Next, we come to the practice of discomfort and all that it entails. By definition, anything that requires exercising self-discipline is uncomfortable. We’d rather not do it, otherwise it would be known as fun. This puts us in a quandary; sometimes there is nothing else we can do but suck it up and push forward, despite all the tactics and mindsets we’ve discussed in this book. At some point, we will have to be uncomfortable, and sometimes life is just a matter of how much discomfort you can stomach. Thus, we must practice it, and we will eventually grow immune to an extent. Practicing discomfort is like a vaccine against your impulses and weak moments. When you can slowly gain perspective that discomfort is not so bad and ultimately temporary, you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
Keep the words flowing by buying me a coffee.
How does one actually practice all this, though? What does it look like in day-to-day life to cultivate self-discipline?
As a first step, don’t dive into the deep end. Build up your confidence and your tolerance bit by bit. Perhaps you decide you’d like to stop mindless distractions like browsing online or looking at your phone constantly. Rather than throwing your phone in a lake and vowing to go offline completely, you instead ratchet up the discomfort slowly, giving yourself time to acknowledge and absorb the feeling of being able to manage. First, you decide not to keep your phone next to your bed. You notice the urge to have it anyway and notice feelings of boredom and the urge to grab it and get that easy dopamine hit.
You tell yourself, “I can do this. I’m in control. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable. I’m staying with this feeling of discomfort.”
And, lo and behold, you discover you can endure it. You make a habit of it. No arguing, justification, excuses, or avoidance. You simply acknowledge, “Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, I don’t like it. But that’s okay. I can do this.”
Next, you inch up the discomfort. You’ve done the hard work of starting and you’ve given yourself proof that you can indeed bear discomfort. Now, you can push it a little. Perhaps you decide to whittle your mindless phone scrolling to just an hour a day. It’s a small goal, but you achieve it. You feel proud of having done it. You may even notice that this pride feels better than the fleeting moment of entertainment or distraction you got from scrolling in the first place. You keep telling yourself, “I can do this.”
Keep going. Gradually push yourself out of your comfort zone. Notice when you’re pushing back against your decision. Sit quietly with your discomfort, whatever it looks like. It might take the form of anger or irritation. It might suddenly become very clever and try to convince you how unnecessary this all is and how you might as well cave because it doesn’t matter. It might get depressed at having to engage with an emotion it feels entitled to be free of.
Simply watch all this come, and watch it go. Feel the calm you have in the wake of successfully enduring all this discomfort. Isn’t it wonderful to know that you can stand calm and strong through the storm? Tell yourself, “It’s okay that I’m feeling discomfort. I’m in control. It will pass.”
Finally, you might start to notice interesting things happen the more you practice. Watch your discomfort and watch your growing and changing response to it. Are certain things getting easier? Are you becoming familiar with all your idiosyncratic ways of resisting discomfort internally? Say to yourself, “I am capable of sitting with discomfort and any other negative feelings that may pass. I’m watching with curiosity. I will stay here with myself and with the feeling. I can do this. I will not respond with avoidance or escape or resistance. I welcome the experience. I can do this.”
Of course, the other side of learning to tolerate discomfort is not just to endure negative feelings but to deliberately put off positive ones. Self-denial is the other side of the same self-discipline coin. Many addictive behaviors have their root in our inability to forego easy pleasure in the moment and bear the reality of the moment just as it is, right now.
Flex your self-discipline muscle by learning to say no to some of your impulses and urges. Train yourself to understand that you can act, even if you don’t feel like it, and you can turn down an action, even if you really feel like doing it. As above, give yourself the opportunity to notice the feeling of calm strength this gives you.
Skip eating that sweet treat you go for automatically. Turn off the TV after one episode and force yourself to stand up rather than get sucked into three more episodes. Bite your tongue rather than say something regrettable to someone. A little self-denial opens up a crucial window of opportunity in which you can pause and deliberate on your actions. Are they in line with your ultimate goals? Do you really need to do them? What would you gain by turning them down for once?
Self-restraint and presence of mind enhance your sense of empowerment and control. Rather than being reactive and unconscious in your habits, stop and sink into the feeling of not fulfilling every desire, not acting, not going the easy way, or abstaining. It’s a counterintuitive approach, but one that only yields greater and greater rewards the more it’s practiced.
Here is a brief passage from Meditations by the Roman emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius that illustrates what we lose by surrendering to discomfort (of which is no concern to him) and not taking steps toward what we want in life:
At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work—as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for—the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?
‘But it’s nicer here…’
So you were born to feel “nice”? Instead of doing things and experiencing them? Don’t you see the plants, the birds, the ants and spiders and bees going about their individual tasks, putting the world in order, as best they can? And you’re not willing to do your job as a human being? Why aren’t you running to do what your nature demands?
‘—But we have to sleep sometime…’
Agreed. But nature set a limit on that—as it did on eating and drinking. And you’re over the limit. You’ve had more than enough of that. But not of working. There you’re still below your quota. You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you. People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash or eat.”
Practical Self-Discipline: Become a Relentless Goal-Achieving and Temptation-Busting Machine (A Guide for Procrastinators, Slackers, and Couch Potatoes) By Peter Hollins
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Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition.
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For narration information visit Russell Newton at https://bit.ly/VoW-home
For production information visit Newton Media Group LLC at https://bit.ly/newtonmg
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