(Estimated reading time 3 minutes)
Scrolling through social media recently had me falling hard down a deeply uncomfortable hole. A friend had posted something quite vague on Facebook, and although she wasn’t specific, I immediately felt like the post was about me. It was not a good feeling. I made up all kinds of stories about people being annoyed by me and talking behind my back. I just want to be clear – my stories were not based on any sort of hard evidence. I spent a good part of my day thinking alternatively of ways to defend myself or run and hide. I was ultimately tempted to just stop everything I’m doing on social media. Thankfully I was alone that day. It wasn’t pretty or pleasant.
My current personal development project is to let my discomfort speak. The idea is that whenever I feel uncomfortable, I will allow the discomfort to inform me in some way. Some of this is obvious stuff like when I’m cold, I put on a sweater, but mostly what I’m finding out is that discomfort has some unexpected things to say.
Interrupting the Cycle
It has been challenging to learn to halt my automatic soothing processes, mostly because I wouldn’t notice I was doing it until after I felt better. Once the discomfort is gone, its voice gets much harder to hear. I decided, at the recommendation of my friend and coach, Gail Barker, to place sticky notes in all the areas I might use to soothe myself. The notes I use are blank. Seeing them is enough to interrupt the cycle. It stops me long enough to remind me to let my discomfort speak. I write down whatever I discover and then (if I want to) I can go back to binge-watching Netflix, eating that cookie or whatever. What I’ve found is that I often don’t need to do that after I have acknowledged my discomfort and let it inform me. The need to soothe often dissipates.
There’s an art to this, and like anything, it takes practice. What at first looks like one thing can actually also be about something else. It’s relatively easy to go for the low-hanging fruit (what it first appears to be). In my social media example, the low hanging fruit was that I want people to like me, I don’t like conflict, and I don’t like people talking behind my back. Reaching for the fruit at the top of the tree means sitting a little longer in the discomfort and listening a little closer. I ask myself what else it could be about, what the discomfort is telling me about what I need or what action to take. The sweet fruit I found from the top of the tree in my social media example was this: One of my core values is caring about and serving others. I realized that might not be evident in my social media posts. My discomfort shouted, “I want people to like me” and it whispered, “Find a way to honour your values – even online.”
There are lots of other unexpected things my discomfort has taught me, including that I often let go of my own agenda, needs and plans in favour of someone else’s. This makes me resentful. I’ve realized that I need to take a minute before immediately agreeing to someone else’s request for my time. By taking a minute, I’m not being unhelpful or uncaring. I’m being intentional and using my time wisely.
Making you feel bad is not discomfort’s only role, it is also there to inform you. Listen to it before you try to soothe it away.
Sue Das, Courage Coach, CPCC,ACC , B Soc Sc (SW)