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The Newsletter | Edition 082
Progress Report is dedicated to providing inspiration for action. In our Off-White Papers, we provide practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. This newsletter explores those topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now.

But in this special newsletter series, The State Of, we dive a little deeper into the long-term work that comes after, in the places where we’re seeing new types of progress in action. From brand strategy to design, internet trends to sustainability, music to science, beauty to travel, and more.

And this time, our illustrations from Cyra Cupid.


As humans, we’re hardwired to seek comfort, and, as a society, we’re increasingly conditioned to view stress as a burden to be managed and minimized. But, while we’re trained to see discomfort as a sign of a problem, in reality it’s a sign of progress. So, it’s time we each reappraise discomfort. Instead of running away from it, we must run towards it with open arms because discomfort is the breeding ground for growth.


This is me, getting uncomfortable. I’m not a fan of the spotlight nor am I one to raise my hand and broadcast opinions. My comfort zone is in the work solving the challenge at hand. Perhaps it’s modesty, or more likely a fear of saying something stupid (according to Myers-Briggs my worst nightmare is saying something idiotic every time I open my mouth). So, why am I sitting here, writing this, and feeling all squeamish inside?

Because I’m reminding myself that discomfort breeds growth. Writing this piece is a step in my journey to growing and getting wonderfully uncomfortable along the way. And it’s a friendly reminder for us all to welcome more discomfort in our lives everyday.


It's human nature for us to drift towards comfort. Even the dictionary definition of comfort feels like a warm hug: "affording or enjoying contentment and security,” “free from vexation or doubt,” “free from stress or fear.” In fact, our comfort zones are hardwired. When you’re comfortable, your brain releases chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which lead to positive, happy feelings.

It’s also no secret that we’re living in a world that’s more stressful than ever so it’s only natural that we retreat to our safe spaces in these burdensome times. We see a great retreat to comfort in the clothes we wear from soft fabrics like mohair and velvet to the “cocoon-like” construction of Balenciaga’s SS22 show. We see it in the spaces we live, with home decor experiencing a spike in neutral, nature-inspired surfaces like marbles and round shapes and curves in furniture. We see it in the movies we watch, with the five top box office hits in 2022 all being movie franchises with a dose of nostalgia, from Jurassic Park to Top Gun. We see it in the music we listen to, with artists like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift using their latest albums to explore inner monologues and reject the burden of perfection. At the same time, stress management is a booming billion dollar industry that surrounds us with encouragement to soothe and comfort ourselves every day.

But, while comfort feels like a worthy ambition, in reality, comfort is one of our biggest built-in barriers to growth. When imagining what growth feels like, we envision feelings of fulfillment and uplift, like flowers growing on a warm sunny day. But, the truth is, growth often feels the opposite. Growth feels awkward, itchy, and painful at times. Growth is stretching yourself into spaces you’ve never been. When you jump your personal S curve to take on a new skill or area of growth, you cross a chasm to a space where you’re no longer an expert but a newbie. And being a newbie feels weird. Ultimately, building new skills is a lot like building muscles. We exert ourselves and our muscles go into metabolic stress. The muscle fibers are damaged, but ultimately we heal, recover, and grow stronger and better from it.

So, what if we flipped our mindset and reappraised discomfort? What if instead of seeing discomfort as a sign of a problem, we flipped to seeing it as a sign of progress? What if discomfort wasn’t something to be avoided, but rather something to be sought after and appreciated?

In fact, research shows that if we view discomfort as part of our growth process, then we experience more positive emotions and outcomes. In a 2022 research study, people who were encouraged to embrace discomfort when doing different activities like improv or journaling felt more motivated, persistent, and open to new knowledge. Researcher Jeremy Jamieson also demonstrated that students asked to reframe pre-test anxiety as beneficial actually perform better on their exams. Another stream of research done by Peter Salovey and Shawn Achor illustrated that people with a “stress is enhancing” mindset have a more moderate cortisol response and are more open to feedback to learn and grow in the long-term.


By writing this piece and through my own practice I’m learning to sit with my own discomfort for growth. These are actions we can practice for ourselves but also model for our teams to create a space where it feels natural and exciting for everyone to get wonderfully uncomfortable and grow together.

The first step to transforming your response to discomfort is to ‘see’ it. Identify it and put a name to it. What is really leading you to feel the way you are? Take time to figure out the true source of discomfort and label it. For me, through this process, I’m calling it what it is: “Publishing personal perspectives stresses me out because I’m worried I’m going to say something stupid and you’re doing to judge me.” That’s the first step.

Stop yourself from rationalizing away why the new thing isn’t worth doing and instead just do it. It’s easy to tell yourself that doing the thing isn’t that important or that you just don’t have the time for it. The voice in my head says things like, “It’s more about the quality of the project work, I’ve got other important stuff I have to get done first, blah blah.” When you find yourself making excuses, check yourself and make the choice to pursue the uncomfortable.

Don’t keep the discomfort bottled inside. Let it out with a little mad truth saying. Joke about it to bring some levity. Vent about it with your teams. Bond over it. Yes, it takes vulnerability, but vocalizing your feelings will lift some of the burden and give you a natural support system to help you grow through it.

Last but not least: take control of your discomfort and make it your own. Resist the idea that there’s a single “right” way to do anything. Find a way to bring your own personality and style to the areas outside your comfort zone. Let’s say you dread publishing an article? Take the article and do it your way. Or, say you avoid schmoozing with strangers at ‘networking’ events, how can you do that in a way that’s your own? How can you tweak the situation to your liking? Instead of being overwhelmed by a new situation, how can you take control and make it your own?

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