The Uncomfortable Blog Post

6 minute read.

It is hu­man na­ture to avoid dis­com­fort. So much so that I be­lieve it might be the largest mo­ti­va­tor of your, my own and over­all hu­man be­hav­ior.

Yet, be­yond fear lies the rich­es of life and un­der­stand­ing fear there­fore comes with enor­mous val­ue.

Ini­tial­ly, I found hard to pin down what dis­com­fort is in the first place. Here’s what I came up with:

States of Discomfort

Dis­com­fort seems to ap­pear in three forms: phys­i­cal dis­com­fort, emo­tion­al dis­com­fort and fear.

Fear can be the so­cial fears, hence the fear of re­jec­tion or ex­clu­sion of “the tribe”, fear of dis­com­fort (fear of fear, fear of emo­tion­al dis­com­fort and fear of phys­i­cal dis­com­fort). Anx­i­ety as the fear of in­ad­e­qua­cy or fear of fail­ing, fear of dan­ger to one’s own life, fear of loss, or fear of be­ing wrong up to the fear of loss of world view. Fear of dan­ger or the un­known are very sim­i­lar to the fear of death.

Emo­tion­al dis­com­fort en­tails most­ly sad­ness and dis­ap­point­ments, feel­ing of loss and grief. Frus­tra­tion, hope­less­ness, dis­con­tent, dread and sim­i­lar emo­tions might fit in­to this cat­e­go­ry as well. Count fear it­self as an emo­tion­al state, then it’s a cy­cle.

Phys­i­cal dis­com­fort is any­thing from pain, itch­i­ness, nau­sea or weak­ness. Freez­ing, hunger and thirst are of­ten con­nect­ed to fear of death.

Discomfort Avoidance Strategy

With­out ef­forts to ac­tive­ly coun­ter­act it, we seem to be prone to avoid dis­com­fort. And it all con­dens­es down to one over­ar­ch­ing dis­com­fort: fear.

It su­per­sedes the oth­er’s as the fear of dis­com­fort caus­es us to avoid the dis­com­fort, a fear of dis­com­fort is ubiq­ui­tous and jus­ti­fied at all time, dis­com­fort is al­ways around the cor­ner. The on­ly way to avoid it is to veg­e­tate in a state of com­fort, a dis­trac­tion re­sult­ing in mo­men­tary ab­sence of fear, state of fo­cus, or dwelling in a sit­u­a­tion that you are so fa­mil­iar with that you do not ex­pect any dis­com­fort.

Fear is meant to help us sur­vive, orig­i­nat­ing from times where it was lit­er­al­ly a mat­ter of life or death to stick to the tribe, not get left be­hind, avoid sabre tooth tigers and not break an an­kle.

Nowa­days, fear of dis­com­fort most­ly leads to es­capism, a feel­ing of be­ing stuck in life and

Motivation to Overcome Fear

Back in those days, over­com­ing fear was re­ward­ed just as it is to­day: Go­ing out and risk­ing your life to hunt for the tribe will be re­ward­ed by those who are al­lowed to stay com­fort­able.

To­day, you will most cer­tain­ly be paid to do work that al­lows oth­ers to stay com­fort­able. The most ba­sic ex­am­ple I can come up with is clean­ing some­one’s house or main­tain­ing their Word­Press web­site, so they don’t have to :)

Ad­di­tion­al­ly, hu­mans got the re­ward sys­tem. Dopamine en­sures that we mo­men­tar­i­ly push out of com­fort to achieve an­oth­er lev­el of com­fort–or avoid greater dis­com­fort. This might be climb­ing a tree to reach fruit to avoid hunger or mo­men­tar­i­ly for­get about fears in a kick of sug­ar to get­ting that next free­lance pay­check or get­ting that job for the fi­nan­cial safe­ty that re­lieves…

Exaggerated Fear

… the fi­nan­cial and ex­is­ten­tial fears (a mod­ern form of fear of life). I once heard that peo­ple who are “hangry” lit­er­al­ly sub­con­scious­ly fear dy­ing of hunger.


What hap­pens if you don’t eat for the rest of the day… or all of next week? Ev­er thought of that? Prob­a­bly not, most of us don’t. But you can go 28 days with­out food and not die! Most of us just as­sume, taught by our up­bring­ing, that not eat­ing is bad and puts us in dan­ger, which might ex­plain our bad tem­per when din­ner is late.

In mod­ern so­ci­ety our pri­mal fears are strong­ly ex­ag­ger­at­ed, there is lit­tle that ac­tu­al­ly threat­ens our life and if we ask “what could go wrong?”, the an­swer is more of­ten than not “there’s a small chance we might ex­pe­ri­ence some mi­nor dis­com­fort”, yet our lim­bic sys­tem and amyg­dala re­spond as if we are about to jump off a cliff. Ev­er sent an im­por­tant email and felt that zing af­ter the brief hes­i­ta­tion to send it off?–Dear amyg­dala, is that adrenalin re­al­ly sav­ing my life here?

But the re­ac­tions of our lim­bic sys­tem can be–and of­ten are–over­rid­den by our frontal lobe, where log­i­cal think­ing al­lows us to con­scious­ly dis­re­gard the sig­nals of our body and in­stinc­tu­al fears to make con­trary de­ci­sions. 1

Dealing with Fear

Fear in mod­ern times is most­ly a mat­ter of per­spec­tive. And per­spec­tive can of­ten be gained by fol­low­ing through on as­sumed con­se­quences, weight­ing their like­li­hood and re­al­is­ing that some dis­com­fort does not harm any­one and does not ac­tu­al­ly mean you are go­ing to lose any­thing im­por­tant.

Back to the email, what if there was a spell­ing mis­take or what if some­thing sound­ed more harsh than in­tend­ed, what if you didn’t for­mu­late ev­ery­thing you want­ed the oth­er par­ty to know? Think of the re­sult­ing sit­u­a­tions and imag­ine what it would feel like. It seems all more dra­mat­ic at first and the un­like­ly un­com­fort­able con­ver­sa­tion due to some un­for­tu­nate mishap is bear­able.

So are cold, heat, hunger, sore­ness, fi­nan­cial in­se­cu­ri­ty in most cas­es–as in to the ex­tent the you can ex­pect in our mod­ern so­ci­ety. Most of us are for­tu­nate enough to have lit­tle more to fear than im­pris­on­ment, a loss of con­trol to ad­dic­tive sub­stances, and a few oth­er avoid­able se­ri­ous threats.

Fear will al­ways be there, but the things we do in spite of fear yield the most ful­fill­ing re­wards of life.

Some tools I can rec­om­mend for prac­tic­ing putting your con­scious­ness in­to a state of con­trol: “Willpow­er In­stinct” by Kel­ly Mc­Go­ni­gal, Med­i­ta­tion and the Wim Hoff method and cold show­ers.