Discomfort and danger ask dr g
Written by Doctor G

What IS the difference between discomfort and danger?

Last week I asked you how you tell the difference between discomfort and danger in your life. And wow did you deliver!

The majority of responses discussed a “gut feeling” or “checking in with myself.”  The message I got from this is that you feel like, if you stop and ask yourself the question you usually do know the answer. And I agree – YOU are the expert in you. Most situations, challenges, changes are a known enough quantity that you have the information you need to decide if this is uncomfortable but possible to navigate – an opportunity for growth – or a danger and it’s time to find a way to avoid the situation.

Some people said they rely on a trusted friend or mentor when the discomfort is big and they feel like they just want to run away but don’t know if that’s reasonable.

And a few people use the possibility of danger in a really useful way. In these examples, they told me that they don’t think “Danger – Bad – Must Leave.” Rather they think “Danger – Risky – Need extra safety measures to continue.” This approach is fascinating because it really turns our current cultural narrative upside down.

As one woman put it, “As humans, and as Americans, we do an especially good job at avoiding discomfort. Why should we ever be the slightest bit uncomfortable when comfort is so easily attainable? Spend money, upgrade, subscribe, anything to “swerve” the daunting and dreaded fear of discomfort. But we are definitely missing something when we do this–an opportunity to grow!” (thanks Jenny!)

What if, instead of looking at discomfort as some kind of fail, and all danger as proof we should run the other way, we instead do a little “ROI assessment.” Look at the change or the challenge and ask yourself “If I navigate this successfully, what is the benefit?” If the benefit is highly worth it then call on your resources and your strength to manage the discomfort. If it’s dangerous but worth it, ask yourself and someone you trust “What safety measures could I put in place? Enough to make it reasonable to try?”

I did an exercise a few years ago with middle schoolers where we broke up into two teams. Team Discomfort defined the word and then made a list of situations at school that can be uncomfortable. Team Danger had to do the same. Then they came back together to compare notes. When looking at the two lists side-by-side, a 6th grader raised his hand and said, “Well Dr G., it looks like discomfort can give you some bruises, but danger could leave you with scars.”

I’m not sure I’ve heard someone say it better.

What do you think? Is discomfort to be avoided? Is danger ever worth it? Comment and let me know!

All my best,

Dr. G

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