After graduate school I challenged myself to overcome a terrible anxiety of swimming. This was a necessity since it was directly related to another personal goal of completing an open water triathlon.
With good fortune I stumbled upon Tracy, perhaps the best swim coach an anxiety plagued man in his 30s could ask for. Over the course of two years I went from experiencing severe anxiety attacks in the shallow end to completing open water triathlons. As I reflect back upon those years I recognized ten benefits of being uncomfortable.
1. You are able to practice being present. My mind was everywhere except in the water when I started. My body knew it could easily drown so my mind raced elsewhere. Needless to say such an approach prohibited my ability to make progress and it took months for me to get present in the water.
2. You learn how to manage fear. I was afraid of drowning. There was no question in my mind. I literally had not one once of water safety or swimming ability. So fear was a huge factor. By being present and enjoying the challenge I could leverage both in manage my fear.
3. You recognize that progress is small. My ultimate goal was to swim a half-mile in open water. I fully realized that such a feat would take a tremendous amount of practice. Taking baby steps was my only option. Luckily Tracy understood, better than I did, that progress was going to come one small stroke at a time.
4. You understand that anything is possible. I had absolutely zero confidence in my ability to swim when I started. None. But I always believed that I could succeed. Successful people may initially lack confidence in a task but they almost always believe they will figure out a way to succeed.
5. You get to kick your own ass. Getting uncomfortable allows you to demonstrate by example your initiative to kick your own ass instead of waiting for someone else to do it. By that point it’s usually too late in life. Self-aware people know when it’s time to shake things up in their life.
6. You break up the routine. Life is often a series of routines followed by other routines. Ultimately you will have to decide just how much predictability you want to have in your life. Getting uncomfortable allows you to break up the routine and challenges you to work through new situations.
7. You work on your listening skills. I had to work hard at listening to Tracy while managing my fear of being in the water. I asked her one question after another and listened to her responses with great intention on figuring out how to translate what she said into reality.
8. You find perspective in life. I understood that learning how to swim would not make me a better person. Nor would completing triathlons. Getting uncomfortable provides you with a fresh perspective on life as you venture down uncharted territory.
9. You focus your efforts. Despite everything else that is going on around you getting uncomfortable with a certain task helps you focus your effort. You may rush through the task at first but over time you will be able to relax and focus your efforts with greater depth.
10. You are humbled. After several months of progress Tracy took me to a pool with a diving board and deep end. As I sat on the diving board and figured out a way to jump in, Tracy was on the other end and informed me that she had all day so it was up to me to get in the pool sooner or later. All the while children are jumping in the deep end like it was second nature. Nothing like children to teach an adult a little humility.
Most of life makes up uncomfortable. The more you can practice being comfortable while uncomfortable the greater your ability to leverage it in the future as you work towards living a life of intention and working with purpose.