Seeking discomfort

Behavioral Insights Germany and Saudi Arabia

In many areas of personal growth, the goals we set are coupled with discomfort and pain that challenge our perseverance and initial motivation. But what if we could embrace the pain as a positive indicator for progress instead of a negative sign of difficulties?

Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach (in press) ran five experiments to test the idea that actively seeking discomfort can actually increase a person’s motivation across different areas of personal development. In one of the experiments, the authors tasked study participants to read news articles from opposing political views, which presumably is more uncomfortable than reading articles that match one’s views or values. The authors found that participants were significantly more motivated to read news articles of opposing views when asked to adopt discomfort as a goal (i.e., as a positive indicator of progress), compared to being tasked to simply adopt the goal of learning something new.

The results of the other experiments were also consistent with the authors’ initial prediction: when discomfort is inherent to growth, then embracing that very discomfort can actually be motivating!

Link to original study (preprint): OSF | Motivating Personal Growth by Seeking Discomfort