Five Ways to Use Discomfort as a Building Block

Dan Davis March 12, 2013

When a young man arrives at Rockmont for the first time, many emotions can race through his mind – excitement, curiosity, wonder, and perhaps some discomfort.

He can learn to handle these emotions, however, by first naming and confronting them. Going to summer camp can be uncomfortable at first as hundreds of people come together in a new place to live in community. What can begin as an uncomfortable experience morphs into a powerful opportunity to grow as a person, broadening his social skills and self-confidence.

Life begins when we step out of our comfort zones.

Bringing a young man to Rockmont reflects the great universal theme in many stories known as the Hero’s Journey. These stories begin with a period of life-as-we-know-it in which the young man feels very comfortable and knows what to expect. It can be tough to grow, though, if one becomes too comfortable in an environment of status quo; he needs to journey into his stretch zone. Camp offers a unique opportunity to have a “;call to adventure” in a safe, intentional setting, around staff who have been trained to capitalize on it.

With that in mind, Rockmont engages campers in five different ways to guide them through initial discomfort, using it as a building block for future growth.


The counselors at Rockmont are trained to see discomfort as a ripe opportunity for growth. As a first-time camper in 1994, my discomfort manifested as homesickness. The good news is my counselors walked with me as I moved out of homesickness, with conversations, encouragement, and a lot of fun! Feeling uncomfortable is tough when you have the blob, zipline, and gully-washer to occupy your time.Beyond simply having fun, though, counselors are intentionally forming a community in the cabin and fostering the relationships that help the campers feel comfortable among their peers and open to new experiences.


The cabin and tribal communities of Rockmont have a huge impact on the comfort level of the campers. While being in a new social setting can be uncomfortable, the resulting confidence from being an important part of the group is incredible! The counselors, tribal directors, and camp directors are all focused on making the first 48 hours at Rockmont all about strengthening the community. Feeling that comfort and acceptance allows campers to naturally open up to the other parts of camp they were nervous about. Having moved past the first hurdle, the feeling of “;I can do this” grows with each challenge. The feeling builds on itself at camp, and is a skill that has real application outside of the camp setting, as well. It is back home that campers can recall a time they felt unsure, but were able to make friends, face challenges, and learn new skills – all because they have experience affirmation in a strong community.


For boys, activity is essential, and Rockmont provides numerous outlets for them to engage their physical and mental sides. Physical activity is proven to significantly decrease stress and emotional distress, say researchers Megan Oaten and Ken Cheng. This is especially true in boys and young men, who subconsciously use physical activity and mental challenges as a proving mechanism. Rockmont skills and activities offer a healthy, fun way to move past their initial discomfort and into an emotionally secure mindset.


As stated above, the Rockmont staff strives to be very intentional in daily conversations and interactions with campers. One of the ways we accomplish this is by using a technique known as D-L-P, developed by Michael Brandwein. D stands for describe, L for label, and P for praise. For example:

Describe the action, e.g. “;You continued to give a great effort throughout the game Billy!”
Label the action, e.g. “;That showed a lot of endurance and determination”
Praise the action, e.g. “;I’m really proud of you, keep it up!”

Often, we skip over the labeling when communicating with others, especially children! Giving them a framework for why their actions were good allows them to see those characteristics in other settings. They now know “;I’m capable of endurance!” instead of simply “;I can play for a long time.” The subtle difference in providing a label makes a huge difference. Along the same lines, we can also provide a framework for minimizing poor behavior by labeling an action as selfish or arrogant, instead of just saying “;stop that!”


At Rockmont, we affirm campers through daily feedback (like DLP), and most prominently at Council Ring. Counselors speak with each of their campers leading up to this event, describing the week and offering specific praise, along with challenges for the coming week. At Council, a leader will ask that every camper who has been recognized for a specific trait, such as Servitude to God or Rejecting Passivity, please stand. A young man stands and is recognized for leaving a mark on his community, and for contributing in an important way. This is a culmination of the week behind, where a camper has been able to experience success and challenge in many different ways, all with the support of the cabin and tribe alongside him.

As you can see, the initial discomfort of being at camp is an opportunity, and we at Rockmont treat it as such. We all can look back over the timeline of our own lives and see times where discomfort led to significant growth, because we realized that we could face it with the support of our mentors and peers. This confidence builds over time, and allows young men to continually walk in to new situations with the knowledge of “;I can do this. I know what this is like, and I’m going to be okay.” This new mindset is one of the reasons why Rockmont exists, and we look forward to working with young men every summer. Thanks for being a part of our community!


Dan Davis

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