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Why Are You So Distracted? Internal Discomfort as the Path.

Why Are You So Distracted?

As I sit down to write this article, an article I have attempted to write four times, I need you to know that I am under considerable stress. As a result, my focus is off. I type words on my laptop, but none of them seem to go anywhere. As I type I hear a quiet call in the back of my mind urging me to give up and turn on Netflix. This is because the stress that I am under is causing a lot of internal discomfort and, instead of acknowledging and addressing the discomfort in a healthy way, some part of me would rather distract myself from it.


I know with one hundred percent certainty that if you are alive, you can relate. Not a human being among us has escaped this planet without experiencing internal discomfort that drove them to unhealthy distraction. If you are suffering from a distracted mind, likely this is the problem. The thing is, many people incorrectly assume the challenge is the internal discomfort, when actually the challenge is the methods used to manage it.


This is my first point:

Internal discomfort is a valuable part of the physiological body’s communication system. It may cause some distraction at first but, if dealt with in healthy, intelligent ways, that distraction will dissipate and your focus will return naturally.


Distracted minds are often the outcome of unhealthy coping mechanisms, and this is what I want to discuss with you today. In this article I intend to help you manage your distracted mind. To do this, I am going to describe the types of healthy methods you can use to manage internal discomfort as well as how to use these methods correctly so as not to keep you locked in continuous cycles of distraction.


What Is Internal Discomfort and Where Does It Come From?


When I use the word internal discomfort I am referring to any feeling inside of the bodymind that is experienced as unpleasant and creates a desire to diminish it in some way. Sometimes internal discomfort will be obvious, at other times it may be a low level sensation that is nearly out of the lens of conscious awareness. It is most often experienced during transitions from one activity to another, when bored or without clear goals, when alone, when performing challenging tasks, or during periods of silence.


Internal discomfort is a build up of many factors in your life that have been left unattended. For this reason, the cause of internal discomfort is often not one factor but a conglomerate of aspects of being human. That said, there are some main conglomerate causes of internal discomfort that can be pinpointed, and these include:

  • General life stress,

  • Stuck emotions from unresolved past experiences or traumas,

  • Specific illness or injury,

  • Lack of connection to the bodymind,

  • Acting out of alignment with core values/guiding principles,

  • Current stressful life experiences, and

  • Lack of healthy emotional expression.

Layers of Discomfort


There are two types of internal discomfort, a primary and a secondary type. This is an important distinction to make. Let me illustrate with an example.


Suppose you had a very challenging traumatic experience in childhood that you have never dealt with. As you time passed, the internal discomfort that this experience generated has moved from the foreground of your experience to a more background role but, nevertheless, it influences you on a regular basis in a variety of ways. This would be your primary internal discomfort.

In keeping with the example of a challenging traumatic experience in childhood, let’s say that at the time of the experience you discovered that if you ate to excess whenever you were feeling bad, the feeling would lessen. Over the years you turned to this strategy so often it became a habitual response. As a result, at the age you are now you have significant complications related to overeating. The complications that have arisen cause you increased internal discomfort, and from this you turn to other unhealthy behaviors to mask the feeling; watching tv, drinking alcohol, disconnected social media scrolling. This is your secondary internal discomfort, and this is where the cycle begins.


It is this cycle of responding that keeps you locked in a space of feeling unmotivated, hopeless, and out of alignment with your authentic self. You feel bad, you turn to something to make you feel better, it makes you feel better temporarily but then it makes things worse and so you look for something else to take that pain away. Now you are a prisoner, not to innate human tendencies or a lack of adequate capacity for ultimate wellbeing, but simply as a natural byproduct of your unhealthy ways of managing internal discomfort at its source.


What Can You Do About This?


The truth is that you are already doing something about the internal discomfort. The problem is not if you are or are not doing something. The problem is do you know the right thing to do to kick you out of this unnecessary cycle of distraction?


This is my second point:

When we learn the correct methods to use when feeling internal discomfort we will naturally lessen both the discomfort and the distraction that it is causing.


When we feel internal discomfort there are three healthy responses:

  1. Do nothing, notice the discomfort and give it space without interference.

  2. Apply a healthy external antidote to eliminate or cope with the discomfort.

  3. Apply a healthy internal antidote to eliminate or change your relationship to the discomfort.

It is true that we all use all of these methods at least some of the time. However, as I have stated already, most of us were not taught how to apply the correct method in the correct moment. The incorrect use of method is the reason we get locked in the cycle of distraction in the first place. While this may not sound like it, it is actually great news. It means that if you learn what method to use when, you will change your relationship to the cyclic addiction to distracting behaviors and their detrimental consequences. In that way, you will free yourself to act and live more in alignment with your authentic self. Additionally, changing your response to internal discomfort will allow you to regain focus and attention, and, as discussed in the previous article Your Most Valuable Asset, there is really nothing greater you own than this.


What Is the Right Method?


The first thing you should know is that to change your response to internal discomfort will require some effort. To start, you will need to practice becoming aware of when internal discomfort is causing you to seek unhealthy distraction. Next, you will need to study the three methods that follow so that you are familiar enough with them as to be capable of deploying them in the moment, rather than your past unhealthy methods. Finally, you will need to try and fail (perhaps many times) as you work to make the new methods of responding habits that naturally emerge when you are faced with discomfort.

The next thing you should know is that there is no right method all of the time. However, there are some clear rules for when one method is preferable over another and those are what I am going to explain to you now, method by method.


Method One

Do nothing, notice the discomfort and give it space without interfering.

When to use it

This method should only be used if you are already well on your way to having high levels of emotional / self control and have dealt with any major traumas in your life. If you are not quite there yet, then I advise you to use this method not during actual stressful events, but as a training tactic in meditation to strengthen your ability in the future to use this method adequately.


Doing nothing is not always an option. For instance if you are in the middle of being attacked verbally or physically and are experiencing significant internal discomfort, or if you are reliving a traumatic memory or experiencing in the moment anxiety or stress. Under these circumstances, this strategy will fall short of supporting you. Only the most Buddha like among us could deploy this strategy safely in those moments.


Further, doing nothing is not even possible for most people, especially when starting out on the self-development path. Underdeveloped self control makes it so that most people who are experiencing discomfort internally, whether from past or current traumas, cannot imagine sitting with it without applying any antidote. For this reason, think of this method not as a tool for in the moment, but as an ambition for much later in your process of healing and self development and as a training technique while on the way to achieving your highest potential.


How to use it

While sitting in meditation, when any uncomfortable sensation arises, for instance an itch or a desire to move your legs, or something more emotionally salient (as long as you feel safe) resist applying any antidote, such as shifting or scratching or giving into the emotion. Instead, explore the sensation mentally and imagine giving it space to breathe. You can even visualize yourself sitting back inside of your body in such a way that you imagine making space for the experience to run its course.


If you are ready to begin working with this method and are looking for guidance, we recommend the 21 Day Prescription Self Transformation Plan called Begin Here: A Clear View, which you can find on the Mindful Island website.


The thing to remember

This method is highly sophisticated and takes time to learn and use. Using this method should be approached with caution. This method is less a method when you are just beginning in your self development journey and more a training technique to deploy inside of a meditation practice.


Method Two

Apply a healthy external antidote to eliminate or cope with the discomfort.


When to use it

Externally eliminating internal discomfort can be a wonderful thing granted it is possible and will not create a situation where the discomfort will simply return at another time and perhaps even more intensely. This method is where many people get into trouble and I dare say this method is the method the Western world is practically addicted to. The important factor to consider in applying this method is whether or not you are using external changes as a tool to escape facing challenge.


When things are challenging, the most common method of dealing with them in the West is to take a pill, escape through technology, overeat, drink alcohol etc. These examples would be considered an incorrect use of this method. By incorrectly using this method you become someone who has a tool but lacks the wisdom regarding how the tool should be used, like a child who tries to eat soup with a fork or comb their hair with a shoe.


While making external changes may bring immediate short term stress release, there is no doubt that when the internal discomfort returns, which it will, you will be creating a situation where more and more of the external is needed to control it. Additionally, most externals have their own hefty negative consequences that will simply create more internal discomfort, which will lead to more distraction.


This is where discrimination and the development of it is extremely important. Discrimination is often not possible in the moment of serious internal discomfort, so practicing and honing this skill is best accomplished when you are not extremely aroused. To develop discrimination you should assess the external tools that you use to manage internal discomfort and ask yourself what exactly are the long and short term benefits and consequences of them. If you find that the external tools you use are causing you more harm than good, it is a sure sign that you are using this method incorrectly.


How to use it

The best way to use this method is in limited, short term, intermittent doses. Any long term exposure to an external will naturally decrease your capacity to manage internal discomfort and that is essentially the opposite of what you want. If, for instance you find yourself immediately experiencing internal discomfort and lacking the ability to make an internal shift, doing something to distract yourself may be the best solution, however the tool you use for distraction should be uplifting and absent of detrimental consequences.


A list of tools include:

  • Listening to uplifting audio content at a high volume (ie. music, talks, meditations, etc.).

  • A deep rest protocol, letting focus wander and finding relaxation.

  • A bath or cold shower (depending on the type of discomfort).

  • Breathing practices that can be deployed to reduce stress in the moment, such as Wave Breathing.

  • Exercise or other immediate movement based events (shaking is an excellent practice to reset the nervous system when it is over active, also yoga, hanging or high intensity interval training).

For an extreme example I will tell the story of a young woman I worked with who was self harming. The self harming was caused by intense internal discomfort. When the internal discomfort would arise for her she would reach for a razor blade. This is a pretty extreme action and resulted from the intensity of the internal discomfort.


To meet this type of intense internal discomfort, it would not have been helpful to tell this young woman to try to calm herself down, she needed an equally powerful external tool to use in the moment as she transitioned from a negative coping mechanism to a more constructive one. I suggested practices like sprinting and cold water immersion. The moment she felt discomfort arise I instructed her to, no matter what she was doing, take off at full speed and repeat as many times as necessary. At other times, if possible, she was to jump fully clothed in any body of water or take a cold shower. The point is, when using an external tool to distract from or deal with or get through internal discomfort you should follow a few simple rules:

  • Greet the intensity with equal intensity - deep slow breathing may work for some types of discomfort, for others you will need a more intense external and this is ok. Assess what type of discomfort you are experiencing and then look for tools to meet you where you are.

  • Use a tool that has nearly no detrimental consequences or side effects, this eliminates all drugs and substances other than those prescribed by a medical professional.

  • Change your environment. If it is possible, sometimes the simple act of leaving one place for another is enough to calm your system. For example if you are an overeater, leave the house, go for a walk in nature or a swim if possible, get away from the negative coping strategy and replace it with a positive one.

The thing to remember

This method is fast acting and works for relieving in the moment discomfort. It is the most accessible method for most people but requires training in discrimination between constructive versus destructive external tools.


Method Three

Apply a healthy internal antidote to eliminate or change your relationship to the discomfort.


When to use it

It is less likely but still possible that you use this method incorrectly. Unlike the last method however it is rarely the case that there will be such intense negative consequences if you do. Rather what you will find from incorrectly using this method is that you become frustrated when nothing changes, and this may lead you to giving up. That is something I want to help you avoid.


The rules for using this method are:

  • Know the right antidote for the right discomfort,

  • Remember it is not always about you. For example, if you have an abusive partnership, whether physical or emotional, you can do a lot of internal work but if you really want to eliminate the internal discomfort in a healthy way, eventually you will have to leave the relationship.

The most challenging aspect of this method is the first rule; knowing the right antidote. Correct antidotes are beyond the scope for this article and so I will not go into depth on them now. Knowing the right antidote requires sensitivity and highly individualized approach depending upon your unique circumstances. To find the antidotes yourself you must clearly see what form the internal discomfort has taken (ie. anger, jealousy, sadness, etc.) and then fiercely apply its opposite mindset (ie. anger/compassion, jealousy/joy at the success of others, sadness/gratitude).


How to use it

This method can be used both in the moment and/or as a training tool during meditation practice. To use these methods is to set the mind on the antidote and practice through internal dialogue, visualization, or manifesting sensations, to move your mind from the negative internal experience towards the positive. There are many guided meditations that can help with this and I encourage you to use these as practice for how to deploy this method in the moment.


The thing to remember

This method is not quite as challenging as the first method, but more challenging than the second. This method also takes time. Over time however, from using this method your mind will become adept at immediately converting negative internal experiences into positive ones.

Conclusion

If you understand various healthy ways of coping with internal discomfort, and you begin to deploy them intelligently, you will not only feel better about your outcomes, but you will minimize how much distraction the experience of internal discomfort creates in your life. This is internal discomfort as the path.


It is the case that internal discomfort causes its own amount of distraction, like for me in my current situation, but when I wisely choose to bring awareness to it and use a strategy that will minimize the negative impact the discomfort has on my life, I increase the odds of staying true to my guiding principles and achieving my goals, and this is something you also have within your power.


When you do this again and again, use the right strategy at the right time, you will break free from the cycle of distraction leading to more distraction and create a new healthy cycle of managing normal, challenging life experiences in uplifting and freeing ways.


This is a lot of information to digest, so I will leave you here now with the hope that understanding more completely the methods of managing internal discomfort will have as a profound impact on your life as it has had on my own. You deserve to achieve your goals, so I humbly offer what I know as help along your path. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to connect with me, I love to hear from you and will always do my best to support your process.


Until next time,


live mindfully, be well,

Sarah


PS. If you are looking for one-on-one guidance, we are accepting two new students into our Ultimate Wellness & Performance Program. This multidimensional program is an excellent way to confront your detrimental habits and learn/practice new more constructive methods of working with yourself and your life experiences in order to optimize your performance, health and move towards your ultimate potential. For more information contact us today.

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