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Finding comfort in discomfort

By: Cenn John

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We all know that feeling when faced with something we don't really want to do...that little voice creeps in to tell you all the things you want to hear. "It's not my strength"; "I should focus on what I'm good at" "life's too short - focus on what you want and what makes you happy". It's a view I find reinforced by many of the self-help gurus that can be found on the pop psyche shelves on your local bookstore and has, I think, become the prevailing view in the era of instant gratification. 

I've always believed that we grow best when we can overcome these fears and prove to ourselves / others that we've surpassed the challenges we previously found insurmountable. In my limited, layman's view, it builds resilience. capability and agency. Rabbi Twerski encapsulates it perfectly in his analogy of the lobster and how it needs to burst from the pain and discomfort of its enclosing shell if it is to grow and develop a new, more commodious home. 

Thankfully Professors Woolley & Fishbach of Universities Cornell and Chicago in the States have proved in a recent paper in Psychological Science that those who can successfully reframe discomfort as a positive experience grow and develop best. I don't think that means we have to "seek pain" in sadomasochistic sense, but to understand and accept that we will all face challenges and that could achieve more if we focus less on the challenge itself, and more on what it would feel like to overcome it. We've all felt it - when you've outdone even your own expectations of what you are capable of: confidence grows, satisfaction kicks in and a sense of wisdom develops into a self awareness that perhaps life might not be defined by what we can't do, but what we can.  

There is a difference, I think, in doing what you want to do and doing what you need to do, and a different lesson that you can derive from both. I think that there is value in the struggle - in persevering through the hardship and come through the other side to acknowledge that you survived and thrived in spite of it. Professor Scott Galloway of NYU's Stern School of Business put it perfectly, I think, when he said: "find something you're good at, and then apply the 1000s of hours of grit, determination, perseverance and the willingness to break through hard times to become great at it." Because life can be hard - particularly now. And if we're not instilling those values in our children - perseverance, grit and determination to struggle through and find the rewards on the other side, I feel we'd be failing in our duty as parents and educators to deliver, truly, on what education means. And on that, I channel Muriel Spark's Miss Jean Brodie: it comes from the Latin "ex, out; and duco I lead". It is out job to help the children develop the capacities to lead themselves through life's challenges. And with a bit of grit, they can and will.