Why You Should Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

I delivered an interactive workshop recently to a room full of engineers who had a really difficult time with my chosen topic: being uncomfortable.

In this post-recession era, uncertainty has become our new normal. Peek behind the curtain of any business and you’ll find that leaders are grappling with all the same things they don’t have enough of — time, money, technology, talent, equipment, the list goes on. Whether the business is small, huge or somewhere in between, the struggle is real.

But uncertainty and engineering don’t go together. It was interesting to see how hard the session was for many of these very experienced managers and executives. By design, engineers devote their careers to minimizing risk through careful, data-driven analysis. They build things to exacting specifications because lives depend on it. So, telling them that they need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable was like trying to convince your dog that he would really enjoy sleeping on the living room floor far better than your expensive, deep-tufted sofa.

I am happy to report that the engineers persevered through my workshop and succeeded (I knew they would!), but it was a lot tougher for them than I expected. After it was over, most said they felt more confident in leading through uncertainty. But there was one person who commented that he/she hated to be uncomfortable and thought it was not necessary in his/her role. I found this feedback to fuel my mission to help leaders see their own biases and empower them to take risks. I believe these skills are integral to success in our hyper-connected, warp-speed business world of today.

Consider mega-athlete Michael Phelps, who easily could have stopped swimming after winning six gold and two bronze medals in the 2004 Olympics. More than a decade and a mess of medals later, the dude is the most decorated Olympian in history. He’s been quoted as saying,

“I think goals should never be easy. They should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.”

Sometimes I think about that quote when I’m working out to the same routine I’ve been doing for years. It’s effective, gets my heart rate up and burns calories. Yet I keep reading all these articles touting the benefits of changing up your routine. Doing so can get your body moving in different ways, challenge new muscles, rev your metabolism, blah, blah, blah. I really don’t want to. I just want to be on autopilot and get through my 30 minutes of torture so I can go on with my day. That’s when I can hear Phelps’ voice in my head, telling me that I need to suck it up and push myself harder.

There’s a voice in your head, too, and it grows louder and louder the more comfortable you get. You can choose to ignore it and bask in the safety of the familiar, or you can bust through your fears and see what lies beyond your safety net.

Sujan Patel, digital marketing expert, and co-founder of Web Profits, wrote in Forbes about discomfort being the key to boosting performance, creativity and learning.

“Routines may make you feel at ease and in control, but what a constant routine really does is dull your sensitivities. Think about the times in your life when you’ve driven the same route repeatedly: after a certain number of trips, you start tuning out most of it. Have you ever had a trip to the office where you barely remember what happened after you got in the car? If you don’t get out of your comfort zone, you might find yourself tuning out much of your life on a daily basis.”

I agree with Patel, and I would add that comfort also stifles our ability to be innovative. By definition, innovation requires us to think and act differently, to push past our usual boundaries, to break our routines.  Even though I quit my safe, predictable corporate job to launch my own business, I will confess that I still haven’t changed up my workout. What I’ve done would maybe get me a gold star from Phelps, but I’m going to keep pushing for that medal. You should, too.

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K. Melissa Kennedy

Chief Innovation Officer, Founder, Intrapreneur. Entrepreneur. Enthusiastic leader and speaker. Teller of truths at 48 Innovate
I spent many years working for and building successful companies. I parlayed that experience into a unique process for harnessing hidden assets inside organizations and turning them into big-idea-generating, $1-billion-revenue-producing resources. (Spoiler alert: it’s the people.) I'm an internationally acclaimed expert, happy to share the not-so-secrets that have led to impressive outcomes for Fortune 100 corporations, major educational institutions, start-up companies and entrepreneurs. Working with companies like Cisco, Lancope, Arby's, Capitol Broadcasting Company New Media - WRAL, PRSONAS, Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog, REVO Communications, Erno Group, Focus Carolina, Madan Global, UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, INZONE Brands, Albright Digital, Spring Metrics and NC State Kenan Fellows.

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