Deliberate Discomfort

December / 2020
Author: Dan Bradley

We all have a terrible habit of seeking comfort in every aspect of life. The truth is that most of us have never spent more than a few minutes of our lives experiencing true, legitimate, genuine discomfort. For many of us, comfort is our standard of living – but also our biggest weakness.

So here’s the thing – I literally make my living by selling comfort. I am the Director of Sales at Kahn Mechanical Contractors in Dallas, and we sell HVAC systems and solutions to commercial clients throughout North Texas. To put that more candidly, I sell cold air in the desert. While I’m not exactly selling ice to Eskimos, I’m good at what I do, and I get to live comfortably because we’re very skilled and efficient at delivering comfort and peace of mind to clients. If I wake up every morning focused on making people as comfortable as possible, why would I say that there’s value in deliberate discomfort? I promise the irony of the situation is not lost on me.

I’m not going to take a hardcore snake-eater approach in this article and argue along the lines that comfort breeds weakness, but I truly believe that putting yourself (and others, to an extent) in uncomfortable situations is the key to unlocking long-term personal growth. Why? Because when you put humans in a state of deliberate discomfort, you reveal their true character.

Why do you think that the most elite tiers of military training make it a point to force extreme and sustained discomfort on their candidates? It’s not because instructors are cruel or heartless (even though it sometimes feels that way). It’s because discomfort reveals a completely different side of people’s personalities and qualities. When exposed to sustained discomfort, people who say they are team players start to take care of themselves before their teammates. You’ll see people completely freeze up and not be able to accomplish basic tasks or make simple decisions, start to pass the blame for their shortcomings on to other people, and cease to be productive members of a team – all because a situation is slightly and temporarily inconvenient to them. People who succeed in dynamic, challenging, and uncertain environments can deal with the discomfort and operate just as effectively under less than desirable circumstances. Truthfully, some of the most effective leaders don’t just survive in discomfort, they thrive in it.

Those leaders weren’t born that way, and they didn’t attain that capability by accident. They intentionally exposed themselves to uncomfortable situations enough times that they identified their hidden shortcomings, deliberately worked to improve them, and eventually achieved something truly incredible – the ability to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

It is human nature to seek comfort and to cling to it, but you can’t improve by doing the same comfortable things repeatedly. You need to expose yourself to something uncomfortable, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or professionally, every day. Deliberately pursuing discomfort is the only way to push past self-imposed artificial boundaries, expose weaknesses, and ensure that you are a more capable leader today than you were yesterday.

The tough truth is that you, like most people, probably aren’t comfortable being uncomfortable. That’s not because you aren’t capable of it, but because you haven’t intentionally and repeatedly experienced discomfort enough to thrive in the face of it. What are you going to do today to take the first steps towards being comfortable with discomfort?


 After graduating from the Air Force Academy, Dan served for over five years as an officer in the elite Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) community within Air Force Special Warfare. In that time, he became qualified as an Air Liaison Officer (ALO) and a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), rising quickly to be entrusted with prominent leadership, management, and director roles. Dan partnered with EF Overwatch in 2019 and now works as the Director of Sales for Kahn Mechanical Contractors, a commercial HVAC company in Dallas. He and his wife Lauren live in Flower Mound, Texas.