Volume 61: Lean Into Your Discomfort

Posted on 08/03/2011


Since I began working with high school students, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to inspire more critical thought.They have shown themselves to be stagnant when the answer or next move is not readily available – which I find disturbing. And what’s even more disturbing is that they seem perfectly content with allowing their belief and value systems to be molded and shaped by others who may not have their best interest at heart. Critical thought goes beyond the who, what, when, and where. Critical thought moves into the how and the why. And it is the answers to those questions that inspires growth. However, growth also has growing pains, and a natural tendency to want to move in the opposite direction. A classic example is the American political system. The country seems endlessly perched on the end of a pendulum – swinging back-and-forth from right to left. This tendency only retards growth and progress.

The next, and obvious, question is “How do we inspire critical thought and growth while at the same time reducing our tendency to resist change?” The answer (while not so obvious) is simple. We overcome our resistance to change by practicing critical thought, and by Leaning Into Our Discomfort.

Prep Work

Have you ever taken on a physical challenge, like running a race or playing a sport? How about the preparation it takes to get ready for a job interview? I don’t think that there is any endeavor we undertake that we don’t get prepared for – with one glaring exception: Change. Why is that? Fear? I don’t think so. I believe that we are resistant to change because we haven’t prepared for it. I don’t start a run without stretching. I don’t go for a job interview without learning about the position and company. How, then, would I be equipped to dive into change without preparing for it? It doesn’t make any sense; and yet, we prove our insanity by doing it over and over again. Change, as they say, is constant; therefore, change, large or small, must be prepared for appropriately.

Lean Back

Leaning into your discomfort is an effective way of preparing for change. It is a way of stretching the boundaries of our beliefs to be able to accommodate those (beliefs) that may be foreign to yours without overreacting or experiencing psychological distress. For example, I consider myself to be socially liberal, but personally conservative; so, in preparation for the 2000 elections, I began listening to, and watching conservative media outlets. I chose to do that to lean into the discomfort of the potential political change in this country. Doing that helped me adjust to the results without the knee-jerk reaction of hyperbole or (even worse) creating a political party as a response.

Tips for Leaning

As part of the evolution of Sillethoughts.com, each post will include some tips or information regarding the subject. I am, in a sense, helping you lean into the impending change of my blog site. Anyway, below are Five (5) Tips on Leaning into Your Discomfort.

1) Identify what makes you uncomfortable. Write down those things that make you uncomfortable. Write down everything – from the small to the large.

2) Engage those things on the list. Start with the smaller items first and engage them. It can be as simple as what I did by listening to media outlets that differed greatly from my own view. Just make sure that you proceed slowly. Remember, these things make you uncomfortable.

3) Explore the uncomfortable feeling. Many times we avoid things that make us uncomfortable before we truly understand how and why we are uncomfortable (aka, critical thinking). Take the time to fully appreciate the feeling so you can articulate what makes you uncomfortable. I found my arguments against conservative political policies to be more robust after my exercise.

4) Discuss the feeling with a like-minded and opposite-minded people. Once you have a good understanding of why you’re uncomfortable (through critical thinking), you should bounce your thoughts off of people on both sides of the equation. This allows you to check your thinking, fortify your argument, or possibly provide a new context that wasn’t readily apparent in your self-study. I found myself actually agreeing with some of the conservative arguments I was hearing. That agreement made it easier to think critically about proposed policies, because I wasn’t married to one particular philosophy.

5) Rinse and repeat. Leaning into your discomfort requires patience and practice. As previously stated, the natural human tendency is to reject those things that we consider foreign to our beliefs and/or experiences. You may still choose to reject some things; but now, at least you know why.


As I was writing this post, I began to think, “Would someone lose their passion for a topic/subject if they learned more about their opposition?” It’s a fair question. Fair, but shortsighted. Passion doesn’t have to be the victim. In fact, why do you have to lose anything? What you are gaining is a new perspective and you’re adding it to your own. What you are gaining is a healthy respect for the drive and passion on the other side of the equation. How can there be a loss in that? In my opinion, there is only one victim when we lean into our discomfort. That victim is ignorance.

That’s just my three cents…


“Peep my ver-na-cular cuz I don’t know how to act…”