Skip to main content

Uncomfortable Progress

It’s human nature to want to avoid discomfort and create control over our environment. In truth, control provides us with a sense of security and coping mechanism to live through whatever the moment presents.

Experiencing discomfort sometimes leads to progress if we can identify and embrace the opportunity for growth. For example, physical therapists encourage their patients to stretch in order to build strength after surgery or an injury. It may feel uncomfortable, but the practice of stretching and doing exercises leads to recovery. Amazingly, if this practice is sustained over a period of time, patients emerge more physically capable than before the event that took them to the physical therapist in the first place!

A far greater challenge is allowing ourselves to experience emotional discomfort, so much so that many of us avoid it at all costs. Allowing ourselves to actually feel our feelings, fully, requires “being” instead of “doing.” That’s why staying overly busy (extreme doing-ness) is, for many, an effective way to keep those pesky feelings at bay, or so it seems. The costs to this approach – and other avoidance strategies – are real, if not always immediate. Burnout, disconnection, displaced feelings – eventually those feelings from which we’ve been hiding will have an impact, often in indirect ways.

Creating time for quiet and reflection – for being – can also seem costly, especially to those of us who have gone all-in on doing. But in this case, the benefits greatly outweigh the costs. Just as our bodies stretch, adapt, and strengthen through the discomfort of physical therapy, if we can allow ourselves to feel into the discomfort of our feelings we can gradually become aware of our inner resilience and build up our ability to withstand, and even grow through, the discomfort and avoid the costly outcomes of avoiding the feelings themselves.

The resilience of individuals in the a team will also lead to resilience of the team itself. And it is important that the team is allowed to exercise their resilience. As leaders, we may subconsciously want to avoid seeing our team’s discomfort and invariably intervene too early. Being a “fix it” button for your team provides a short-term solution and quick relief, but robs them of their long-term development. To optimize conditions for growth, it is critical to allow others to feel discomfort and let them know it is safe to feel it. That means allowing them to have conflict amongst each other and resolve it on their own. Giving them the space to feel strong feelings and verbalize them. Or watching them struggle with a project until they have achieved mastery. It can be excruciating allowing your team to hurt in order to get stronger. Imagine their pride and celebration when they, as a resilient team, have turned the stretch to strength!