“Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something others are unlikely to do, because they’re hiding out in the comfortable zone.” – Seth Godin
In Nazi-occupied Poland, during WWII, four brothers – the Bielskis – fled to the forest after their parents were killed in a Jewish ghetto.
They hid for over two years – building and protecting a camp of runaway Jews. Through bone-chilling winters, disease, and Nazi pursuit, the brothers managed to establish a strong community.
They saved 1236 people.
The children and grandchildren of those they saved now number in the tens of thousands.
Kind of makes our problems seem insignificant, wouldn’t you say?
But our problems are still our problems.
So let’s focus on solving them.
Here’s the issue: we want change, but we do not want to be uncomfortable. We want great abs but we do not want to eat less. We want to lift more, run faster, and jump higher but we aren’t prepared to put in the hours in the weight room, on the track, or on the basketball court. Long story short, we are lazy.
And that’s because we are comfortable.
We shouldn’t be surprised though. Mediocrity seeps into our lives nearly undetected. It comes in small doses that, over time, add up to a seemingly insurmountable obstacle…
The main problem is the fact that somewhere along the line we started equating comfort with happiness.
And this mistake can be fatal.
Because you’ll never be truly happy unless you find congruency – a task that requires constant discomfort as you push your boundaries and pursue your goals and dreams.
In an effort to stay in the realm of fitness, I’ll use the following example…
The multi-billion dollar diet industry is built on the backs of complacent, comfortable people. We despise discomfort – and they know it, so they exploit it.
And we give them permission.
We would rather spend loads of our money on fad after fad, crash diet after crash diet, than actually take the necessary steps, day-in and day-out, to create lasting change. To progress.
The Bielskis in the story above were faced with a choice, do they wait out the war in the forest alone? Or do they risk their lives by building a militia – the Bielski Otriad – and sneaking into ghettos to smuggle out hundreds of Jews, shouldering the crushing responsibility of the lives of others? Surely it would be much easier to survive with only their own mouths to feed, their own backs to protect and shelter. They were faced with quite a problem.
The solution: embrace discomfort.
How To Embrace Discomfort
1. Accept that pain is part of work
Seth Godin, one of my intellectual role models, wrote an interesting post in January of last year called Trading In Your Pain. I’ve reproduced it belo
“If I just get a little bigger, a little more famous, a little richer–then the pain will go away.”
This notion creates a cycle of dissatisfaction, an unwillingness to stick it out. There’s always a pain-free gig right around the corner, so screw this, let’s go try that.
The truth is that pain is everywhere, in every project and in every relationship and in every job. Wandering from one to another merely wastes your energy.
The other choice, though, is:
Embracing your current pain and avoiding newer, unknown pains.
This is precisely the opposite mistake. This leads to paralysis. Falling in love with the pain you’ve got as a way of avoiding unknown future pains gets you stuck, wasting your potential.
As usual, when confronted with two obvious choices, it’s the third choice that pays.
So what is the third choice he’s alluding to here?
Well, in my mind, it is choosing work that makes you happy and uncomfortable at the same time. And by “work” I do not necessarily mean a “job” – it can be anything that takes a healthy dose of boundary-pushing: a goal, dream, burning desire.
You choose this thing – then you deliberately make yourself uncomfortable by going after it.
2. Use your lizard brain as a compass, not a guide
Another one of Seth’s concepts is the concept of the Lizard Brain – the resistance within. It is that part of you that avoids progress, avoids taking responsibility, basks in the sun of complacency, and would rather sit on a warm rock than plunge into the icy waters of progress.
Your lizard brain is the voice of discomfort.
At first glance, that pesky lizard brain might seem like a negative thing. And well… that’s because it is. However, like most negative things, it can be spun in a positive way.
The next time your lizard brain decides to lift its head from comfortably sunbathing in your complacency – and have the audacity to suggest that he’s “just fine thank you – I’d rather not move just yet” – take note of that thing he told you not to do – and do it.
As children we are so full of hopes and dreams, so far removed from the jaded world of adulthood – we have aspirations, and big ones at that.
We also relish in being defiant.
I’m not surprised the 7th most common first word out of a baby’s mouth is “NO.” Are you?
So channel your inner terrible two’s and do the opposite of what your lizard brain tells you.
3. Stop equating comfort with happiness
In an interview with Outside Magazine, Dean Karnazes (The Ultramarathon Man) made a profound statement:
Western culture has things a little backwards right now. We think that if we had every comfort available to us, we’d be happy. We equate comfort with happiness. And now we’re so comfortable we’re miserable. There’s no struggle in our lives. No sense of adventure. We get in a car, we get in an elevator, it all comes easy. What I’ve found is that I’m never more alive than when I’m pushing and I’m in pain, and I’m struggling for high achievement, and in that struggle I think there’s a magic.
4. Recognize that discomfort is a catalyst for progress
If you’re truly pushing yourself to improve – in any capacity whatsoever – you are uncomfortable. It just comes with the territory. Embracing your discomfort is all about recognizing this as a sign of growth – a sign that you are moving in the right direction: you’re stretching your limits and becoming a better person because of it.
And one of the beautiful things about this process is that your initial discomfort quickly becomes your new normal. It transitions from “pushing yourself” to “better than yesterday.” You now exist at this level.
And repeating the process will only take you higher.
It’s kind of like leveling-up in a video game: it takes work to achieve but once you do it, you’ve done it. You then advance to the next level, and the next level.
And even in the unfortunate chance you lose your game or forget to save…
You can do it all over again. And the second time around is MUCH easier than the first – because your bar is now set higher.
5. It’s not about more
It’s about embracing your current discomfort.
And if you are currently completely comfortable… then yeah, it is about more.
Go make yourself uncomfortable.
6. Lean into it
This one is big.
Become comfortable being uncomfortable.
Lean into it.
Anyone who has ever gone through any sort of military training, for example, knows this feeling very well.
During your training period – whether it’s bootcamp, OCS, TBS, BUD/S, etc – you are constantly uncomfortable. Your instructors design it this way. So what generally happens?
The first few days are hell. But you suck it up and stick it out – you really want to make it through because this is a life goal of yours, a calling.
And miraculously, by the end of the first week, it doesn’t seem so bad any more. Things didn’t get easier – in most cases the camps are designed to get progressively more difficult – but you’ve become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
And you just do it.
The mind is incredibly powerful when used correctly. And one of it’s more powerful traits is the ability it gives you to habituate.
You know that white noise outside your window?
The first time you hear a siren whistle as an ambulance screams by, you may take notice. However, the next ten times more sirens pass by, you probably notice them less and less, or not at all, because you live near a hospital. And your brain has habituated to the noise.
This is how it can keep you on track with the task at hand.
And this is how you can use your mind to become comfortable as you push yourself.
Just keep pushing yourself and eventually you’ll get used to it – it’ll be second-nature and the discomfort will cease having control over you.
7. Make time
“I don’t have the time” is probably one of the biggest cop-outs you can make when talking about pursuing something you KNOW will enhance your existence.
Because you are not actually that busy.
“Busyness” is just laziness in disguise.
If you cut out all of the meaningless activity you engage in on a daily basis – the TV, news, diddling, Facebooking, Tweeting, YouTube, snacking, and all manner of other time wasters – what do you have??
Time to make yourself uncomfortable. Time to pursue a goal. Time to do hard work.
Stop hiding behind “busyness” and grow a pair. Make the time to do what you need to do..
8. Use it as a reminder of what you have yet to achieve
None of us will ever have enough time to achieve our full potential. That is why settling is such a ridiculous notion.
There are unlimited opportunities for us to grow.
Those of us who settle – who elect to remain comfortable – never experience the wonderful rush of plunging into that unlimited unknown, finding new things out about ourselves as we grow in challenging situations.
As we actually make ourselves better.
Opportunity is unlimited. So use discomfort as a reminder of the massive potential you still have to live for.
Was there ever a time in your life – in your fitness journey or otherwise – where you felt massively uncomfortable? Did you push through the discomfort and come out the other side? Or did you give in and slide back to comfort? No judgements – we’re all guilty of settling for one thing or another. And how will use your opportunities this year to change?