How To Use Uncomfortable Situations As Opportunities For Growth

In Mental Toughness
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Everyone’s heard the all the different sayings and cliches about stepping outside of our comfort zones to improve and expand our influence.

Anything we’re already good at, we’re comfortable with: we’ve been through it, have a reasonable expectation of what’s coming, and know we can handle it — because we’ve seen it before. To get better and expand our abilities, however, we’ll have to do some things that we’re not quite so comfortable with (yet).

The topic is how you can strategically leverage that very discomfort we feel when expanding our games — with a disclaimer that this does NOT mean that the discomfort won’t be there. It’s that you’ll be creating it yourself rather than having it thrust upon you unexpectedly.

When you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation (or even when you think back to one you’ve been through), ask yourself: Why did I feel uncomfortable? 

Why was I uncomfortable with what that person said to me?

Why was I uncomfortable when I walked into that room?

Why did I feel physically not-quite-ready for this situation that my trainer or coach or your opponent put me in?

Just asking yourself this question alone can be an uncomfortable situation in itself.

Unconsciously, we tend to bury uncomfortable experiences, so it may take some time and hard thinking for you to come up with an experience worth examining. But I’m sure you can dig something up.

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It’s imperative that you do, actually, because it’s the only way any of us ever expands: dealing with something that’s — at the time, at least — uncomfortable, until it isn’t anymore.

To do this, some people hire coaches or trainers, or have an “extra set of eyes” person whom you trust and respect enough that they can ask you questions and have conversations that may make you uncomfortable — and who don’t allow you to run away from these questions. Therapy is another example of having a person around us who forces us to reveal things not to them, but to ourselves.

What we reveal and learn about ourselves are the seeds for future development.

The only possible limitation: how far you’re willing to be honest with and about yourself.

We all lie to ourselves, all the time. We give it other names, but the fact is, the less honest we are with ourselves, the less potential we have for growth.

When you’re honest with yourself, you’ll be saying some form of the following:

I was unprepared for that situation-turned bad.

I admit, I was feeling kind of nervous even though I tried to look like I was confident.

I was fearful, even though I had on my brave face.

I was feeling kind of insecure then, even though I don’t even feel comfortable telling myself that I was insecure.

Discomfort happens because we are in some way, shape or form unprepared for what is happening.

This is not at all an indictment of your preparation; actually, it makes perfect sense.

In life we don’t always know what’s going to happen. If you always knew about everything before it happened, and exactly how it would happen, you’d lead a very boring life. Not knowing what’s happening next is a part of being alive. The unexpected is welcomed.

Sometimes that unexpectedness is fun and invigorating —

  • Dating someone new who you’re really into.
  • Riding a giant roller coaster at a theme park (well, for some people, that’s fun).
  • Not knowing what you’re getting for your birthday (when you can reasonably expect that you’re getting something)

Other times, we would have been perfectly fine without that unexpectedness interrupting our lives.

  • A car accident
  • A sick child who has to be picked up from school
  • A cancelled flight

Expecting the unexpected expands our abilities to handle what’s coming.

  • If I know that everyone is going to be looking at me when I walk in the room, I’m not uncomfortable or thrown off my game.
  • If I know that I’m going to get grilled on upcoming job interview, I’m not caught off guard when the questions begin.
  • If I know that this section of the crowd is going to be booing me and heckling me and trash talking me all game, I’m mentally prepared for it and not surprised when I hear it.

But… didn’t I just say that we can’t always be prepared for things???

Often, the luxury of being prepared is unavailable.

While we can prepare for the things that we know are coming (even if we don’t quite know the content of the situation), what about a situation that happens that we didn’t know was about to happen?

There’s nothing we can do about things we don’t see or anticipate. BUT… after we go through it, now it’s an experience under our belts. It’s part of your collection of experiences. Now, the next time that happens, you’re a seasoned vet to it. Next time, you can be prepared for it.

Your comfort zone experiences an expansion.

Disclaimer: You won’t become comfortable with a situation just by going through it.

You could go through the same situation over and over again and mess it up every time. Maybe you know this phenomena or have seen it occur.

Experience alone does not expand your comfort zone.

Analyzed experience expands your comfort zone.

Going right back to the point made earlier: asking yourself what happened here?, then having the discipline to supply honest answers (this is where coaches, trainers and mentors make themselves most useful).

  • Why was I uncomfortable here?
  • Why was I unprepared for this?
  • Why did I not know what I was doing?
  • Why did I not perform at the level that I expected to perform at?

For those without that extra set of eyes to guide you, a word of caution.

We are all a bit biased towards ourselves. We may not ask ourselves as pointed a question as somebody else would ask, simply because we’re emotionally attached to our own situations.

Beware of this inherent human weakness and address yourself as objectively as possible if you’re doing this alone.

You must be mature enough that you’re willing to either

  1. Ask and answer these questions yourself, or
  2. Trust another person enough that they can ask, and demand answers from you.

The more things you’re willing to address honestly, the larger the space you give yourself to grow into.

You may have heard the anecdote of growing a potato inside of a mason jar. The potato expands into the very shape of that jar, whatever its size, and grows no further than the size of the space it was given.

Give a potato a larger space — such as a potato grown outdoors, not contained by any jars — and it expands to its full potential, whatever that potential may be.

If you put your comfort zone in a small jar, too uncomfortable to ask yourself challenging questions, that small jar is the main limiting factor to your growth. The more things you’re willing to address, no matter how uncomfortable, the wider your potential.

In his rookie NBA season, Kobe Bryant shot three air balls late in a playoff game against the Utah Jazz. The Lakers lost the game, were eliminated from the playoffs that day, and the airballs from this teenager who’d skipped college to come to the NBA became the story of the game.

This kid isn’t ready for the big leagues.

As the story goes, when the Lakers landed in Los Angeles after that loss, Kobe didn’t even go home — he went straight to the gym to start working on his game for the next season.

Kobe analyzed why these airballs happened and came to the conclusion that he hadn’t  understood the rigors of an 82-game NBA season — and how much of a toll all those games would take on his legs. By the time the playoffs came around, Kobe figured, his legs were dead. Thus, the airballs.

Kobe’s solution was to work on his leg strength that offseason. Over twenty seasons, Kobe never shot three air balls down a stretch of another game. Had he been wrong in his diagnosis, he would have had the same opportunity to try a different solution.

The mistake a lot of people make in similar situations is to blame the circumstance or otherwise absolve themselves of responsibility, which leads to… suffering the same fate over and over again, never learning that everything begins and ends with them.

Kobe Bryant took that experience, where he’d been in an uncomfortable — and very public — situation, and analyzed it.

Why did this happen?

What can I do to fix it?

He came to a conclusion. He did something to fix the issue. It was never an issue again.

Kobe was willing to have the uncomfortable conversation with himself about why he had underperformed in a big moment. He settled on an answer , addressed the answer with disciplined effort, and the rest was history.

For Your Game

  1. When you find yourself in uncomfortable situations, ask yourself why you felt that way.
  2. Usually discomfort happens because we are unprepared for what is taking place, which, in some cases, is to be expected.
  3. Prepare ahead of time as best you can. Having the discipline to prepare expands your abilities to handle whatever comes your way. The more things you’re prepared for, the more things you’ll be able to handle.
  4. Knowing what’s coming is a luxury that we don’t always have; being prepared is not always an option. Life is sometimes unpredictable. Expand discomfort the first time you go through something, and…
  5. Less of it the next time — because now you’ve been through it. If you’re not better the second time around than you were the first time, perhaps you have not accurately assessed the first experience. Find a (new) solution.

#WorkOnYourGame

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