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Become comfortable with being uncomfortable.

"Become comfortable with being uncomfortable.” I say this in every workshop I facilitate, and it always raises a few eyebrows. Trust me, I love getting comfortable. After a long day I kick my shoes off before I hop onto the couch, put my feet up and cozy up next to a fluffy old dog. Seeking comfort is a great way to unwind, to recharge, to save energy for the next battle ahead.

Comfort often comes from ease and familiarity. But sometimes comfort is damaging and can betray our intention to change for the better. That’s why we're beginning to see so many articles encouraging us to push past our comfort zone to the place where change can happen.

But that place past our comfort zone is scary, challenging, and just plain UNcomfortable. So why go there?

When I think about the value of discomfort, I am reminded of an experience with a workshop participant years ago. I was hired by an organization to provide a workshop with a group of organizers from across the country. In this workshop I facilitated a physical game that explored power dynamics.

At the end of the activity I asked participants to reflect on their experience. While other people reflected on lessons they were learning, I noted one particular participant was reluctant to engage in the dialogue. I noted the look of displeasure on her face and eventually asked for her feedback on the activity. As she talked she began to cry, explaining how uncomfortable the game made her. She didn’t like the game, plain and simple. I reminded her that she had had the option to step out of the game at any time, but she reflected that she truly didn’t believe she had a choice.

“But I hated it. Just hated it,” she said.

A year later I was brought back by the same organization to work again with a group of organizers. While most of the participants were brand new to me, this the same participant returned. As I prepared to facilitate the same activity to which she had such a strong reaction, I noted that she engaged fully and with enthusiasm. In the ensuing dialogue I asked her why she chose to play the game since she found it so uncomfortable the year before.

She noted that the in previous experience “I didn’t like the way it made me feel, but I have been thinking about that [activity] ever since. It changed the way I think about myself and what I do.” It helped her reframe how she thought about the world. Even though the activity made her uncomfortable, she was struck how it impacted her long after the workshop ended.

Discomfort is a valuable tool that shakes people out of their comfort zone and requires them to build different ways of thinking to navigate these new experiences.

It keeps people from staying firmly stuck in the status quo, and gives people the opportunity to create new pathways of learning.

Regarding another workshop, a different participant sent me the following email five months after a workshop she attended.

“I had so much fun, but what I find interesting is the one activity that I had the least fun participating in…is the one that made me think the most. I am still pondering the many lessons it taught me! I learned so much.”

The workshops I facilitate can often be uncomfortable, but that’s why they work. They provide people with effective foundational lessons. Rather than memorizing messaging bullet points or step-by-step how-to’s, participants craft new lenses through which they can view the world, and new models with which to analyze what they see. These have lasting impact, as they support the participants as they continue to rethink and relearn themselves and the world.

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