In this post, we’ll unpack the science behind why, no matter what skill you want to develop ― whether it be mental, emotional, physical or spiritual ― discomfort is the prerequisite to growth.
Familiarity Versus Unfamiliarity
To understand why discomfort is the prerequisite to growth, we must first understand how the brain functions.
Your brain is ultimately designed to keep you alive. So it does two things; it predicts and it protects. It predicts what’s going to happen in your environment (based on past experiences) and then it initiates behaviours to protect you.
Consequently, your brain loves familiarity (the known) because it can better predict the future and better enhance your survival and it hates unfamiliarity (the unknown) because it can’t better predict the future and better enhance your survival.
Expanding Your Boundaries
Growth requires you to expand your current boundaries ― either mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually ― by moving beyond them.
When you step outside your current boundaries, you’re stepping into the unfamiliar.
Thus, your brain can’t predict what’s going to happen so it creates a biochemical reaction in your body that we call “discomfort” to encourage you to retreat back to the comfort of the familiar. Hence why whenever you do something for the first time, you feel a sense of unease.
“You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety.” — Abraham Maslow
Moving From Discomfort To Comfort ― Why Discomfort Is The Prerequisite To Growth
Inaction amplifies anxiety. Action alleviates anxiety.
Therefore, the key to growth when mastering any new skill ― whether it be mental, emotional, physical or spiritual ― is to remain in the unfamiliar until it becomes familiar.
The more familiar something becomes, the more your brain understands it’s not a threat to your survival until it’s no longer necessary to create feelings of discomfort. As a result, you move from discomfort to comfort. This is why discomfort is the prerequisite to growth.
“Growth begins where your comfort zone ends.”
The brain is ultimately designed to keep you alive and so it likes familiarity and hates unfamiliarity. However, the more familiar something begins, the more your brain recognises it’s not a threat.
Therefore, in order to maximise growth in any domain, you must embrace the discomfort of the unfamiliar until it inevitably becomes familiar and comfortable.
In other words, discomfort is the prerequisite to growth.