability?
5 Powerful Benefits of Increasing Your Uncomfortability
1. Physical Flexibility
One thing I remember from my Personal Trainer certification classes is that muscle flexibility is related to pain tolerance. Although you should never stretch far enough to cause pain, the more you can endure the discomfort of stretching the more flexible you can become.
I’ve always stretched. I can’t truthfully say that I enjoy the discomfort. However, I relish my flexibility. In Taekwondo, I almost made it into the Full Splits Club. Not bad for a dude in his 40s. Other than our school’s Master, I was the most flexible male over 16 or so.
Likewise the more discomfort you can tolerate, the harder you can work out. You can work a little harder to increase your fitness capacity or work a little longer to increase your endurance. That’s a slight oversimplification for fitness purposes, but a great example for gaining an understanding of the benefits of uncomfortability.
2. Mental Flexibility
Pain tolerance is often a mental barrier rather than a physical one. Master Croft at our Taekwondo school always encouraged us to keep going, to not give up. He reminded us our minds would give up before our bodies would. That mental flexibility or mental toughness helps you keep going when others give up.
Whether in exercise, writing or coding, the willingness to keep going even when the circumstances are unpleasant is key to progress.
A flexible tree will survive a strong wind. Conversely, a strong wind will snap or uproot a tree that won’t bend. Flexibility increases recoverability. The ability to recover from a challenge or setback is called Resilience.
In this qz.com article, Ephrat Livni states:
“So, to be happy, you have to first learn how to be strong; to pick yourself up after a fall, detach from sadness when you don’t succeed, and find the will to persist instead of getting depressed when things go awry, which they often will.”
– Ephrat Livni
The article later states, “Psychologists say resilience is a developed skill…” To clarify, resilience is not something reserved for a few lucky ones born with it or given it. Resilience can be learned.
In short, you can fortify your happiness by increasing your uncomfortability!
4. Playing Outside Your Comfort Zone Makes Your Comfort Zone Bigger!
When you get more comfortable in a situation that was previously uncomfortable, your comfort zone broadened!
Author Stephen Guise makes this brilliant point in his post Why It’s So Important to Seek Discomfort:
“The whole point of expanding your comfort zone is to be more comfortable in more situations.”
– Stephen Guise
Although it might seem backward or a little Bizarro World, the best way to feel more comfortable is to spend more time being uncomfortable.
5. Discomfort Supports Confidence
Every time you choose uncomfortable over easy, you build confidence. After you endure the situation you get to say, “look what I did!” Even if you only get to say it to yourself, you earn feeling proud. You learn that you can not only complete that difficult task again, but you’re capable of accomplishing something even more difficult.
Enduring even the tiniest discomfort confirms you can do more than you previously thought possible.
How to Boost Your Uncomfortability
Have you seen the movie Kung Fu Panda 2? The Fab 5 are hunted by a villain with a weapon that overpowers kung fu?
“How can kung fu stop something that stops kung fu?”
– Po, Kung Fu Panda 2
Getting comfortable being uncomfortable reminds me of that. How do you get comfortable doing what it is uncomfortable to do?
Baby steps. Like most other results of habits, getting comfortable being uncomfortable will happen gradually, then suddenly. Check out that post for more valuable insight into how you can do this.
Many of our pursuits are targeted at increasing comfort and convenience. For understandable reasons, we’ve associated pleasure with happiness. Consequently, we are unpracticed for when things don’t go as planned. And how often do things go as planned? It seems like never. Like the Styx song:
“You’re so together
You act so civilized
But every time that things go wrong
You’re still surprised.
Nothing ever goes as planned.”
– Styx, Nothing Ever Goes as Planned
Although it seems that way, things go as planned about as often as they don’t. Enough that our expectations are often unmet.
Learn to embrace discomfort. Not only will you be more prepared for Life’s little (and big) surprises, but you’ll more thoroughly enjoy the growth of overcoming the challenges you face.
Think basic training. The Armed Forces make basic training brutally tough to get soldiers ready for battle, to make them comfortable with discomfort. The training makes the soldiers more tough and resilient.
Make Uncomfortable FUNcomfortable
Make a game out of uncomfortability. Give yourself little challenges to try. Pick some actions that are uncomfortable, a little scary, but not frightening or dangerous. Here are a few ideas:
- Greet strangers or ask them for the time
- Make conversations with cashiers
- Put your phone away in waiting areas
- Ride amusement park rides
- Exercise (or shake up your current routine)
- Stretch (it’s excellent practice for life)
- Take a cold shower
- Take a Class
- Go to a Meetup
- Learn a Foreign Language
- Learn to Play an Instrument
- Practice saying, “No.”
Ready to Boost Your Uncomfortability?
Check out these other articles:
Are You Interested in an Uncomfortability Challenge?
If you’re interested in enjoying an uncomfortability challenge click here to let me know. If there’s enough interest, I’ll set up a challenge so a group of us can have fun getting comfortable with uncomfortable. If/when we do it, I’ll let you know as soon as we’re starting.