how to know the difference between real pain and discomfort


lisa fabrega

26 July

Walking Capacity Retreat participants through a discernment exercise.

I was at the gym flipping a 135-pound tire across the room back and forth.  My amazing trainer had asked me to do this six times back and forth in under a minute. (!!!) I felt like one of those amazing Amazonian warrior womxn from the WonderWoman movie. 

But a little bit of discomfort was starting to creep up on my lower back muscles.

“Is it hurting or is it just uncomfortable because you’re challenging the muscles?” He checked in with me to make sure I was staying safe.

“Actually, they’re just uncomfortable, like when I’m doing bicep curls and the lactic acid builds up”, I said.  “That’s okay then”, he says, “we have to make your muscles a little uncomfortable so they get even stronger.”

I had a little “lightning bolt” moment when he said that. 

You see, one of the most vital distinctions we can learn to make to expand our emotional and physical capacity is this: 

learning how to tell the difference between pain and discomfort.

In fact, learning how to discern the difference between the two can be VITAL to the growth of your mission and success. Most womxn I speak with conflate the two.  And when we do that, we really run the risk of sabotaging ourselves big time.

Just like when we’re building stronger muscles in our body, discomfort is a part of growth. That feeling of being sore isn’t really fun after a good workout.  The feeling of being out of your comfort zone when you’re making important, but unfamiliar changes or taking risks in your career, business or life is not fun.

Just yesterday I was talking to my introverted client, who wants to bring in a few more clients this month, that she needs to start going to more local networking events. She was uncomfortable doing it, but she knew a lot of potential clients or referrals would be there.  By the time she goes to a few of them, it won’t be uncomfortable for her anymore.

(And by the way, whoever made up the rule that introverts don’t network? I know plenty of introverts who network successfully.  We’ve really got to stop letting labels hold back our expansion!) 

Discomfort is vital for growth. While pain, not necessarily so. 

Too many people push away growth because they get uncomfortable and mistake that discomfort for pain. When you mistake the discomfort of trying new things or stepping out of your comfort zone, for “pain”, that sends a “danger” signal to your ego. Your adrenaline shoots up, you might even feel like you will have a panic attack. And then you stop yourself. 

Welcome, Stucksville. 

If you’ve ever heard yourself saying things like “why is this taking so long? What’s blocking me?” chances are you’ve got a capacity issue when it comes to your discomfort-handling levels.

A few months back I was speaking with one of my clients who works in corporate about an important conversation she needed to have with her boss about a raise.  She avoided it for weeks because she thought it would create the “pain” of getting fired for asking for more.

When she finally realized in one of our sessions that this was discomfort (and not real pain or danger) she had the conversation with her boss and got the raise. It also opened up a conversation that brought them more onto the same page than ever before.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Anytime you do something new, you are going to experience discomfort. 

Now, pain may come up for you because you’re resisting discomfort. 

Like my client who was having recurring throat infections because she was not speaking up for herself in a business partnership with a colleague.  He consistently talked over her when they were pitching their idea to investors. Resisting telling him to stop that caused real physical pain for her in that case. 

But the pain wasn’t because she shouldn’t speak up to her business partner. The pain was because she was afraid of being uncomfortable. The minute we did the capacity work, she ovaried-up, went into the discomfort and told him. The throat infections stopped.

So yes, you might have pain because you’re resisting discomfort.  Or you might have discomfort that feels extreme at the moment because you’re in the middle of expanding your capacity so you can receive and do bigger things.

But that kind of pain doesn’t mean you should stop. 

It means you should face the resistance.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Likewise, pay attention to real pain- it’s an indicator to stop and reassess. If I was having real back pain, my trainer would have told me to stop and try something different. 

If working 14 hour days is causing you to have poor focus due to exhaustion, take a damn self-care day and reassess why you’re taking so many 14 hour days in the first place.  (Usually this is a sign of poor structural and emotional capacity FYI). 

But don’t stop yourself from taking the risk you need to take to move forward with your goals.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Now, I know your next question is going to be: “well, Lisa, HOW do I learn to get really good at knowing what is real pain and what is just discomfort?”  

Learning to tell the difference between the two is actually one of four pillars of my capacity framework. The pillar I’m talking about here is DISCERNMENT.  

Discernment is the ability to tell between
your ego fears and your soul yesses.  

One of the reasons I work SO much with my clients on getting REALLY good at their discernment is not for a “woo” reason (though I have no problem with the woo).  

No, the reason discernment is one of the PILLARS of the work I do with my clients is that being able to sharply discern what is GOOD discomfort and what is “stop and reassess” pain, WILL determine your long term success.  

Trying to get to your next level of life, career or business WITHOUT developing your discernment is like trying to win a race with zero gas in your tank.

Here are a few examples of HOW discernment determines your success in the long run.  Once you get your discernment fine-tuned:

  • You won’t stay stuck for weeks on one decision because of your ego fears.  You’ll just KNOW instantly what is right and wrong for you and decide quickly. No more decision fatigue or wasting precious time.
  • You’ll take a big risk and you’ll hear your ego freak out and warn of pain and danger.  BUT your soul will be LOUDER than your ego. So, you’ll make that call and book that TV gig, cut that program that is underperforming or have that raise conversation with your boss, even if it’s uncomfortable.
  • You’ll feel TOTALLY CONFIDENT saying no to that lucrative business opportunity because you’ll know that it will actually cause you pain and not the good kind of discomfort (and that knowing won’t be your ego wussing out, pretending to be your soul-knowing, which happens a lot)
  • You’ll know that health issue that crops up whenever you move forward is just a sign of resistance and you’ll do what you need to do to take care of yourself AND keep moving forward anyway.

THIS is what we call BUILDING your CAPACITY to hold, handle and receive MORE of your next level.  See how that all works?

This is why it’s not your strategy you need to be focusing on. But your capacity.

Capacity dictates everything.


You’re either expanding your capacity or you’re slowly shrinking by obsessing over strategies.

Which do you choose?


Want to expand your capacity by returning some of the energy you got from this post? Tell me in the comments what you got out of it!

In love and capacity,


Ps: Want to learn how to build your discernment as well as your capacity? 

I’m hosting a LIVE, in-person retreat at my personal home in Santa Barbara, October 12 & 13. It’s currently 50% sold out, so just a few spots remaining now.

We’ll be covering these topics:

  • How to expand the six major capacity areas that most successful women MUST have on point in order to go to the next level in their career, business, revenues, and legacy. 
  • You’ll discover where YOUR individual capacity needs to grow.
  • Learn how to clean up your agreements, relationships, and boundaries WITHOUT drama- so that your personal ecosystem propels you towards You 2.0
  • Understand why your favorite go-to life and business strategies are no longer producing the results you want and need
  • Master tweaking your capacity levers to ensure alignment no matter what life throws at you
  • And get unlimited real life, laser coaching with me in person.

If you want to learn more email and I will send you an invite with all the information you need to know.

This is an excellent way to get a taste of capacity work in an intimate, live setting, designed for profound transformation. AND at a seriously affordable price point. As most of my clients say, this work is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced!

And it’s the thing my clients said got them past their plateaus, even when they had been to the most brilliant strategists.

Send me a message if you want the official invite and enrollment info, or have any questions.