How can we take the next step in developing our emotional intelligence?  What’s holding us back?  By getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, we can break through our limits and really focus on our core values, leading to tremendous growth. 

Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable leads to surprising discoveries.Recently, one of my graduate students in my psychology class ended her journal with these words:

“I want to set a goal of becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I want to speak up more and challenge my tendency to only listen and stay silent.  I want to be more ‘in the moment’ and embrace spontaneity.

My student had touched on something I found extremely profound and insightful. Not only was she alive to the prospect of the given moment, its limitless potential and capacity to teach, heal and nurture, but she’d also leapt straight to a potential use for this insight. As part of her desire to become more confident and speak out more, she had latched onto the boundless gifts provided by the present moment.

WOW.  I was impressed.  Perhaps this is the ultimate goal of social and emotional intelligence: the ability to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.  What could I accomplish if I did that tomorrow?

Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

I might stay with a difficult task for longer than usual, even until it’s finished, focusing purely on that one topic until it’s done.

I might find that I have more to say than I thought, and that my views of the world are better formed than I’d previously realized.

I might allow myself to throw out a thought which I’d previously have kept hidden away, and who knows where that might lead?

I might become distracted less easily, and stick to my work rather than being bothered by that barking dog, or the sounds of construction in the next street

Already, we can see that bringing clear, focused thought to the present moment is going to have a huge impact. Confidence, attentiveness and distractibility are all being addressed, in one way or another. And suddenly, I’m more concerned with forming a clear, concise thought and expressing it well than with the potential fallout of being misunderstood or disagreed with. But I sense we’re only scratching the surface. What else could this mean?

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I could make a connection or a new friend I otherwise never would have met.

I could sow the seeds of a really good idea which would never have seen the light of day.

I could experience something new and different in my appreciation of my own self, my body and my senses.

Through this, I could begin to notice little details which have long escaped me – colors, smells, those intangible, seemingly electrical currents in the air which denote a change of mood in a room.

I could bring a fuller attention to that great center of concentration and appreciation – the breath – and begin to breathe in a deeper, more relaxed way.

I could allow my breath to carry away my tensions and concerns, and just be with what is, in this present moment.comfortable with being uncomfortable

The Remarkable Power of Focus

The clarity and focus brought by these simple methods – all stemming from a decision to pay attention and focus purely on now – provide a remarkable platform for personal growth. And, what’s more, they are the tools with which we might come to a closer, more colorful, more vivid relationship with reality itself. Now that I’m breathing deeply, focusing intently and avoiding distraction, what could come next?

I could maybe even put aside my worries about speaking up, even before they emerge.

I could maybe even let go of all my fears – of being overwhelmed by events, or of being seen as selfish or overbearing – and let my past experience, and the present moment, be my guides.

I could maybe even come to understand the infinite, crystalline beauty at the center of each moment in time. I could revel in its wonders, and breathe in its simple ‘this-ness’.

I could maybe even apprehend, first hand, that every other human breathes and thinks and fears, that every one of us is fallible and uncertain, and that every other human – in fact, every other living thing that there has ever been – shares a connection with me.

I could maybe even strengthen and affirm that connection by sharing openly with others, listening attentively to them, asking them more about their opinions and validating their views. I could become part of a continuous circle of encouragement, a network of positive energy shared between willing, open participants.

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My student’s technique is a very worthwhile one, especially because it works in two dimensions at once. Someone who is patiently fixated on the present moment is gaining a fuller measure of its beauty and potential than someone who is distracted. Furthermore, that focused mind has no space for such distractions, and those who practice meditation and methods of bringing sustained focus to a task are always reminded to let the distracting thoughts go.

Don’t Let Fear Win

In my student’s case, the distraction was her own fear. She was worried at speaking up and saying something which would fall short; it’s a classic student problem, and we all recognize the desire not to ‘lose face’ in front of classmates. But, as my student seemed already to understand, these fears are both unfounded and artificial; they are created entirely by that part of one’s mind which seeks to disrupt the fullest apprehension of reality. Instead, this cynical part of the mind wishes for us to witness a self-generated home movie, one in which we always fail.

What is the spark that will lead you forward?  My student will see, as she practices bringing her full attention to each moment, that the movie only runs when we’re paying attention to it. If we bring our minds purely to the present moment, and let them reside in its remarkable clarity and beauty, then we are seldom disturbed by worry, regret or fear of failure. Instead, we approach each moment afresh, ready to see what it will offer us, and others, with our minds sublimely open.

Anabel Jensen

President of Six Seconds and professor of education, Anabel Jensen, Ph.D., is a master teacher and a pioneer in emotional intelligence education. A two-time Federal Blue Ribbon winner for excellence in education, she was Executive Director of the Nueva School from 1983 to 1997 where she helped develop the Self-Science curriculum featured in Daniel Goleman’s 1995 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence.