“I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.” —Brené Brown
There are a few things that I am certain of: we are born alone, we die alone, and I could eat rice pudding until I explode. Other than that, it’s all a crap shoot. The remarkable breadth of possibility in the world is met by an equally broad range of uncertainty. And so, in order to embrace a life filled with expansion and growth, we must also be able to sit with uncertainty and the discomfort of vulnerability it brings with it.
Here are 3 ways to increase your tolerance for discomfort:
1. Play with Your Edges
I had a boyfriend once who insisted, one night, that we sleep upside down in our bed—with our feet at the top, heads at the bottom. His point was that we would never forget that night. Many years and lovers later, I can confirm that he was right. But something else happened that night. We woke up.
By definition, habits are unconscious thoughts and actions. When we begin to dismantle habitual patterns, we awaken to our experiences with a heightened state of awareness. We usually embody this wakefulness across the board, bringing new perspective to many areas of our lives—a state of enlightenment.
Rather than wait to be passively woken up out of our sleepy habits by an accident, trauma, or other existential bump in the road, practice stretching the edges of your comfort zone when life is calm and peaceful. Actively creating insignificant changes for the purpose of sitting in discomfort, will help to develop the muscles you need when life takes you on a roller coaster unexpectedly.
Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand.
Forgo one of your go-to comfort foods for a month.
Drive a different route home from work for a week.
Read before bed instead of watching television.
Those of us who are parents know how important it is to teach our infants to self-soothe. It is an area in which many of us are still underdeveloped, even as adults. When we are emotionally uncomfortable, it is easy to act out in ways that ultimately will contribute to an increased state of discomfort and distress.
Choose a cup of hot tea, instead of a pint of ice cream.
Take a warm, candle lit bath, instead of opening a bottle of wine.
Read a book to escape perseverating over a situation, instead of calling a friend to vent about it into the night.
3. Delay Action
As a culture, we are conditioned to focus on Doing, and not so much on Being. When faced with challenging circumstances, we usually will find ourselves saying, “I don’t know what to do about this.” Very often, the doing is something that could—or even should—come later. A better statement of inquiry would be, “I don’t know how to be with this.” By resisting the urge to take action, we afford ourselves the room to sit with our thoughts and feelings. Give yourself permission to have your thoughts and feelings, but at the same time, realize that your thoughts and feelings do not define you. One of my favorite Pema Chödrön quotes is: “You are the sky. Everything else—it’s just the weather.”
Name your pain. Unpack it, spread it on the table, inventory it, write it down.
Sit with it and get to know it.
Draw distinctions between what you think and what you feel.
Breathe into the part of yourself that transcends “the weather”.