How to Fight Through Intellectual Discomfort

How to Fight
4 Ways to beat that “Damn, this is going to be hard” feeling.

Here is an excerpt from an article by Carson Tate for 99U. To read, the complete article, check out a wealth of other resources, obtain subscription information, and learn more about 99U, please click here.

Illustration Credit: atipus

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For professional athletes, facing and overcoming pain, adversity, and discomfort is all part of a day’s work. Knowledge workers, the majority of the workforce today, encounter a different type of adversity — intellectual discomfort.

You know the feeling of intellectual discomfort. It’s that gut reaction you feel when you prepare to start a project, and, as you skim the document, you think to yourself, Damn, this is going to be hard.

This will push your intellectual capacity. And that feels challenging, overwhelming and scary. In this moment, you might stall. You might even choose to give up. Or worse – not even give it a shot, delegating it to someone else. This is the work you know you were born to break through to get to your best future self.

Just like how athletes must practice to be comfortable in discomfort, you must as well if you hope to improve your skills and advance your career. The hard stuff, the stuff you’d rather skip or do later is often the stuff that’s most necessary. Every time we choose to play it safe or bypass challenging intellectual prompts, we impede our ability to innovate and grow, waste our own (or our company’s) money, and squander our talent.

Just like how athletes must practice to be comfortable in discomfort, you must as well if you hope to improve your skills and advance your career.

So why do we avoid intellectual discomfort? Because it requires our deepest level of thought, attention, and presence – much of which we’ve lost touch with as a result of full inboxes, the growing number of social media platforms, and media content that updates constantly. Deeply intellectual work is soul work that takes more time and energy. And it goes against the ways we’ve conditioned ourselves to work – on autopilot. We observe life versus engaging in it, whether we mechanically scroll through our social media feed to distract ourselves or use apps to make every step of our day more mindless.

But rarely do we improve when the task is easy. As a cross-country runner in college, I detested the mile repeat workout that consisted of running four to six one-mile sets. You had to run each set, which was four laps around the track, as fast as you could with only one lap to recover between sets. It was a grueling and uncomfortable challenge for me every time. However, the speed and endurance that I developed through this type of workout prepared me for the challenge and pain of actual races. It was because I had experienced pain during these workouts that I knew in my gut that I could push through the pain when it truly counted. It was only after I chose to incorporate mile repeats into my workouts consistently that I started breaking my previous personal records.

Whereas runners can physically push through the pain, you need to mentally fight through intellectual discomfort. How? By concentrating solely on what is essential to complete the task at hand. Here are some go-to strategies to hone your focus:

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TateCarson Tate, the founder of Working Simply, is a nationally renowned expert on workplace productivity. She serves as a consultant, coach, public speaker, and executive trainer for a wide range of Fortune 500 companies and other clients. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her family. To read several of her articles, please click here.


4 Ways to beat that “Damn [comma] this is going to be hard” feeling

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