Discomfort is essential to learning

Discomfort is essential to learning

Discomfort is essential to learning

My son is getting dressed and he is battling to balance. He does tend to battle with his balance at times. I see him trying to get his shorts on and he wobbles. As a parent, I want to protect him from the obvious negative outcome – him falling and hurting himself in the process. On a deeper level, maybe I also want to protect him from the discomfort he is feeling as he struggles to balance whilst getting dressed.

Yet I know the discomfort is so essential to his learning. And so, we both show a level of restraint and patience, I suppose, in the next minute that feels like forever. He pushes through and despite wobbling a lot, manages to a) avoid falling and b) succeeds at getting his shorts on. I am utilising all my resources to practice self-restraint and not interfere. I know his struggle is essential to learning and ultimately, autonomy.

Whenever I run any workshop, I always reference the four stages of competence, pictured below. It is said that learning happens between the stages of conscious incompetence and conscious competence. This is also where we require the highest levels of resilience as learners because all we want to do, is revert back to the stuff that makes us comfortable. Yet it’s in the discomfort and struggle that the most learning happens!

As the observer opposite the learner (be that in the form of a parent, line manager, facilitator), we too require our own resilience to notice the discomfort in others, as they move in and out of their learning zones. Thanks to the ever-growing body of knowledge from the world of neuroscience, we know that this is where new habits are formed, insights are brewed, neural pathways are firing away! It’s the incubator for a growth mindset and the arena for neuroplasticity. We also know that being in the learning zone improves our performance.

So next time you want to interfere … don’t. Recognise what shifts are happening in the moments of discomfort and don’t be afraid to sit with it. Also, recognise your own discomfort playing out as you observe the other persons discomfort. There are lessons to be learnt in that duality. Being able to notice is always the first step of managing any experience and this is no exception. Welcome curiosity and self-compassion to the experience. And let’s get comfortable with being uncomfortable. These are not conditions to be avoided, but rather embraced as essential to the learning journey.

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