Resilient Leaders are Comfortable with Discomfort

In avoiding our discomfort we also decline the invitation to grow and engage in necessary and meaningful change. ~Kelly Barron

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

As I write this, I can think of numerous situations where clients are avoiding discomfort and consequently limiting their ability to become resilient. In some cases it’s become a way of being or the modus operandi. The issues are obvious. Tension due to one or two team members who aren’t willing to be vulnerable and consequently it stifles any sense of trust among the team. The discomfort keeping someone from being more assertive in expressing their ideas to their boss. Then there’s the discomfort of giving needed constructive feedback, so they just hope they’ll “get it” on their own and they won’t have to actually say anything. Or, the discomfort of having to continually pivot due to a global pandemic!

In some instances, I’ve seen these scenarios continue on for a significant period of time. Why do we put ourselves through this? Why do we avoid this discomfort with such determination hoping that in time it will either resolve on its own or simply go away?

We Don’t Like Feeling Discomfort

There are probably a number of reasons. The most obvious, we just don’t like feeling discomfort so we try to avoid it. We don’t like it so much that we’ll tolerate a lot of irritating discomfort until the situation turns into a crisis. A physician friend once told me that he can tell patients what they need to do to improve their health but most don’t change their current M.O. until the pain of staying the same exceeds the pain of getting better. The same is true in organizations. We’ll avoid addressing an issue or confronting a situation until the discomfort of avoiding it is greater than the discomfort of dealing with it.

Kelly Barron says, “Turning toward instead of away from discomfort begins with the ability to pay attention in a kind, open, and non-reactive way. And it means having the willingness to stay with the unease long enough so that it informs you.”

Steps to Accept your Discomfort and Become More Resilient

Next time you feel discomfort follow the steps below to observe, accept, and learn from your discomfort. Stay with it long enough so that it informs you.

  1. When you sense the discomfort, close your eyes and imagine that the discomfort is six feet in front of you. Imagine that for just a few minutes you are going to put that discomfort outside of yourself so you can look at it.
  2. Give the discomfort a form. What size is it? What shape is it? What color is it? Again, just watch it for a few moments and acknowledge it for what it is.
  3. Finally, reflect. Was there a change in your discomfort when you allowed yourself to get some distance from it? Did you have a different reaction to your discomfort when you gave it a specific size/shape/color? What did you learn from this feeling of discomfort? How did it inform you?

When you become more comfortable with discomfort, you will become more resilient. And when you are more resilient, you can lead with bold grace.

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