Tolerating discomfort is a leadership trait.

It can feel like a paradox: the times when we grow the most and feel happiest often require that we experience discomfort. When I think about moments of greatest growth for leaders and teams I work with, or for myself, they almost always occur after we move through something and/or have an experience that’s hard, challenging, or uncomfortable.

An easy analogy is to consider what exercise does for us. We may drag our feet on going to the gym, getting out on a run, or taking a yoga class, and when we start, we might or likely to feel the discomfort of stiff joints and lazy muscles. We get out there despite this initial rough patch because we know that as we move through that we’ll find a greater feeling of well-being and comfort in ourselves on the other side, and we’ll reap those rewards. It seems that the act of stretching ourselves emotionally, mentally, and interpersonally also brings happiness and contentment in the long-term, but can feel very difficult in the short term.

It’s a risk–but what is the cost of staying comfortable, if we need to work through discomfort to get to happiness? 

Think about 2019—what brought you the most reward? Was there a sense of fear, worry, hesitation during some part of the process? Did you wonder if you could pull it off? 

Tolerating discomfort is a leadership trait, and a mental and emotional muscle that we can build over time. Some of our ability to tolerate it derives simply from the act of taking a risk, allowing discomfort, and finding that growth on the other side.

We can also get better at allowing those feelings of discomfort by paying close attention to them. Next time you are thinking about stretching yourself in the workplace, and you notice feelings of discomfort —self-doubt, worry, fear, nerves—you can ask yourself: 

What degree of discomfort I feel? 

Where is it coming from? 

What exactly is the worry, fear or discomfort I’m having? What am I afraid will happen? Is this something I’ve felt before?

What is in the way of taking the risk? 

If we can all find ways to tolerate more discomfort in 2020, we’ll feel more alive, more connected to those around us, and better able to accomplish something we really want to do. Can we all stretch together, and get through the discomfort? I believe it’s possible.

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