Seeking discomfort for personal growth

‘Look for things that are awkward and uncomfortable’: This month, Jamie Morley discusses the benefits of seeking discomfort to personal growth, and how this approach can help you lead your practice and team. 

When we individually go through change and we lead our practices and people through that change, this will lead to new experiences both for ourselves and for our team members.

As we go through this change we have to accept that there will be discomfort. This is because we will be doing something that we haven’t done before. It will feel uncomfortable.

In the past, our view would be to try to do anything to avoid any discomfort or mistakes. To perhaps spend more and more time thinking it through so as to avoid this discomfort and get everything perfect. Or, thinking of short cuts to avoid that discomfort.

Unfortunately this would often lead to procrastination and, ultimately, not doing it.

More recent thinking is to accept and tolerate this discomfort as part of the process. To learn from what works and what doesn’t work.

A recent paper suggests that we need to take this a step further and actively seek out the discomfort. If we seek out the discomfort and see it as a signal of growth, it can actually make us more motivated.

The paper showed that when adults were given the instruction to look for discomfort, that the goal of the exercise was to feel awkward and uncomfortable, they showed more persistence and took more risks versus those who weren’t given these additional instructions.

Personal growth

So, what is the relevance of this to leadership within dentistry? This paper was around topics of personal growth.

I think there are different ways in which this is relevant.

On an individual level for yourself when you are approaching doing something new to look for that discomfort. To feel awkward and uncomfortable when you are doing something new. That this shows growth and development.

Perhaps there is a new habit you want to put in place. An example could be that you want to consistently talk to patients about their smile to uncover opportunities to provide solutions for them.

For you, this might come across as too much of a sell.

What you want to do is approach it with the goal of feeling as awkward and as uncomfortable as you can. You can also encourage your team members to do the same when it comes to developing individual new behaviours.

An example might be that you want an individual in your practice to speak up more. Encourage him or her to approach it with the goal of feeling as awkward and as uncomfortable as they can. If they feel that way, they are developing and growing that skill.

Organisational change

Perhaps even more interesting is this approach with regards to leading a practice or team forward.

The paper is around personal change, but I think there is an angle with regards to organisational change.

Can we apply this to do things differently as a practice? What are we wanting to change? If we approach it with a view to feeling as uncomfortable and awkward as possible, what would we do?

I think it is an interesting approach. It is really important to go with ideas and suggestions that align with our values. But does this mean that we will also always feel comfortable about them? I don’t believe so.

I believe that we can do things that are awkward and uncomfortable, yet still align with our values.

Perhaps this is what we should seek. To look for things that are awkward and uncomfortable and that align to our values. To not use our values as an excuse for not doing them. To be really honest about whether we are avoiding the discomfort or if it genuinely does go against our values.

We also have to ensure that this change will have a significantly positive impact on our practice and is aligned with the key strategies.

So, there may be a lot of caveats, including ensuring we are not breaking any legal or regulatory barriers. But when we get through those and hit on something we want to do, let’s seek out the discomfort.

Seek out the discomfort. Encourage your team and practice to do the same.

Jamie Morley is the author of Lead Your Dental Practice available at

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