“You don’t have to like it.”
“Yea, but, I want to feel comfortable—”
“You don’t have to like it,” she interjected, wagging her head for emphasis.
“Well, yeah, but, what about—”
“You don’t have to like it,” her unwavering gaze betrayed a hint of stoicism.
Is that all this Ph.D. in clinical psychology had to offer? Couldn’t she, by some twist of psychic legerdemain, just the right question, or the perfect analogy, make it all better?
“You don’t have to like it.”
And thus ended our session, with me still yearning for a reprieve from the discomfort of the day, unable to let go of the notion that if I could just repair the damage inside, nothing would discomfit me ever again. I’d coolly take it all in stride. The little suzies in their giggling cabals, the unnerving whoops and hollers from construction crews, death and dying, animal abuse, environmental degradation! With just the right phychotherapeutic intervention (or, with enough of them), I’d simply waltz through life, knowing deep down that it was all part of a grander master scheme than I could ever imagine.
Discomfort sucks! Along with sadness, anger, depression, stress, anxiety. And though most of us spend a fair amount of each day trying to avoid uncomfortable emotions, it mostly doesn’t work. Or if our strategies DO work, the relief comes at great cost. For instance, the act of eating reduces your subjective experience of stress in the moment but does nothing to solve the problem and leads to weight gain. A sugary treat can lift your mood, and thus begins (or continues) the never ending cycle of feel bad, eat, feel better, repeat. Shopping, drinking, vegging out in front of the TV—these are all strategies we’ve developed to help us disappear the discomforts brought on by the normal vicissitudes of life.
“But I don’t like feeling uncomfortable (depressed, sad, anxious, etc.)!” you bemoan. Understandable. Unfortunately, it is this response (avoidance) to discomfort that keeps us from achieving our goals. For instance, maybe your physical health is very important to you, and you astutely recognize that couch-potato marathons are antithetical to a strong heart and bones, so you pledge thrice-weekly gym sessions. Meanwhile, breaking a sweat is neck in neck with death by guillotine on your things-I-hope-to-avoid-in-life list. So, not surprisingly, when gym time comes, dedication goes. After all, if you really don’t want to do it, why should you?
But what if you could live a life in accordance with your values even when you don’t feel like it in the moment? What if—when your capricious mind provides you with, “I’m tired. I think I’ll go straight home and skip the gym,”—you could respond, “Oh, well,” and go to the gym anyway? What if that bygone monomaniacal therapist was right after all? Maybe you don’t have to like it.
Maybe while you’re busy not liking it, you can still do that which, at the end of the day, you wish you’d done. What if the accomplishment of your goals is not dependent on the mood of the moment?
Let me give you some real-world examples of this you-don’t-have-to-like-it paradox in action.
Lisa, a client of mine, didn’t want to weigh or measure her food, but she did it anyway. After several weeks of success in sticking to her food plan, she saw the value in this weight-loss strategy and actually started to enjoy pulling out the scale during meal prep.
Marilyn sometimes didn’t want to do her resistance training, but by implementing several tools mentioned in this blog, she motivated herself to stick to her exercise plan long enough to make it a strong habit.
Amy was embarrassed bringing her healthy Mega Salads to catered board meetings, but she realized that a little discomfort never hurt anybody, so she did it anyway. Along the way she lost 20 pounds and inspired a few people to try her high-nutrient* diet style.
In fact, I, myself, experienced a fair amount of gustatory discomfort switching over to a nutritarian way of eating. Having grown up in the south, where every vegetable was either battered and fried or smothered in Thousand Island dressing, learning to enjoy “naked” veggies proved a challenge. But now I love them! I don’t remember the last time I had a day without The Monster Salad.
1. If you wait until you want to work out or eat more vegetables, your behavior over the long haul won’t change.
2. Next time you find yourself wanting to avoid a scheduled activity, remind yourself, “You don’t have to like it,” complete the activity, and then read Savor Your Success to find out what to do next!
*A high-nutrient diet is based on vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, and seeds.