Anxiety Files

Simple and powerful techniques for coping with anxiety and worry.

Constructive Discomfort: How to do what you really don’t want to do

Constructive Discomfort

If you are like a lot of us, there are a number of things that you know you should do, but you simply can't get yourself to do them. You know you should exercise, you should cut down on calories, you should spend less time on Facebook, and you should save more of your meager income. You know you should call up that friend who left a message and you know you should take out the garbage-now. But there is a little voice in your little head that says, "I DON'T WANT TO".

 

I don't want to!!!!!

Your implicit rule for your life is, "If I don't want to do it, then I won't do it". Or, you might even take a position-on principle--- "I shouldn't have to do it". You take pride in your autonomy as your self-discipline has evaporated. You fold your arms across your chest in defiance and then wonder, "Why haven't I gotten anything done?"

OK. I could say, "GROW UP!" But that might sound a little less empathic than you would care for. So, I will put it in a different way: "If you only do what you want to do, then you won't get what you want to get." It's that simple.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

What is constructive discomfort? Well, think of it this way, my friend. It's really simple.

 

  1. What do you want?
  2. What do you have to do to get it?
  3. Are you willing to do it?

OK. Let's take most people. I want to lose ten pounds. What do I have to do? Eat less, exercise more. Am I willing to do it? Hmmmmmm.

You probably noticed, I didn't ask what you wanted to do, I didn't ask about your motivation, and I didn't ask you about what your mother said to you when you were five years old. Why? Because none of that is relevant.

What is relevant is setting goals, committing to behavior, and practicing discomfort.

Think about discomfort as a means to an end. It's a tool.

 

Building Mental Muscle


In my book, ANXIETY FREE: UNRAVEL YOUR FEARS BEFORE THEY UNRAVEL YOU, I ask you to think about discomfort as a means to an end.

Here are some simple exercises that you can do to build up your discomfort tolerance.

  1. Take a discomfort history---"What are some things you've done that were uncomfortable, but you did them anyway?"
  2. Relate discomfort to pride-"What have you felt proud about? Was there some discomfort involved?"
  3. Assign yourself some discomfort-"Keep track of things that you do that are uncomfortable. See if they are linked to getting things done."
  4. Recognize that discomfort is temporary-" All discomfort is temporary. It won't kill you. In fact, it will make you stronger. Dancers say, ‘It was a good work out. It hurt good.'"
  5. If you are not doing something that is uncomfortable every day, then you are not making progress.

You can use your discomfort as an investment-to do what needs to be done so you can get what you really want.

Practicing discomfort is like building mental muscle.

I asked a young man who graduated from West Point , "What is the most important thing that you got out of your training?" "Sir" (I liked that he said that). "Sir, I learned I was able to do things that I never thought I'd be able to do".

That's called self-discipline.

Discomfort is temporary. Pride is forever.

Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D., is the author of Anxiety Free,The Worry Cure and Beat the Blues. He is Clinical Professor of Psychology at Weill-Cornell Medical School. more...

Subscribe to Anxiety Files

Current Issue

Just Say It

When and how should we open up to loved ones?