Dr. Gary G. Taylor
Prospective/Serving LDS Missionaries —Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable
Serving a full-time LDS mission will be uncomfortable at times. The rules, restrictions, and routine are bound to make it so; not to mention the large doses of rejection involved, and the absence from family, friends and familiar routine. Missionaries will typically be required to venture out of their comfort zone multiple times a day--all of which makes serving an LDS mission a wonderful growth opportunity. But it also makes serving a mission a difficult challenge; one that, in order to complete successfully, requires adequate preparation and special effort while serving.
In essence, serving a successful LDS mission requires missionaries to develop the ability to become comfortable while being uncomfortable. The saying “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” seems to have originated in Navy Seals training, which provides the gold standard in enduring physical discomfort. Although LDS missionaries will obviously not be called on to deal with the physical equivalent of Navy Seals training, their experience is likely to test them at least as much when it comes to emotional, social, and spiritual discomfort. The good news is that there are a number of things that any of us can do that will improve our ability to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
1. FIND VALUE IN BEING UNCOMFORTABLE.
Many fall short of their potential because they too often insist on staying in their comfort zone. Because it makes them uncomfortable, they don’t exercise, study, work hard, expose themselves to new things, or commit themselves to difficult tasks. And even worse, some will choose to avoid discomfort by using drugs, pornography, or overindulging in video games and other distractions.
Of course, we don’t grow if we stay in our comfort zone. If you want to develop the endurance of a Navy Seal, there is a price to pay. If you want to become a disciple of Christ, there is a price to pay. If you want to overcome weaknesses and develop into the best person that you can be, there is a price to pay.
Tell yourself that being uncomfortable at times is part of the plan. It’s OK, in fact more than Ok. It’s ideal to be uncomfortable part of the time. It means that you have the opportunity to progress and are likely becoming stronger. It means that you have the opportunity to pass the test inherent in mortality. It means that you are taking steps to overcome your weaknesses rather than letting your weaknesses overcome you. It actually guarantees that you will be happier more of the time than you would be if you gave in to immediate comfort at the expense of longer term benefits.
2. SEEK OPPORTUNITIES TO BE UNCOMFORTABLE.
Find ways to voluntarily make yourself uncomfortable on a regular basis. Talk to someone new, extend yourself socially in some way, get up early and exercise, or start a fast. Make a list of good/worthwhile things that you could/should do, but don’t really want to do. Then chip away at the list a little at a time. The “natural man” goal is to be comfortable all of the time. Change that so that you seek out opportunities to be uncomfortable at times.
As you begin to work on an “uncomfortable” goal, it helps to follow the “five minute rule”. You can almost always spend at least five minutes working on accomplishing a goal, so just start. Don’t wait for a better time to begin. Do something, really anything, to get moving. Then keep going for at least five minutes no matter what, and then longer if you can. Likewise, remember that you don’t need to be perfect in your effort. If your effort doesn’t seem to get you very far, at least you tried; and you can keep trying. The trick is to push yourself beyond your comfort zone; but to do so within reason. Of course, real growth usually requires pushing beyond what you think you can do; but if you go to extremes, it will be nearly impossible to keep at it.
Remember that successful people are not necessarily the smartest or the most talented, but they are always the most willing to risk making mistakes so that they can learn from them. With successful people, “failures” are not dead ends, but learning opportunities. Successful people are able to bounce back from disappointments, reassess the situation, and keep moving toward their important goals.
3. KEEP YOUR OWN IMPORTANCE AND TALENTS IN PERSPECTIVE AND ACCEPT FULL RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR LIFE.
If you were raised during or since the 70’s and 80’s there is a good chance you are a victim of negative cultural pressures. Many have been raised in a culture emphasizing entertainment and they wait to be motivated by someone or something outside of themselves. They haven’t learned how to handle boredom or routine, and they have trouble entertaining themselves. Others may suffer from a bloated self-esteem having been raised on unearned compliments and achievements, exaggerated praise, and a notion that everyone is a winner, no matter what the score is or what they do. These folks may feel that the world owes them happiness and success. They feel cheated and look to blame someone or something else when they are not happy or successful. Then too, you may be a victim of the increased dominance of tolerance and permissiveness in parenting in recent generations. You may have been sheltered too much from the consequences of your bad choices and have missed the opportunity to learn from your mistakes at an early age.
If you have suffered from any of these or other negative cultural practices, such as racism or discrimination for whatever reason, you may have a more difficult time taking control of your life; but the truth is, you can still do it! No matter how extensive the force of cultural pressures, change and personal growth are still within your control. It will require, however, changing your attitude. You will need to understand and accept that it’s possible and worthwhile to change; and until old attitudes are replaced, it will take frequent reminders of this truth to keep you on track.
Obviously, none of us will grow if we fail to accept full responsibility for making the changes required. We all have our crosses to bear and must deal with many circumstances beyond our control. It’s equally true that we control our response to the things that happen to us.
4. LOOK AT PRESENT DISCOMFORTS WITH AN ETERNAL PERSPECTIVE
A number of years ago, President Hinckley made a comment that nicely summarizes the preceding discussion:
"Too many….have been coddled and spoiled and somehow led to feel that everything must be precisely right at all times, that life is a series of entertainments, that appetites are to be satisfied without regard to principle. How tragic the consequences of such hollow and unreasonable thinking!" (Gordon B Hinckley, Conference Report, “What God Has Joined Together”, April 1991).
This goes along with Elder Holland’s observation:
"Sadly enough, my young friends, it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds.
Talk about man creating God in his own image! Sometimes—and this seems the greatest irony of all—these folks invoke the name of Jesus as one who was this kind of “comfortable” God. Really? He who said not only should we not break commandments, but we should not even think about breaking them. And if we do think about breaking them, we have already broken them in our heart. Does that sound like “comfortable” doctrine, easy on the ear and popular down at the village love-in?" (Jeffrey R Holland, “The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship”, Conference Report, April, 2014).
Why does God have rules and require obedience? Why does he allow bad things to happen to good people, Why does he allow us to not only suffer the consequences of our own bad choices; but also at times, from the bad choices of others? Part of the answer is because he knows that experiencing pain and discomfort is the only way we will grow and become what he knows we can become. With the same vision, we can see our temporary discomfort as part of a grand plan designed to ultimately bless us beyond all imagination. Think of the Savior’s parable, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field ( Matthew 13:44). Whatever pain and difficulty inherent in pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone, the benefit will greatly outweigh the cost.
Though long since forgotten, we actually knew this to be true before we were born. In the pre-mortal world, we were no doubt made aware of what we would be up against in mortality; and yet we shouted for joy at the prospect of coming here (Job 38:4-7). We would never have been so happy if we didn’t know two things. First, we knew that we could do it. Once here, it might seem impossible to go on when the road gets really difficult; but that simply isn’t true. We can always keep going; and we know that we will be helped when our resources are at an end--truly at an end, not just when we think we can go no further. Second, we knew that it would be worth it. No matter how much we suffer here, we knew that it would be a small price to pay for the advantages that await us (D&C 84:38). Few things could better help us be comfortable when uncomfortable than remembering what we once knew to be fact: we can do this; and it will be worth it!
And as suggested earlier, it’s also not only about rewards in the next life. Those who learn to be comfortable while being uncomfortable will be much happier in the here and now. They will have more opportunities in the present, more peace of mind, better relationships with others, and more sense of purpose and fulfillment—all of which are necessary ingredients in being happy.
5. COUNT ON GOD’S HELP
The good news is that we have a Heavenly Father whose primary work and purpose is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39). The world has been created for our benefit and he has given us everything we need to achieve our full potential, including his help when we truly need it. Calling on that help through prayer and having faith in God and his promises is probably the most important thing we can do to become comfortable in uncomfortable situations.
It also helps to know that our success is guaranteed. It’s guaranteed, that is, if we have faith in Christ and do our best to be obedient to God’s directions. As Elder Holland has said:
“The future of this world has long been declared; the final outcome between good and evil is already known. There is absolutely no question as to who wins because the victory has already been posted on the scoreboard. The only really strange thing in all of this is that we are still down here on the field trying to decide which team’s jersey we want to wear.” (Jeffrey R Holland, “We Are All Enlisted”, Conference Report, Oct. 2014).