IT Best Practices

How to Fight through Intellectual Discomfort

There are days when we get an assignment or project thrown onto our desk and the first thing we think is, “This is going to be hard… No way can I do this!” So we may push it off, attempt and give up, or, worst of all, make it someone else’s responsibility. In order to be able to improve our skills, advance our careers, and pursue innovation, we must be able to deal with intellectual discomfort. According to Carson Tate in an article for 99U, to do anything less would be a waste of our time, and even our talent.

A Mental Marathon

Tate says we avoid intellectual discomfort because it requires our deepest level of thought, attention, and presence, much of which “we’ve lost touch with as a result of full inboxes, the growing number of social media platforms, and media content that updates constantly. Deeply intellectual work is soul work that takes more time and energy.” After all, how can we improve if our work is easy and we breeze through it? Here are four ways to help sharpen your focus:

  1. Work in timed-work intervals (but with a twist).
  2. Commit to do one more set, especially when you’re tapped out.
  3. Combat decision fatigue.
  4. Access your inner “why” and never settle.

Regarding the first tip, the Pomodoro Method is based on the idea that frequent breaks can improve mental agility. So set a timer. Start small, maybe ten minutes. Completely focus on your challenging project. That means no email, no phone, and turn off all alerts. Then take a break and completely shift gears to something else when the timer goes off. Each week increase the time to the timer until you are able to sit for hours at a time and tackle complicated work.

Just when you feel like you can’t go on any longer, keep going anyway! Don’t give into the exhaustion or frustration. Commit to write one more sentence, make one more calculation, etc. Pushing through in these moments when you feel utterly drained will make you stronger and build character. That being said, doing so may require some extra recovery time in-between, so keep that in mind in so you don’t burn out.

Furthermore, decision fatigue is a real thing. In order to work around this, consider doing your most intellectually uncomfortable work for a specific period of time first thing in the morning, before the barrage of emails, calls, and decision-making ensues and erodes your stamina. Don’t give up before you have truly given your all.  Ask yourself why you started in the first place. If you don’t push past the discomfort and challenges, you will never reach your full potential.

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