Do you want to be uncomfortable now . . . or later?
This afternoon, I was interviewed for an upcoming book on relationships and one of my favorite sayings, one that seems to come up with almost every client (and more than a few friends, colleagues, and acquaintances), came up. The saying is "Life is uncomfortable. You can be uncomfortable now on your terms or uncomfortable later on someone else's terms." I can't honestly remember if I saw this somewhere or if I coined it. I have a feeling that others have used something similar however I have gotten a great reaction to saying it this way.
There are a few things that I think make it powerful. First, it acknowledges that life is uncomfortable and that is OK. I treat this in a very much matter of fact way. I think a fair amount of communication breakdown can happen because one or both parties are uncomfortable. When you don't say "no" because you don't want to hurt someone's feelings by turning down a request, when you don't report on something that happened for fear of it being hard or of you getting in some kind of trouble, or when you avoid thinking about or doing something because it might be hard, you can fall into the trap of avoiding discomfort now that may lead to discomfort later.
Second, it is about being proactive and powerful. Accept that whatever you need to do or say is uncomfortable and move forward. If you embrace the discomfort on your own terms, it may be less uncomfortable. If you wait, if you are reactive, the same thing that you need to say or do can become increasingly uncomfortable. I can think of examples that run the gamut of situations. Broke your partner/parent/child/boss's favorite <insert object>? It is better to bring it to their attention than have them find it and seek you out. Not sure if your partner will approve of your new love interest? Have the conversation as soon as practical rather than finding yourself more attached and in a sticky situation. I am sure you can think of situations that fit this framework.
Third and last, it is about having integrity and being honest with yourself and with others, things that I think help promote good communication. One of the ways I hope someone could take this is, "OK, so you told me this thing, and I am upset, however, I respect you because I know it must have been hard for you and I am glad I know now rather than finding out later." Another more simple angle is "you care enough to be uncomfortable." By practicing this yourself, you model for others that it is OK to come to you when something is uncomfortable
I think that some (many?) people do a lot of things to avoid discomfort. They seek easy fixes, shortcuts, and magic solutions in an attempt to avoid "feeling the feels" that are a natural part of our lives and, I would argue, a necessary part of our development. By engaging in this practice, by living the saying above, you can learn that, yes, life is indeed is uncomfortable and most often no one gets struck by lightning, the world doesn't end, and no one gets seriously injured from being uncomfortable. If anything, it helps promote resilience and the confidence to communicate with integrity in the future.
Sounds easy, right? If it were, more people would do it. I think that your history can shape how you tend to approach these situations. If it was not OK to be wrong, or do something wrong, or even to have desires in your upbringing, it makes sense that some situations are yet even more uncomfortable and difficult. Hopefully, you can engage in this practice in an environment that is supportive of communication, learn that you can do it successfully, and learn that your history need not dictate how you feel going forward.
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