“Talking to a Stranger? Why? No Thanks.”
That would have been me just a few months ago. Growing up in a culture where we don’t even look each other in the eyes when making conversations, I’ll shake my head a million times if you wanted me to approach a stranger. It’s just out of my reach. No freaking way.
1. Discomfort expands your comfort zone
Having started this blog, I need to hold myself accountable to keep growing. So before I get on my flight from Portland to San Jose, I gave myself a mission to initiate a conversation with a stranger before landing.
Though a few seconds later, I regretted it. I started stressing out about this uncomfortable thing that I have to do.
On the flight, there was a guy in his 70s sitting on my left and a male in his 40s sitting on my right. So many thoughts were running through my head. What should I talk about and how should I say it?
The guy to my right has his headphones on, so I wasn’t going to try to interrupt. So, I’ve decided to approach this elder gentleman on my left.
As the clock ticks, I was getting more nervous and stressed. Out the window of the plane, I can see the vehicles are moving like ants and the neighborhoods look like a bunch of squares. I will be missing my window of opportunity if I wait any longer. But, how do I strike a conversation? I have rarely done this.
I thought I could mention the weather because that’s what everyone does when they’re waiting for people to join the meeting. It either turned out to be alright or awkward. But, it’s something.
Do I say “It looks very nice out, better than Portland.”, or “I hope the weather here is better than Portland.”, or “Looks like it’s an exciting time to be around in this city.” My brain was formulating all these different variations to determine which one would make me sound less awkward.
I hear a voice inside my head telling me: “Now!”, and another saying “Wait, he’s not looking at you.” Then I finally spit out something, which I don’t even remember what I said.
He smiled and nodded.
I then quickly followed up asking whether he was visiting or coming back home. Then it led to a conversation about where he’s originally from, how long has he lived in the city, where did he work, and many more.
When we were about to part ways, he said: “The company (Intel) is very lucky to have you.” I wasn’t sure what he meant. The old me would say “I hope that’s true!”. Knowing that is my weakness, which is the inability to receive compliments well, I’m learning to fully accept them when they come my way. So I said: “Thank you.”
The idea of talking to a stranger made me really uncomfortable and stressed.
But the outcome of doing so?
It made my day. My confidence grew. My comfort zone expanded.
2. Discomfort builds tolerance for uncomfortable situations
You’ll have a higher tolerance for uncomfortable situations and will be able to handle them more gracefully.
Peter McWilliams once said, “Comfort zones are most often expanded through discomfort.”
Prior to talking to the stranger, I was in my little comfortable bubble. But after I did that, my comfort zone expanded.
If I keep expanding and growing my bubble, it will become so big that eventually, nothing will make me feel uncomfortable. It’s like building up your tolerance for discomfort. You’ll have a higher tolerance for uncomfortable situations and will be able to handle them more gracefully.
I don’t have to start off by talking to 5 people right away. I know if I keep talking to 1 person at a time, eventually 5 people will be easy-peezy.
If your goal is to lift 25 pounds while your limit is at 10, you’ll have to slowly work your way up to 15, then 20, and so on, until you hit that 25 pounds goal. And from that point, you would keep pushing and set new goals.
To many, talking to a stranger may sound natural and easy. But it doesn’t matter as long as that is something I’m not comfortable doing. Everyone has their own experiences, never compare your level of discomfort to others. They are not comparable.
3. Discomfort is a catalyst for growth
Commitment to growth + Repetition = Mastery
In order to stretch and grow, you need to learn to be comfortable with discomfort. Yes, it is learnable. If you’re committed to learning and seeking out discomfort, over time you will acquire the skill to master almost anything you want. Discomfort is a catalyst for growth.
If you want to gain muscles, you wouldn’t get any if you just watch Netflix comfortably at home. Guess how did Muhammad Ali become a boxing legend?
How to Embrace Discomfort
- Be aware when you’re feeling uncomfortable and acknowledge it.
- Allow yourself to be ok with the discomfort.
- Identify the source of discomfort and make a conscious decision to face it.
- Instead of focusing on the discomfort and the feeling of unease, picture yourself growing your comfort. zone when you master that particular discomfort.
Disclaimer: Seek out discomfort does not mean hurting anyone or performing any illegal activities. Please do only the things that produce positive outcomes.
Now, if you’re convinced that seeking discomfort will help you grow, what’s left is taking action.
Things you can do now to embrace discomfort
Write down 1 thing you would like to try but are always hesitant of doing. Some ideas:
- Speak up in a meeting
- Start a conversation with a stranger
- Wake up early in the morning
- Dine in a restaurant alone
- Do a solo trip/drive to somewhere you’ve never been
- Sign up for a presentation for your team
- Give a speech in class/at work
- Propose a toast for any celebration or family gathering
- Have a heart-to-heart conversation with whomever you’ve been trying to avoid or not comfortable facing
- Smile at a stranger
- Hangout with someone one-on-one or a large group (depends which one you’re not comfortable)
- Pick up a new hobby
- Lead a project
Then, make a plan to do these things. I would recommend once a week. If the schedule is an issue or this is just too intimidating for you, that’s totally ok. Make it a bi-weekly or even a monthly mission.
However, you MUST be consistent with these challenges in order to truly see changes and results.
How to commit to doing uncomfortable things
1. Use the word “will” and ask others to hold you accountable
If you decided that doing a solo trip is something you’re uncomfortable with and would like to do it, tell yourself: “I will go to (this place) on (this day) at (this time).” Tell your friends, tell your family.
Ask yourself: “What is one uncomfortable thing I will commit to doing today/this week/this month?”, and say: “I will (do this) at (this time).” Throw in your favorite snacks or junk food as a reward if you accomplished your mission! Well, please don’t finish the entire bag of chips.
Make sure you actually say it out loud and the word “will” is key to affirming the challenge and holding yourself accountable.
2. Create a victory log
Record all the things you’ve committed to doing. Put a smiley face after you have done it. Write down how you were feeling before and how you felt after.
If you didn’t get to do it for whatever reason, don’t beat yourself up. This isn’t easy and you have already taken a big leap by just having the intention to do so.
Just commit to trying again. Reflect on the reason you didn’t do it. Was it inevitable? Or was it an excuse? How would you overcome the obstacles?
As you consistently do these little uncomfortable things, you will begin to see extraordinary results. Your confidence will increase so much that it will take a lot more to shake you. If you couldn’t see it yourself, ask those around you, they’re the best blindspot detectors!
This is a slow process, it’s a marathon, be kind and patient with yourself.
As James Clear mentioned in his book Atomic Habits, “If you get 1% better each day for one year, you’ll end up 37 times better by the time you’re done.”
If you want a change, you need to first believe it can be done and commit. Then, make sure you’re being consistent with them to truly see some remarkable results.
To constantly grow and push our boundaries, we need to learn to be ok with feeling uncomfortable. Mastering the feeling of discomfort will allow us to conquer any challenges as we slowly build up our tolerance for unexpected or uncomfortable situations.
If you’ve been thinking “life is good” for a while, maybe it’s time for you to try new things and seek out discomfort so that you can keep growing to be 1% better than yesterday.
Steps to grow through discomfort:
- Write down 1 thing you’ve always wanted to do but are hesitant of doing.
- Create a plan (can be as simple as marking your calendar) to do it and define the following:
- Where (if applicable)
- With whom
Example: I will visit the museum by myself this upcoming Saturday at 2 PM.
3. Make it a non-negotiable priority. Schedule everything else around it. Tell your friend/family, mark your calendar.
4. Record it in your victory log with the following reflection:
- How were you feeling before you do it?
- How did you feel after?
5. Tell yourself “Good job” and enjoy your favorite junk food.
6. Rinse and repeat.
Food for Thought
- Are you committed to continuous improvement? If so, how are you currently doing that? What could you do more?
- What is one thing that you’ve always felt uncomfortable doing, but now comes naturally to you after you consistently pushed yourself? How do you feel about such improvement?
- If you want us to hold you accountable, comment below on the uncomfortable things that you’re committing to doing! 🙂