Friday, July 13, 2007

Sitting in Discomfort

Sitting in discomfort was something that one of our recent training participants said she did that preceded a major breakthrough. Often when things feel uncomfortable we try to stop them as soon as we can. This may not be the best strategy. Sometimes you can alleviate the discomfort, or you make it worse trying to alleviate it. A lasting solution is available only after tolerating the discomfort and in fact becoming comfortable in it. Why? Because attempts to stop the discomfort won’t necessarily lead to a breakthrough or AHA moment.

AHA moments can lead to solutions that are far more comprehensive than just stopping the pain. Rolf Smith in The 7 Levels of Change: Diffferent Thinking for Diffferent Results defines “Ordinary” thinking as thinking that is “based on continuity with the past – continuation of an idea or experience or line of reasoning.” He defines “Discontinuous” thinking as not-normal. “Discontinuous thinking occurs when a shift is made to a new direction of thought or work, rather than continuing along the same line.” Discontinuous thinking produces those AHA moments that are so valuable, when suddenly everything looks different and something so brilliant and sometimes so obvious drastically shifts your thinking about how to approach a situation.

Earlier this week I was writing something and I was feeling very stuck. I was trying harder and harder to get unstuck, looking through books and articles for some insight or inspiration, thinking about who to ask for help. And I finally realized that what I was doing was only making things worse, when I remembered this concept of sitting in discomfort. That in fact the breakthrough I wanted would only be available if I sat in the discomfort of not knowing. Remembering this piece of wisdom from our participant immediately helped me shift my thinking and stop trying to force the breakthrough.

As I worked on something else later that day, I discovered another piece of wisdom from a different participant who said “ I learned not to jump so quickly into problem solving.” This was related to our presentation about Polarity ManagementTM. And I realized that had been exactly what I was doing, jumping too quickly into problem solving and thereby making it impossible to have a breakthrough. Accepting the discomfort, trusting that the AHA would come when I wasn’t trying to make it happen, and realizing that problem solving would not help resulted in my having several AHAs. What successes have you realized from sitting in discomfort?

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