Discomfort allows Growth

Education, April 15, 2018

Susan David's conversation with Rich Roll really helps unpack why discomfort is needed for growth and why getting in touch with your emotions is important to help stay true with your values.

I loved this latest Rich Roll podcast (#356). Susan David unpacked her new book "Emotional Agility" the power of emotional agility and why embracing discomfort is the price of admission to a life of meaning and purpose. When you are emotionally rigid it tends to mean that your thoughts, emotions, and stories you tell yourself are driving your actions rather than your values and true intentions.  Emotional agility is the ability to be with your thoughts and emotions in ways that are compassionate, curious, and courageous, and to take actions that are aligned with your values.
Values are not stale statements that are written on company walls, they should not be abstract, far off ideas. Values are qualities of action. Every day we have the opportunity to move towards those values or away from them. i.e health - what do you choose to do and eat will move you towards health or away from it.  These values allow us to shape our lives by having a compass. Having values give us access to powerful willpower to enact meaningful changes in our life. Habits are very important to aligned with your goals with your values being the strongest force guiding the habit.
Susan talks about "piggy backing" (or as I have read in other places "tagging") a beneficial habit onto an already established habit. It's very important to make habit changes that are value aligned to create real momentum. Values are different to goals in that they are a life direction. Your goals have to align with your values otherwise they will be derailed. Values are a direction that you are trying to move yourself in but you will never reach it (unlike a goal). A goal is very tangible and will have an end point (SMART - specific, measurable, authentic (I don't believe they have to be readily achievable to be of value), realistic, and timed). For example if your value is a "quality relationship with your partner" then a goal to help with this could be "Putting your phone down when your partner arrives home so you can be present and engage in conversation". To help achieve this goal you could tag on to an established habit "I will put my phone in the drawer with my keys (already established) when I arrive home". 
I enjoyed the section about Social contagion. We effectively catch behaviours and attitudes from our surroundings. If you don't stay strong to your values then you will get swept along with the crowd and become a sheep. This won't allow you to move towards your true purpose. One way to stay bound to your values is with affirmation. Value affirmation is a way of bringing our values front of mind and protects us from social pressures sweeping our actions away from our core values. This can take the form of having an intentional few minutes at the start of the day to reaffirm (with writing, thinking, or saying) your values. 
For people that don't have purpose or values (very common as people take on values from parents without thought or are too busy with daily roles to think about it) There is a quiz that several thousand people have taken on www.susandavid.com/learn that can help with establishing personal values.  It can be as easy as reflecting on your day and asking yourself the question "What today was worthwhile for me?" Not just what was enjoyable. The worthwhile activity might be uncomfortable. Susan also discussed having values that are in conflict, for example having a career that gives purpose but wanting to spend time with your kids. We are complex beings and being present in the season presented to you will help live with multiple values while giving them all greater meaning. Difficult choices will have to be made and don't have to be laden with guilt + conflict but should have greater clarity because they are value lead rather than emotion driven. It's not either or. We can have many values, that don't have to be in conflict - some will have to be front and centre at varying times. 
It's very important to be connected with our emotions and not put up a false bravado. This doesn't mean you have to get bogged down in a story that doesn't serve your purpose but you can't sweep emotions under the carpet without acknowledging and dealing with them. Susan talks about the "tyranny of positivity" - acting positive and putting a brave face (or paper over the cracks) will not be positive in the long term. You have to expect and ride the bumps in the road, in fact later on that's what gives your journey meaning, and where you get the greatest learning's. When Susan was young she lost her father and it was only through journaling about her buried emotions that she started to get through the trauma of this event. Getting in touch with her emotions like this starting to form the start of her life work. Susan has then started to challenge societies "display rules" eg boys don't cry, ladies have to smile etc to allow individuals to connect with their deepest self and be authentic not mealy products of our surroundings. 
There is a space between stimulus and response, and in that space we have the power to choose, and it that choice we have our opportunity for growth and ultimate freedom. Meditation I believe helps increase that space allowing us to live more proactive rather than reactive lives. The space is very powerful as it increases our power to have choice. Meditation helps prevent us becoming enslaved to our emotions. Susan talks about being "hooked" to our emotions, thoughts, and that inner chatter. When we are hooked there is very little space to make a conscious choice. meditation and other methods to raise our consciousness increases that space between stimulus and our action to that stimulus (our response). Becoming more emotional agile allows us to get "unhooked" or releasing the shackles that bind our reactivness to emotions. 
Susan talks about 4 ways to help getting unhooked.
1) Show up to ourselves - be curious and compassionate.
2) Stepping out - notice your story and be compassionate but don't get caught up in it, create space to react skillfully.
3) Walking your WHY - Making value aligned choices
4) Moving on - making tweaks to move towards who you are meant to be
We as humans are story tellers, but we have to be careful that we don't bring in stories from the past that doesn't serve you in the present. Our stories don't have to own or define us. We can't let the story help with self sabotaging behaviour, it can allow excuses to be made for behaviours that don't allow growth. We need to be able to take learning's from our experiences and move forward with that new knowledge rather than get caught up in the story. 
Emotion granularity - looking at other words to describe our emotions will help us understand the causes of those emotions and define them more deeply. This activates the readiness potential in our brain which allows us to set goals to deal effectively with the situation and emotion rather than "stewing" in it. e.g "I am stressed" could be replaced by "I'm feeling disappointment as I was let down....."
"Emotions are data, not directives" Ask yourself who is in control here - the thoughts or the thinker. Too many people in society are living reactively. We all need more space to explore our emotions and not just immediately react and flow along. One of the most important things we can ask a child in a difficult situation is "who do you want to be in this situation". For example if the child is upset because they were not invited to a party and they are angry and stating that they don't want to invite them either we can ask that questions to help them see that "tit for tat" reactivness doesn't serve anyone. 
Depression is the leading cause of disability globally - now outstripping cancer and heart disease. We don't develop enough skill sets to deal with negative emotions. Our human experience is messy and difficult at times - that comes with the territory as life is full of discomfort. Susan talks about how if we ignore or push down negative experiences then that action can strengthen the very emotions you are trying to negate. 
If you have the intellectual ability to know what you want to do but are still not acting on this, then you need to draw on your VALUES, purpose, or WHY to help bridge the gap between knowing and doing.  A "want to" (rooted in value and purpose) goal is embedded in values. A "have to" (based on shame and obligation) goal is not sustainable in the long term - they actually ramp up temptation due to resistance. We then want what we can't have by subconsciously focusing on it. 
As a therapist, coach, or medical practitioner the trick to create longstanding change is to match habits with goals and make sure VALUES is the overriding force. When an action is value driven you will create the self momentum for real change. Extrinsic stuff can help create momentum e.g changing your environment, and tagging habits onto established ones BUT it's the Intrinsic stuff that is more valuable in habit forming behaviour change. Don't just tag enhancing habits on to established ones, anchor them in values and purpose. Change doesn't have to happen all at once. There is massive power in the small shifts, the tweaks that create a different frequency, or a small ripple. 
Examples of small shifts.....
1) Make time to engage with uplifting people
2) Schedule in time to complete JOYful activities.
3) Smile at strangers and greet with meaning
4) If you dislike your job, work on a side hussle.
5) Hug your partner and kids first thing in the morning
6) Invest in an organisation that will move the world in a direction that makes it better.
When you become over competent in an action it creates risk to become dispassionate and disengaged. It gets comfortable. The opposite side of the coin is over challenged. This also created disengagement as you don't know whats going on. The sweet spot for growth in our lives is where we are neither over competent  or over challenged. We need to work at the edge of our boundaries or ability to create stimulation and growth. This will expand breadth and depth in our relationships, career, and sport. In this zone we create discomfort and growth. We acclimate gradually. There are no short cuts. The bumps in the journey is the secret to personal triumph.  

Susan talks about addiction as an "emotional regulation strategy". It is thought to be an avoidance strategy for pain. The addiction is deep seated emotional pain. Alcohol and drugs are the solution to the addiction and mask the dealing with the true cause. If you are ever sruggling with your present situation then you might find comfort in R. Buckminister Fuller's quote........."There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it's going to be a butterfly." 

If you would like to unpack aspects of this article further I would invite you to listen to Rich Rolls podcast with Susan David #356 http://www.richroll.com/podcast/susan-david-356/ and check out her new book Emotional Agility - Get unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life. Susan is also on Instagram @susandavid_phd 

Please get in touch if you would like to work on defining your values and hooking your training habits to your goals to create meaningful change.