Motivating Personal Growth by Seeking Discomfort

Psychol Sci. 2022 Apr;33(4):510-523. doi: 10.1177/09567976211044685. Epub 2022 Mar 29.


Achieving personal growth often requires experiencing discomfort. What if instead of tolerating discomfort (e.g., feeling awkward or uncomfortable), people actively sought it out? Because discomfort is usually experienced immediately and is easy to detect, we suggest that seeking discomfort as a signal of growth can increase motivation. Five experiments (total N = 2,163 adults) tested this prediction across various areas of personal growth: taking improvisation classes to increase self-confidence, engaging in expressive writing to process difficult emotions, becoming informed about the COVID-19 health crisis, opening oneself to opposing political viewpoints, and learning about gun violence. Across these areas of personal development, seeking discomfort as a signal of self-growth motivated engagement and increased perceived goal achievement relative to standard instructions. Consistent with our theorizing, results showed that these effects occurred only in areas of personal growth that cause immediate discomfort.

Keywords: motivation; negative experience; open data; open materials; preregistered; self-control; self-growth goals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achievement
  • Adult
  • COVID-19*
  • Emotions
  • Goals
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Motivation