To stop fearing discomfort we can arrange for it and face it head-on. This is easier than being thrown into the deep end against your will and will result in a better grasp of what we’re made of.
To put this in context and why I write about it on a diabetes blog, let me give an example:
Many people recognize that lowering their carbohydrate intake is beneficial to their diabetes management and overall health. However, they are caught by the fear of discomfort that will arise from giving up favorite foods, spending energy on reworking recipes and grocery lists, and sticking out like a sore thumb in social scenarios involving food.
As someone who has gone through all the above and come out happier and objectively better off, as a result, I can confidently say that the thought of doing something uncomfortable is actually more uncomfortable and challenging than it is in practice. Why? Because our fear of discomfort is very real. We, humans, are hardwired to avoid inconvenience, deviation from social norms, and hard work, even as we discover that confronting all these can be immensely rewarding. We’re funny creatures like that. Some of these characteristics are at the root of all discoveries and inventions that have come about but other aspects of our nature are dangerous in terms of hindering potential growth. So we need to constantly seek to create the right balance.
Marcus Aurelius, one of the great stoics, would sleep on the floor to remind himself that the fear of discomfort is greater than the actual experience of it.
You could try it. Or you could try something similar.
Choose something uncomfortable such as:
- skipping TV for a few days
- turning off your phone for a few hours every day
- getting up at 4 am for a week
- saying “hi” to everyone you meet
- eating two simple meals a day for a week
- sleeping on the floor or couch for two nights a week
Why do we derive value from activities like camping and fitness challenges? These activities are largely uncomfortable, yet many are called back to them year after year. Do they help connect us with our inner strength and give us confidence about our ability to do without certain comforts? There is a peace in knowing that one can “do without” and that we can survive pain and extreme fatigue and inconvenience.
Women who have never given birth are generally more afraid of the pain of birth than women who have been there before. The latter have survived the experience and are comforted by that fact.
It’s uniquely trying to be a person with diabetes who relies on insulin. We cannot stop taking it without dire consequences and should never attempt to. And I believe that for many, this reality leads to a destructive kind of vulnerability. I find that too many people with insulin-dependent diabetes often feel quite helpless, overly reliant on others, and almost in a state of panic over their permanent situation.
As a result, I think we could really benefit from the practice of stoicism. Combatting feelings of vulnerability can fuel our strength and resolve for our challenging way of life. Instead of mere victims of a disease, we can face up to the realities by being creative about ways to protect ourselves in certain scenarios, turn our energy to joining or supporting those trying to figure out how to survive tricky circumstances or cope with potential challenges, and we can accept our reality and let it make us better. Adversity can be a great teacher if we embrace the lesson. I’m all for not learning the hard way, except if you look all around us, it seems that too many aren’t learning the easy or hard way and maybe a more self-directed and intentional route to wisdom would help.
Recently, I carried out a carnivore diet experiment for 3 months. I realized I could be happy despite giving up so many pleasurable foods. I learned that I could have the discipline that I previously thought I could not have. I found that indeed, less could be more. And when I stopped the food experiment with the diagnosis of my daughter’s type 1 diabetes, I found that those 3 months helped to prepare me for the great emotional, financial, physical, and mental challenges ahead.
I wake up every night at 2:30 am to check my daughter’s blood sugar. I spend most of my free time cooking so that my entire family eats nutritionally rich and delicious homemade food for every meal. My family spends way over $10,000 on medical costs per year. There are no vacations. Clothes and shoes are bought used. But let me tell you what: I am happy and I don’t fear discomfort like I used to. Most days, I fear things worth fearing, which feels healthier and motivates me in the right direction. Then acting in the right direction actually leads to improvements and fuels more happiness so I know it’s a better way of functioning for me.
I strongly believe it can help people with diabetes to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Do it for a while and you’ll notice that when the lights go out and everyone is in an ugly state of despair, you’re ok, in fact, you’re lighting a candle and having a great time.