Nobody likes to feel uncomfortable. As humans we have a natural tendency to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. It’s a tendency that sees us living at full speed, rarely stopping or slowing down, consuming substances we know don’t serve us, spending beyond our means, running away, and avoiding difficult conversations or situations. Unless we learn to be okay with discomfort, to sit in our own pain, we will continue to numb out or distract ourselves from it. Over time this can have a significant impact on how we feel about ourselves and our lives.
Discomfort is a signpost. It is sensation that bubbles up from within us trying to tell us that something needs to change. It is often our innate voice trying to guide us and when we ignore it, or do our best to sidestep it, we usually end up causing ourselves more pain along the way. Either because that voice gets louder or because we judge ourselves harshly and feel lousy about the choices we have made.
When we sit in discomfort, we give ourselves time to understand what it we are actually uncomfortable about. Let’s say you have a challenging day at work and you tell yourself that when you get home you’re going to pour yourself a big glass of wine to help you forget about it. Or after an argument with a loved one you polish off a whole packet of biscuits. Or you just feel yucky – you’re not entirely sure why – so you go on a shopping spree. However you choose to avoid discomfort, what you’re really doing is preventing yourself from gleaning insight into what is going on for you – what you know in your heart to be true.
Maybe something needs to change or you need to have a conversation with a loved one that you are worried they won’t enjoy hearing. Maybe you need to reflect on the beliefs that are driving you to behave in ways that you know are harmful to your health. Maybe it’s an invitation to explore your perception of pressure and urgency and the ways in which you’re driving your own stress by adding unnecessary pressure. The more comfortable you get with discomfort, the better you’re going to understand your motivations and impulses and the less you’re going to yoyo between taking great care of yourself and ‘sabotaging’ yourself.
So if you know you are prone to avoidance, take a moment to reflect on whether what you’re doing to avoid discomfort is actually causing you more pain in the long run. You will likely find that it is so. As you start trying to sit with discomfort, remember it can take time and practise to sit with sensations that we don’t like to feel so be patient with yourself. Whether you do or do not engage in avoidant behaviours ever again isn’t important – what is important is working towards doing it less.