Let Discomfort Be Your Compass to Growth

Written by on June 3, 2014 in Adaptability, Emotional Mastery

Let Discomfort be Your Compass to GrowthWhether we’re willing to admit it or not, most of us put a lot of work into ensuring that certain things in our lives remain constant … few surprises, no uncomfortable challenges or unfamiliar boundaries.

What we treat as our personal “comfort zone” is invisible, but nonetheless very real, and the longer we avoid the discomfort that may be required to grow the more difficult it will be to move beyond those boundaries . . . familiar places, people, and activities, even the habits we long to break.

The thing is, for better or worse, life has a way of throwing us off balance with unforeseen events – loss of a job, a death or illness in the family, an unexpected move or change in a significant relationship. It’s usually at these times we are confronted by the boundaries we’ve constructed in an effort to avoid discomfort, unfortunately making life transitions even more challenging.

Self-Awareness is the Key to Mastering Discomfort

Pushing back on the walls of your comfort zone is less about change than self-awareness, because if you really want to create meaningful growth you need to identify and then tackle the areas in your life you are most uncomfortable with.

Fortunately, once you become committed to the process it becomes surprisingly easy to identify areas in need of attention, it’s the action you repeatedly dodge, the conversation you keep putting off, the change you avoid … let your fears, uncertainties and areas of discomfort serve as your compasses. When you feel resistance, you’ve hit an area that needs work.

I am willing to put myself through anything; temporary pain or discomfort means nothing to me as long as I can see that the experience will take me to a new level. I am interested in the unknown, and the only path to the unknown is through breaking barriers. ~Diana Nyad

Confronting Your Areas of Discomfort

By its very nature, this process will be unique to each person, but following are a few ideas to help you begin thinking about your own areas of discomfort.

  • You’re uncomfortable trying new things: Go back to school, take a class, learn a foreign language; take up an instrument or a new sport. Any of these activities will allow you to expand your knowledge and overcome discomfort in a rewarding yet unthreatening way because you’ll be surrounded by other people who are also learning something new.
  • You’re uncomfortable asking for help: This is a big issue for many people, and I count myself in that group. We all need help from time to time, and believe it or not, most people actually enjoy being able to lend a helping hand. Start with something that’s easy for you – like asking for a recipe, or a recommendation for a restaurant.
  • You’re uncomfortable speaking up: If you cringe at the thought of public speaking, networking or simply joining a group, Toastmasters is a great way to break down barriers in a comfortable and supportive environment. The groups are small, almost always people who live and work in the area, and they go out of their way to welcome guests and new members. If this feels like too big a step, or there are no groups in your area, you could take a class or better yet volunteer.
  • You’re uncomfortable with confrontations: This is a tough one for many people and worth addressing on its own in a separate article, but here are the basics. Define the problem – separate the practical issues from your emotions and practice stating the issue without blaming the other person. While this will take some time to master, if you will undertake small but earnest steps to learn to voice your opinions and concerns you will become more comfortable and less intimidated by confrontations.
  • You’re uncomfortable letting go: For many people relinquishing control can feel downright painful. One very powerful way to tackle this area of discomfort is to learn to delegate and as an added bonus there’s no question this is a skill that’s critical to business success and a healthy work-life balance.
All discomfort comes from suppressing your true identity. ~Bryant Mcgill

While these strategies are very specific, there are many general things you can do to continue pushing back your areas of discomfort. For example I’m an avid reader so one of my favorite personal challenges is to read about topics or issues I disagree with to expand my knowledge, understanding and tolerance; I also look for opportunities to read books in genres I might normally never consider in order to discover new authors and ways of thinking.

Once you are aware of your areas of discomfort you can slowly continue to push back those walls with new and greater challenges. In the beginning, each new experience may seem daunting to you, but the more diligent you are the more confident and resilient you will become over time.



Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.


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  1. Melanie Young

    Let me start off by saying that this is a great post. I faced a lot of those situations that you had listed in the post. Some things were easy to work past others, I’m still struggling with in adulthood. One of my biggest problems today is dealing with confrontation. However I believe that the universe has been forcing me to face that hang up lately.

    All I can say at this point it is a good thing. How I learn to handle it can better equip me to teach my daughter when she runs into a confrontational situation. She’s only 5, so she has a lot of experience to gain still.
    Melanie Young recently posted…Here Come The Pink TuTu’sMy Profile

    • martyherald says:

      Welcome back Melanie, I’m so pleased you enjoyed the article. I’ve read some of your stories so I can appreciate how much you’ve grown and I thank you for taking the time to share your insights and contribute to the conversation!

  2. Absolutely. When I feel resistance to something, I know I need to work on it. My most challenging area is speaking/networking. HUGE resistance there! I’ve looked at Toastmasters groups and other groups, but haven’t taken that step yet. I love the quote you shared: “I am willing to put myself through anything; temporary pain or discomfort means nothing to me as long as I can see that the experience will take me to a new level.” Focusing on the new level it’ll take me to does help.
    Leanne Chesser recently posted…Are You Tired of the Word Authenticity?My Profile

    • martyherald says:

      Thanks for stopping by Leanne! I’d like to encourage you to take the next step and give Toastmasters a try. On top of being a “extreme” Introvert, I grew up in a family plagued by substance abuse so as a young adult I was very closed off and the thought of speaking in public was horrifying. I was kind of tricked into making a short presentation at a convention and once I got beyond the initial feeling of wanting to vomit, I did okay. That was the catalyst that caused me to give Toastmasters a try and it literally changed my life because 5 years later I was making my living training and public speaking! You just never know until you give it a try. 🙂

  3. Many years ago, when my husband was entering his first pastorate, I asked him not to tell anyone I play the piano, because in reality, I only “played around” by ear. But someone had already told them, so I had no choice but to be up there every Sunday, playing.

    My repertoire that first Sunday was 4 hymns that could be sung in a key that wasn’t too high or too low. Talk about getting out of my comfort zone! Not only did I need to learn a whole raft of new hymns, but I had to learn not to stop playing for any reason, and to recover myself as quickly as possible if I hit a snag. AND I had to learn to play an introduction and conclusion to each piece.

    I survived by taking it a day at a time, one hymn at a time. Thankfully the congregation was small, and relatively easy to please.

    Now to apply those same steps, with the help of the valuable insights you have shared with us, to reach the goals I have now…
    Willena Flewelling recently posted…Randy Gage – Why You Tell Your StoryMy Profile

  4. Andrew Walton

    I find another good way to overcome discomfort is to pay attention to my body and ignore my mind. In most situations, the fear is in the words running through our heads, and cutting them off lets us act with intent.
    Andrew Walton recently posted…Top 15 Personal Development Blogs By WomenMy Profile

    • martyherald says:

      Welcome Andrew and thanks for taking the time to contribute to the conversation. Good point about paying attention to your body, of course your body is actually reacting to your thoughts so technically it’s all connected – that fight/flight thing that we humans have experienced she we first showed up here. 🙂

  5. Greeting M.
    I love being one who has a challenge each day. I will never worry about my discomfort. You have enlighten this reader. Knowing that others face the same challenges. Makes one feel less stressed of the end results.

    I will always be one who struggles with letting things go. Not, hard times or emotional situations I allowed others to get to me. No, it will and always has been, loss. The loss of a loved one, is my challenge. I find myself unwilling to let go. Yet, they all live through me. I do move on.

    Thanks M. You have been a light at the end of my tunnels.
    William Earl Amis Jr III recently posted…Coming, to a new Understanding.My Profile

  6. donna merrill

    Hi Marquita,

    I’ve been pushing those walls for years. But I still have work to do. I happen to be uncomfortable asking for help. I guess it is because I’m always the “helper” and need to start asking for help.

    O.K. It’s a deal. I just identified one of those walls that could keep me boxed in and I don’t like that feeling. Therefore, I will take your advice and get on it TODAY. Not tomorrow..

    I think I will start by the example you have given and pick up the phone and ask my friend for a recipe. That seems like something I can do. From there, I can keep this in my mindset and work on it at least once a day.

    Thanks a million!

    donna merrill recently posted…Taking Time For Your SelfMy Profile

    • martyherald says:

      Hey Donna, well I’m not surprised at all that you would be actively involved in expanding your boundaries. I can honestly say I hope I’m never done pushing those walls because that sounds just a little too much like death. One of my s-heroes kept pushing her boundaries till she left us at 105 and I sincerely hope I can emulate her inspiring example. 🙂

  7. Dave

    I guess it’s called a comfort zone for a reason. We really don’t have the impetus to leave it barring some extenuating circumstance. I don’t know how many times I have heard someone lose a job and state that it was the best thing that ever happened to them. Despite the pain and challenges associated with this forced exit from your comfort zone, it often seems to take an external circumstance to do so.

    I sincerely like your list of recommendations. The one that headlines your list probably has the biggest impact for me. Trying new things loosens me up, gives me confidence to tackle many of the other challenges on the list (of which I am offenders also).

    I think I have to remember that sometimes we need to dive into the depths of discomfort all at once. But, sometimes we just need to dip our toes in the water and the rest of the body realizes that it’s not as bad as we thought it was going to be 😉
    Dave recently posted…Mindful heartMy Profile

    • martyherald says:

      Always enjoy your thoughtful insights Dave. And just to add to your range of experiences, let me be the first to share with you that I was fired from a job – and I can honestly say it was the best thing that ever happened to me! I was fired because I spoke up for an employee who was being treated badly by a supervisor. The owner of the company told me he knew the guy wasn’t a great manager, but he could control him – but he obviously could not control me. I was stunned – not because he fired me, but because he condoned the bad behavior. Long story short, I went on to get a MUCH better job and felt good about myself for standing up for my beliefs.

  8. Hi Marquita,

    I can’t agree more with you that we have to step out of our comfort zone to experience new paths and meet new people, who may help us fight our inhibitions but that first step, that nudge, which we long for…as if somebody would come and usher us into that new world we have been longing to see…is the real challenge!

    There is something in the comfort zone, which keeps us shackled…may be the situations, the circumstances or people who expect us to remain tied…how to overcome that? How to break those chains?
    Balroop Singh recently posted…Have you felt the Emotional and Therapeutic Appeal of Music?My Profile

    • martyherald says:

      Glad you enjoyed the article Balroop and of course you’re right about that internal struggle, but then that’s the whole point of doing the work to expand one’s comfort zone. My personal philosophy on this subject can best be described by sharing my motto which also happens to be my personal theme song I often play when I’m working on a project – “How Bad Do You Want It?” by Tim McGraw. The key to achieving our dreams inevitably boils down to the answer to that one question. The harsh truth is, as long as we’re focused on the ‘buts’ we really don’t want it badly enough – yet.

  9. Marquita,

    What a very insightful post. I remember early in life I was pretty shy and hated speaking in front of big crowds. When I joined the military I was mentored and taught how to face my discomforts head on and over time I began to love speaking in front of others. I totally agree it is important we recognize our areas of discomfort and face those challenges head on, because as you mentioned life has a way of throwing us in positions to face our discomforts anyway. Thanks for sharing.
    Nathaniel Kidd recently posted…Frugal Living Tips to Save on Pet SuppliesMy Profile

    • martyherald says:

      Welcome Nathanial! I’m glad you enjoyed the article. While I’ve never been in the military myself, I have no doubt there are many opportunities to learn and grow. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. 🙂

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