If You’re Not Feeling Discomfort, You’re Not Moving Forward

I have good news and bad news about your ability to move forward as a creative.

The good news is that you have the control to move forward. You don’t have to wait for permission, you can just take the steps needed to learn, do and share your work.

The bad news is that you have the control to move forward, but it won’t always feel good at the start. In fact, what feels good from the beginning is often avoiding the work rather than doing the work.

If you’ve found a magic way to do your work without this discomfort, please share your secret.

In my own world, I’ve found that each time I start a new video edit, head to a new film location, sit down to write a grant proposal, I get the tinge of fear.

There is an energy serge that sometimes causes me to jump out of my chair and run to the kitchen. My breath catches and my chest tightens.

It takes all my energy to start.

But once I start, I the feeling dissipates and I can get to work.

This year, I’ve set out to finish several projects which I really want to do but that have been triggering my discomfort in a big way.

It’s a discomfort to a level I haven’t experienced before.

So, I’ve realized I needed to create some rituals to get myself from discomfort to action.


Going from Discomfort to Action 

1.     Chunking down big actions into baby steps

I’ve already had this habit for many years now as it relates to filmmaking. This was necessary because my work involves learning new technology, scheduling time with other people, carving out time to do research and to think.

But, with my current level of discomfort and new tasks involving outreach, those small chunks were still too large.

As I do new things, like writing blog posts, I’ve had to change my step from a relatively large step like, outline new blog post, to a smaller, baby step like, write the title of the blog post and save the document. I’ve gone from find the best shots for this video to spend 10-minutes locating the best shots from the first set of options.

It may feel small but I’ve been able to make significant progress working in small chunks.

2.     Take a break before you start

In the past I was able to set a time chuck, I’ll work from 9 am – 10 am on a task, and get work done. Now, I set a time chunk and find myself needing to take a break before starting.

Rather than get upset with myself or make a big story about how undisciplined I am, I now let myself run to the kitchen before starting my work. I observe myself wanting to eat something but realize that the craving is a distraction. I drink some water and return to my chair.

It may feel counter-intuitive to take a break first, but it seems to be working. I think the act of allowing myself space and doing so without judgement allows me to loosen my anxiety and get back to work.

3.     Do the hardest thing first

When I was a kid, I learned that saving my beets for last was a bad idea. I hated beets.

I starting to eat my beets first and then I could enjoy the rest of my meal.

Thankfully, now I like beets.

There is something similar I go through each day with my to do list. I generally have one item on my list that I just do not want to do. These days, it is generally something that scares me.

I’m afraid to write that blog post or take care of financial matters or write an email or publish a video.

But what I find is, if I do that task first, it frees up energy. In fact, I often have a surge of energy and if I use it I can finish many follow up tasks at record speed and with greater enjoyment. 

And over time, the thing I’m most afraid of gets easier. Writing has gotten easier. Sending emails to press and potential collaborators has gotten easier. I’m now working on life admin stuff, and expect that managing my finances and legal work will get easier with time.

The opposite is also true. Putting off these difficult tasks actually steals time. I don’t know the science behind this phenomenon but I know the feeling that avoidance produces. I feel a low-level anxiety, my breathing is shallower, my mind is distracted, and I’m unable to sit still.

Taking steps towards the task I most resist, even if it is one small step like writing one paragraph of my blog post, relieves the tension and releases energy. I can more forward with much more speed and lightness.

Embracing Discomfort

If you are feeling discomfort, can you reframe it and see this as a sign of making progress?

You are pushing past current limited beliefs. You are learning new skills, taking greater risks, going beyond your comfort zone and being bold.

Have any tips of ideas on additional ways to get past discomfort and into action? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.