There are many ways we seek comfort in life. We can find it in a warm shower, a fuzzy cuddle with a cat, or a night on the couch with no obligations.
But according to a 2022 study published in Psychological Science, our desire for comfort could be holding us back when it comes to personal growth—and actively seeking out discomfort could help us achieve our goals.
Researchers conducted five experiments in which over 2,100 people were engaging in personal growth activities, such as taking improv (improvisation) classes, journaling about their emotions, or learning about COVID-19, gun violence, or opposing political viewpoints.
In each activity, researchers told some participants that their goal was to feel uncomfortable and awkward, nervous, anxious, or even upset. They were told to push past their comfort zone and know that feeling uncomfortable is a sign that the activity is working.
Ultimately, the researchers found that people who aimed to be uncomfortable were more engaged in their activities, felt more motivated to keep doing them, and believed they made more progress toward their goals compared to those who weren’t seeking out this kind of vulnerability.
For example, improv students spent more time in the spotlight on stage and did wackier things; journalers were more interested in writing another difficult, emotional diary entry in the future; and people were more motivated to read challenging but informative news articles.
“Growing is often uncomfortable; we found that embracing discomfort can be motivating,” write Woolley and Ayelet. “People should seek the discomfort inherent in growth as a sign of progress instead of avoiding it.”
Seeing discomfort as a sign of progress can be motivating, the researchers believe, because we often see awkwardness or fear as the opposite: a sign that there’s a problem and we’re not cut out for the activity.
This research goes to show that we might be judging normal human experiences like nervousness, stress, and discomfort too harshly. While our inclination might be to avoid them, we can become better people and live a richer life if we embrace them. END.
(Lim Sia Hoe)