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Overcoming the Discomfort of Change

Overcoming the Discomfort of Change

by Spencer Lee, MSW Intern

Humans are wired to do what feels good, even when it may not be good for us. One of the good feelings we strive for is comfort – an absence of unpleasant feelings. We do so many things, even on a subconscious level to evade discomfort that it can come in between what we really want in life. How many times have you stayed quiet to avoid the discomfort of an argument? Do you find yourself doing more than necessary at work to please others? Do you stay in an unhealthy relationship because it’s better than the unknown of being single? Do you avoid going out because you know you’ll feel anxious?


Our bodies are trained to take the path of least resistance. The problem is that sometimes we need to make healthy changes that require discomfort, but making that change seems near impossible. So how do we change? How can you do uncomfortable things that you need to when you really don’t want to? There are three things we can do to start making choices that reflect what we want in life.


The first step to take is to recognize your values. Take some time to consider what values are important to you and how you want your actions to reflect those values. Let’s say you value honesty. Then you may decide you’d like to be more honest with others, even when it may be difficult at times. Maybe you value education and you want to invest more in learning. This step of bringing our values to light and thinking about value-based actions helps give us some direction. It is much easier to make changes in life when you have a clear idea of what the change should be.


The second step is to set boundaries. Oftentimes sticking to boundaries provokes anxiety so it becomes easier to fall back on them. Boundaries can be set with others or set boundaries with ourselves. Setting boundaries with others may look like saying no to picking up a shift at work when you already have plans. Boundaries for ourselves may look like ending a friendship/relationship or having an honest discussion when you are not being respected. Your boundaries are your decision. If you find yourself at a loss, revisit your values and decide on what boundaries can allow you to engage in value-based actions.


 Finally, we have to practice sitting in our discomfort so that we can overcome it. The most important thing to remember here is that the behavior will precede the feeling. If we waited to do things only when it felt good, comfortable, or right, the chances of us making a change would be rather slim. It can feel overwhelming to have tough conversations, try something new, or stand by our boundaries. The process of “just doing it” or “faking it until you make it” works by retraining our bodies. When you get used to being comfortable, discomfort can feel alarming to the body. However, the body has to be given the chance to regulate emotions and realize “This may not be great, but I’m okay and can keep going”. So, you have to first be uncomfortable, and then the more you do the behavior, the easier it becomes.


Here’s an exercise that can get you started. Choose a small activity that causes slight discomfort. As you feel discomfort arise, just notice it. You don’t have to work on making it more or less present, nor do you have to analyze the thoughts associated with the feeling. Just realize the feeling is there and remind yourself that you are safe. If the feeling becomes overwhelming, take a few deep breaths. You can practice a relaxation technique by noticing 5 things you see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you hear, 2 things you smell, and 1 thing you can taste. Bring all of your attention to the sensations and notice as many details as possible. Once you feel calm, return to the activity.


Change is not easy and sometimes appears like more work than it is worth. However, living through value-based actions and being authentic through maintaining our desired boundaries can be freeing. There is a huge sense of pride and relief that accompanies accomplishing change, especially when it is difficult to overcome. Change is a process that requires time and effort. Give yourself grace. And remember, it will feel unpleasant at first but it will get better!