Learning is uncomfortable

Learning is uncomfortable, growth is uncomfortable.

Personal and emotional growth nearly always requires facing an uncomfortable feeling or emotion provoked by a perceived difficult situation.

Unfortunately, when such uncomfortable emotions arise, our “autopilot” reaction is “get me out of here”. We might avoid feeling uncomfortable in the moment, but the long-term price or consequence include stunted emotional growth, unhappiness, difficulty in relationships, anxiety, panic attacks and even depression. Over time this instinctive aversion becomes automatic and occurs so quickly that we don’t even know it has happened. It becomes an invisible force driving our actions. We find ourselves repeatedly in an undesirable situation (eg toxic relationship, wrong job, same arguments or behaviours), in spite of our repeated decision “never again”.

Our western education conditions us to see ourselves as rational beings with emotions; in fact, we are emotional beings with some capacity for reason. Evolution has equipped us with chemical states which guide and drive us in certain situations to help us achieve our mission to survive and procreate. Think, when you experience a fright, your perception and thus your actions become fearful. Think of other states such as anger or sexual arousal, happiness, falling in love; they are also all-encompassing states which affect our bodies, our perceptions and our actions.

Emotions and feelings are simply chemical states of the body, and are experienced as bodily sensations. They are not to be ignored or supressed. We need to observe, befriend and integrate these emotions and feelings. If instead they are supressed or avoided instead of integrated, then they will most likely come out in another less healthy way. This creates unnecessary suffering. (By the way, most suffering is self-generated and unnecessary.)

These sensations − uncomfortable or otherwise − contain vitally important information. When the sensation arises, it may feel and look like a repulsive pile of dung but within that pile of dung hides a wonderful jewel of growth and hopefully wisdom.

Not wanting to feel uncomfortable − in its worst form − makes us afraid of making a mistake which in turn stops us from making anything; we become stuck (maybe even using alcohol or other substances to numb out the feeling). Creativity and growth rely upon − amongst other things − our willingness to be vulnerable to make a mistake (It is usually how we learn.)

So what to do?

The skills and practices that open the door to change are mindfulness, gratitude and an attitude of kindness towards yourself; mindfulness not only of your thoughts but especially your bodily connection and your ability to recognise and respond consciously to the emotions and feelings arising instead of reacting in autopilot. The second very important skill is the practice of gratitude, which makes us more open to the learning opportunities in difficult situations; in other words to find the jewel of wisdom within the pile of dung. Finally, be kind to yourself as with this attitude life and learning become easier.  The attitude you should adopt for all of this and life in general is one of open curiosity, kindness to yourself and a sense of humour.

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