As a psychotherapist and author of books on mental strength, I've observed the stark difference between individuals who reach their goals and those who give up along the way.

When some people set their minds to do something, they did it. They got out of debt, lost weight, or got their college degree. Others, however, struggled to stay motivated and gave up before reaching their dream. 

What makes some people persist, bounce back, and overcome challenges while others make excuses, give up after their first failure, and throw in the towel?

People who crush their goals are confident they can handle feeling uncomfortable. They're willing to tolerate some short-term discomfort when they know there is going to be a payoff in the end.

The Fear of Discomfort Leads to Unhealthy Habits

The desire to stay comfortable leads to unhealthy habits that can ultimately sabotage your chances of success.

I'm not just talking about bad habits like smoking or eating too much junk food. I'm talking about mental and emotional bad habits too.

Perhaps you indulge in self-pity or dwell on the past. Or, maybe you're a people-pleaser. Those kinds of bad habits can prevent you from reaching your greatest potential.

Your bad habits can feel like a security blanket. Giving them up creates a lot of emotional distress. So even though they aren't working for you, you might find yourself clinging onto them for all your worth.

Short-Term Comfort Has Long-Term Consequences

So if a habit isn't serving you well, why would you hang on to it? It's because you're receiving a short-term pay off that keeps your discomfort at bay.

Here's an example. Imagine you decide you're going to stop eating so much junk food. That same evening, you are daydreaming about eating cookies as a snack--something that gives you solace. Passing up those cookies means you might feel anxious, sad, bored, or even lonely.  

You try to tell yourself not to give in to your craving. But, you just can't stop thinking about those cookies. Within an hour, you convince yourself that you deserve to cheat a little because you've been "good" all day.

You walk into the kitchen, grab some cookies, and temporarily make yourself feel better. When you're done, you feel guilty and discouraged about your ability to stick to your goals.

A similar thing occurs with unhealthy mental habits. Imagine your boss gave you some feedback that was tough to hear. It hurt your feelings but rather than allow yourself to feel sad, you complain to your co-workers about how mean your boss is and you spend the afternoon texting your friends about how much you hate your job.

Grumbling about your boss, venting about your job, and feeling sorry for yourself temporarily helps you avoid feeling embarrassed and disappointed. But ultimately, it prevents you from taking any action to improve your performance.

How to Face Uncomfortable Feelings Head-On

Ironically, your attempts to avoid discomfort in the short-term will cause you greater distress in the long-term.

You have to be willing to allow yourself to experience a wide range of uncomfortable emotions, like sadness, anxiety, embarrassment, boredom, and frustration.

Experiencing tough emotions head-on will help you see that discomfort isn't the worst thing in the world. And when you prove to yourself that you can tolerate being uncomfortable, you can persist in reaching your long-term goals.

Successful people don't necessarily feel less distress or emotional pain. But, they do have confidence in their ability to withstand discomfort.

Giving up your mental, emotional, and behavioral habits will feel uncomfortable. But, giving yourself the opportunity to endure a little distress can also help you build mental strength. And the stronger you become, the easier it becomes to reach your long-term goals. 

Published on: Nov 20, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.