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The Hidden Benefits of Voluntary Discomfort

What happens when you decide to become consciously uncomfortable

Moved in during July 2015

This is my office at International Plaza within Singapore. It is a private room within an accounting firm. The owner of this accounting firm provides serviced rooms and hot desks to a few limited clients. Apparently my lease is approaching its end by 1 August.

I can’t believe I have been in this room for the past 2 years. Previously it was another room on Level 30 within the same building. The time seems to have flown past so quickly.

All in, I had an office — a space to work and meet my clients — for the past 4 years.

What did I appreciate the most regarding this room?

Office circa 2015

The aircon. The cool air keeps me comfortable and focused on work. There is even white noise — a low hum from the centralised aircon unit.

I do not have aircon installed at home. It is a conscious choice. There is something about air-conditioning that reminds me about the story of the frog slowly being boiled alive.

The frog starts off in cold water that is gradually heated up. At first the frog is comfortable. As the temperature increases slowly, the frog stays inside — blissfully unaware until it gets boiled alive.

All my life, I only encountered air conditioning in other places — school, libraries, offices, shopping centres. Never at home. Home is where I am sometimes uncomfortable — especially when the hot & humid weather starts to creep inside the bedroom. The spinning fan then becomes the lifesaver — helping us to drift off to sleep.

It’s not because our family was poor or underprivileged or couldn’t afford an aircon unit.

Nor is it because we wanted to do our part for climate change.

It was a conscious decision to be voluntarily uncomfortable.

The aircon keeps us comfortable in the hot, humid and sweltering weather in Singapore.

It also makes me forget the hot weather outside. 

It makes me forget that there are hardworking labourers & workers toiling in the sun. 

It makes me ensconced — feeling secure in my protective cocoon of cooling air.

In short, it makes me feel like that frog — feeling safe, protected and secure. This inevitably leads to taking things for granted, believing that things will always remain the status quo.

Which is of course, highly dangerous in this current VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world.

The consequence is you get boiled alive.

To avoid falling into the blissfully unaware trap, I have to learn to become voluntarily uncomfortable.

Getting an office space was a voluntary discomfort after working from home for the first 3 years in business.

It was uncomfortable to sign a lease and making sure that the business earned enough to pay off the monthly rent.

Was getting office space necessary? To be honest — no.

But stepping out of the comfort zone was necessary.

The office space was my stretching exercise towards the uncomfortable zone — it basically forced me to have “skin in the game”. It was going to be painful if I failed so I HAD to make sure I didn’t.

Having an office for 4 years, having full-time employees… certainly enlarged my comfort zone. There have been moments of pure terror but we pulled through — learning to rely on our efforts and ultimately to let God take over.

(Being a Muslim, I decided relying on Him was far better than relying on myself or other humans.)

Start being in situations that are uncomfortable. Voluntarily is best — because you are making a conscious decision. Being forced to be uncomfortable usually leads to resentment, unhappiness and a lot of other negative counter-productive feelings. Not very useful.

Uncomfortable with public speaking? Join Toastmasters.

Uncomfortable with selling? Open yourself and your mouth to a conversation with a stranger in the MRT. With trains breaking down almost regularly nowadays — the opportunity arises more often than not.

Uncomfortable and feeling sweaty being in the hot sun? Think about the traffic police officers, the cleaners, the manual labourers who are underneath the blue skies doing their work quietly and faithfully. You will learn to appreciate and notice the cool breeze when it appears.

If you follow the Stoicism movement, voluntary discomfort is a way to build up your immunity and your strength when misfortune happens.

Being voluntarily uncomfortable is also a process that builds up your courage to take up future challenges.

Right now, in the blessed month of Ramadan — Muslims all around the world are participating in voluntary discomfort — not eating and drinking (not even water!) from dawn to dusk.

It is uncomfortable for the first few days, but we get used to it very quickly and before we know it — we have fasted for a whole month. The many spiritual & health benefits of fasting is undeniable.

Seeking comfort usually results in a lifestyle of weakness.

Seeking discomfort usually results in a life full of strength.


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Originally published at medium.com

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