It’s time to rewrite our idea of failure, fear and constraints. In fact, avoiding them stands in the way of creativity, progress and ambition. Embrace discomfort, says Farrah Storr, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan and author of The Discomfort Zone. It might just be the start of something wonderful...
Four Ways To Embrace The Discomfort Zone by Farrah Storr
Failure. Constraint. Big, looming obstacles. Not the sort of stuff any of us wakes up and fantasises about filling our days with. But contrary to what we have been told – and perhaps what we have even told others, these are the very things that can make big, transformative differences to our lives. Not convinced? Allow me to explain.
Up until about five years ago, I was a creature of relative comfort. Perhaps you are too. After all, comfort is safe. It’s familiar. It’s like a warm, cashmere blanket on a January morning. But here is the other thing comfort is: deadening. It can stifle creativity. Blunt ambition. And, most crucially of all, stall personal momentum. But discomfort? It can do the very opposite. I learned this when I took over as editor-in-chief at Cosmopolitan, where I was charged with one thing: to turn the brand around. In just six months. Eighty per cent of my team walked out. Creative constraints abounded. In those first few weeks on the job I made more micro failures than I did successes. And yet, something remarkable happened. I started to think differently. I started to act braver. Constraint, the very thing I thought would limit my creativity, allowed me to expand it. (Being freed from the paralysis that comes with too much choice is a wonderful thing.)
Failure too, rather than being the self-esteem crushing set-back we have been told it is, allowed me to gain valuable insights into both myself and the situation in which I found myself. Through forcing myself into a brief period of discomfort (for pain is only ever transitory and far less uncomfortable than we think) I unlocked my true potential. But can discomfort do the same for others, I began to ask myself? Turns out it can, which is why I have spent the last three years writing about the life-enhancing effects of discomfort.
And here is what I found: not only is the human body and mind built to withstand difficulty, but here’s the best bit: it thrives off it. So here are four simple ways you can create brief moments of discomfort in your life and reap the transformative reward...
Whatever your personal project – an art masterpiece you’ve been meaning to do since 2001, getting that business idea off the ground – take out one thing. That could mean you shorten the time limit you give yourself by a week. Or use colours from only one side of the paint box. Sounds mad, I know. But enforced pressures in turn force you to think differently and more creatively. After all the Impressionists limited themselves to only using certain brushstrokes and colours and if it was good enough for them...
Most of us have something called ‘failure anxiety’ – a fear of ever trying anything new in case we fail at it. But by fearing the discomfort of falling short we miss huge opportunities for growth. And besides, if you’re trying something bold and radical, often there is no information to go off, so you need to plunge into the unknown whilst accepting there’s a high chance of failure. If you do fail, just ensure you analyse what went wrong. Ask yourself ‘Why’ several times. Write it down. Dissect it. Get comfortable with it. Then use that knowledge to move forward.
Hard truths about ourselves are…well, hard to swallow. After all, we’ve spent a lifetime constructing an idea of who we think we are. Feedback tells you the truth. Which is difficult, yes, but can also accelerate personal growth like nothing else. Seek out a ‘caring critic’, someone who knows you well and who is strong enough to tell you the truth. Agree a time every month and be specific. Simply saying: ‘I’d like some feedback on what I’m like under stress’ is too vague. Go into this with a clear idea of what you want to know. For example: ‘I feel I might lash out at others when I’m stressed – what do you think?’ Listen. Smile. Make it easy for them to tell you. And keep it up. Your discomfort will soon be surpassed by the sheer volume of information about yourself you unearth.
Sweaty palms, a rapidly beating heart, a stomach that feels like it’s doing a Triple Salchow – these are all a by-product of fear. But they’re also the same feelings we experience when we’re excited. Identify them as fear and you risk ‘freezing’– you know, that dreadful moment of total paralysis where you can’t think or move. Tell yourself you’re excited and challenged, and a whole host of magical things will start to happen within your body. Your blood vessels and lungs expand meaning you get more oxygen going to your brain meaning you can make smarter, sharper decisions in record time. It will feel like magic, but then that’s kind of what discomfort is.
And remember, if this all still sounds like a crazy leap too far, it’s worth reminding yourself that no single experience in life is sheer discomfort. Most of the things we’re really scared of are simply punctuated by brief moments of discomfort within them. Think of it like HIIT training – short, sharp shocks that deliver huge gains. You just have to take the first step out of your comfort zone and into your discomfort zone to feel those rewards.
The Discomfort Zone by Farah Storr is out now!