Sociologist and civil rights pioneer, W.E.B. Du Bois, was the first African American to earn a doctorate from Harvard. He wrote extensively and extolled the virtues of being uncomfortable for personal growth.
That belief can be read in a beautifully drafted letter Du Bois sent to his daughter, Yolande. The fourteen year old was headed to a new boarding school across the Atlantic Ocean, thousands of miles from the comforts and familiarity of home and the world she knew. It was 1914, years before woman had the right to vote and decades before the Civil Rights Movement.
Dr. Du Bois knew that Yolande would most understandably have moments out of her comfort zone and urged her to revel in them rather than shy away from them.
“Don’t shrink from new experiences and custom. Take the cold bath bravely. Enter into the spirit of your big bed-room. Enjoy what is and not pine for what is not. Read some good, heavy, serious books just for discipline: Take yourself in hand and master yourself. Make yourself do unpleasant things, so as to gain the upper hand of your soul.”
The next time you are faced with a situation that may force you to step out of your comfort zone, or makes you feel uncomfortable, take Du Bois’ advice and “take the cold bath bravely” and see where it leads you.
Here are three tips to get you started:
Seek new experiences
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, therapist and author of Better than Perfect, says people who regularly seek out fresh experiences tend to be more creative and emotionally resilient than those who remain stuck in routine.
“Breaking your own mold can only make you stronger and more confident to reach higher levels in your professional and personal life,” Lombardo says.
Innovation happens when we step outside our comfort zone. Being stagnant in routine often results in falling creativity Lombardo says, “In order to be more creative, you have to try new things, see things in a new way, put pieces together in a new manner.”
What is holding us back from taking that first step is the other word that starts with an F, fear. Fear of failure can be paralyzing. Any new skill always feels awkward and stressful at first, but the more you do it, the more comfortable it will be. The key to overcoming fear, Lombardo says is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and doing it on a regular basis.
Learn to take a compliment
According to a study by Acknowledgement Works, nearly 70% of people associated embarrassment or discomfort with the process of being recognized. While a typical reaction to a compliment is immediately give one back, discount it, laugh it off, deflect it to others are all learned responses based on past experiences.
We’ve probably all done it at some point in time, been given a compliment for our hard work and can’t seem to accept it. Instead of laughing it off or downplaying it, just say “thank you”. See, was that so hard?
Recognition is often more about the giver than the receiver. When someone is complimenting you, they are sharing how your actions or behaviors impacted them. The key is to accepting recognition is to relate to it as though it is a gift. When you divert it, it’s like we are taking that gift and throwing it back in their face.
Learn to take critical feedback
On the flip-side of accepting recognition, learning to hear criticism with an open mind, can be one of the most fortifying achievements of your career and personal growth.
Sometimes, even with the best intentions, taking feedback well can be a struggle. Your impulse will be to protect yourself; to get defensive, or stop listening. So, be conscious of it. Listen to it all without interruption. Ask questions to make sure you’re interpreting the feedback correctly. Repeat back what you heard and seek specific examples and possible solutions.
Constructive criticism although difficult to hear, is often times one of the only ways we learn about our weaknesses— without it we can’t improve.
According to Du Bois, doing unpleasant things is a one step closer to gaining, “the upper hand of your soul”