How To Embrace Discomfort

By Christopher Walker
In Be Happy
Jan 15th, 2013
37 Comments

Bielskis

“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 [Tweet this...]

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.

Unbelievable.

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…

complacency.

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.

Robert and I

My brother and I after climbing a mountain circa 2011

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 below…

Pain is part of work. And it leads to two mistakes.

The notion that you can trade your way out of pain.

“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.

Dean Karnazes

 

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. [Tweet this...]

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.

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.

Inspiration

 

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?

Drop a comment below and let me know!

About "" Has 137 Posts

Co-host of the Road To Ripped podcast, blogger at NoGym.net, and author of the Testosterone IO Program.
  • Turling

    Reminds me of a quote from Marvelous Marvin Hagler (although I think it’s a pretty old and common boxing quote): “It’s hard to wake up early and run when you’re sleeping in silk pajamas.”

    • http://www.nogym.net Christopher Walker

      Nice! I like that.

  • http://projectwhitespace.com Bethany

    Sweet. I could relate to all of this as I can say I have figured this out–especially during my marathon training but also as I have stuck it out in a job that I at one time did not like. I got through that period and like it now. But this was definitely something I had to learn bc I have been a good quitter in my past. It does take pain and getting used to that pain. At that point, is it really pain anymore?

    • http://www.nogym.net Christopher Walker

      Yeah I think at that point it’s a “new normal” – an adaptation. Either that or it’s like the Marine Corps saying “Pain is weakness leaving the body” and now you’re just not as weak as you used to be.

  • jeff Hoening

    Sage words there, Chris. Being comfortable being uncomfortable is really a journey to contentment. Reminds of the book Who Moved My Cheese? read several years ago that asks “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” We can use uncomfortability to our strategic advantage and actually be thankful for it. It”s a powerful mechanism for growth. Great stuff.

    • http://www.nogym.net Christopher Walker

      Thanks Jeff – sounds like a good book, I really like that idea “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” I’ll be thinking about that now as I make decisions. It’s a pretty effective way to frame this whole situation. Thanks man.
      C

  • Jono

    Very true. In fact the lizard brain syndrome is strong conviction to me because I KNOW what it takes from me personally to break a sweat. If I didn’t make it to that point, it is glaringly obvious to myself and there is no reason or logic to excuse the lack of effort! Great “hump day” inspiration!

    • http://www.nogym.net Christopher Walker

      Thanks Jono!

  • Carlo

    Great post! What if something uncomfortable becomes comfortable for you? Should you make yourself uncomfortable again? And the cycle continues, therefore, you will always be uncomfortable. Maybe when you have reached your goal you can take a break and continue to improve in other areas of your life. Like you said, there are limitless possibilities you can do in life! Lol just something I to think about.

    One question: In the picture of you and your brother, are you the one in the right?

    • http://www.nogym.net Christopher Walker

      Yeah I think you should constantly be pushing yourself into “uncomfortable.” If you’ve become comfortable and go focus on improving other areas of your life, wouldn’t improving those areas make you slightly uncomfortable as well? It’s basically constant self-improvement – no matter what area of your life you focus on.

      There’s a natural balance where some areas of your life will be comfortable and other uncomfortable but as long as you’re pushing yourself in some area, you’ll be slightly uncomfortable.

      Haha yeah I’m on the right. That was me with the long hair. Just cut it a couple months ago. I miss it sometimes lol.

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  • https://www.facebook.com/zkotlyar Zorik

    I can certainly relate to the Lizard Brain or as I refer it to a negative voice in my head! LOL I think throughout the years I am learning to ignore that voice and push on! Also, I agree that being complacent does not bring true happiness. For the longest time I always thought it did, but turns out it does not. I feel the happiest when I overcome some obstacle or challenge in my life. But then that feeling goes away until I embark on something else. But my lizard brain still gets in the way beforehand! lol

    • http://NoGym.net Christopher

      Ha yeah the lizard brain can be a total pain… but we just have to remember to “listen” to it, but then to do the opposite of what it tells us – b/c that’s usually what we should be doing.
      C

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  • James Staciwa

    Came across this via trispecific & am very glad I did, thank you for the great work- brilliant article!!!

    • http://www.nogym.net Christopher Walker

      Thanks for stopping by James! Glad you liked it :)

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  • Mandy Berglund

    This is just what I need right now! For years I’ve struggled with the decision of which path I’m “supposed” to choose in life, as I have several different interests, and somehow I keep resting on this idea that my real “calling” must be the one of those that comes most naturally and feels most comfortable. The trouble is, none of them feel comfortable! As soon as I reach a point of feeling challenged, my mind mistakes that discomfort for some intuitive feeling that I’m doing something wrong, and then I stop! This confusion has left me miserable. I see people around me achieving great things with apparent ease, and I wonder what makes them so different from me.

    Now I’m starting to realize that I’ve just been incredibly lazy! Haha!

    • http://www.nogym.net Christopher Walker

      Glad it was meaningful Mandy :) Yeah I think a lot of us have trouble getting through that sticking point with things. When something gets really challenging we tend to run – but after enough running you start to realize that nothing worthwhile is easy.

      So it all comes down to just picking something and sticking through the challenge. You can always quit and move on later but just truly doing that hard work will still help you grow. And eventually you’ll start to really excel.

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  • http://johnathanmoore.blog.com john

    Thank u for this article. Reputable and useful. Embracing discomfort must be important when you feel alone in reaching your goals. I have to say Chris sometimes I fear success for the love of sleep. Also I fear that sacrifice, change, and focus will impact my social life in a bad way. Sometimes I wonder if I will be fulfilled.

    • http://www.nogym.net Christopher Walker

      Hey John thanks for the thoughtful comment. I think you may have the most luck with some smaller steps: set yourself a small goal (maybe something you can conceivably achieve in 8 weeks or so) and go after it. During that period of time don’t worry about social stuff and make a habit of letting it consume you. You’ll begin to notice yourself doing things you otherwise would not have done, pushing your comfort zone, as the goal becomes more important to you.

      Achieve it, then go back to your old habits. See how you feel.

  • https://twitter.com/LLCOOLJD JD

    I spent my childhood through to my current college years going through 80 different kidney surgeries. The entire time, I never stopped to think about stopping sports, extracurricular activities, or excelling in school. It was my nature. I had programmed myself to push through. Stumbling on this article really hit home and I can attest to how some of these practices work. Not only am I going to immediately start consciously following every single one of these again, but also using it to ensure that I don’t put a cap on my future. Nice job, man. Keep it up

    • http://www.nogym.net Christopher Walker

      Wow dude that’s incredible – and that’s testament to how we can adapt to basically anything – it’s a mental shift/commitment. Cheers JD!

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  • http://roopadudley-artblog.blogspot.com/ Roopa Dudley

    I have been comfortable and complacent and disgusted. From 140lbs in 2001 (my ideal shape) to now 180lbs (with a potbelly). I used to be physically fit and looked beautiful. Then I stopped working out. Now I don’t even bother to look at myself in the mirror. I eat lots of things that are unhealthy for me like sugar and cheese and have not worked out in 12 years.
    It is time for me to get get uncomfortable. This will be my new mantra. I like how you presented your idea. I am not going to wait for tomorrow for it might be too late. I am putting on my spandex outfit and my workout shoes. Taking my two puffs of inhaler and getting ready to become very uncomfortable every day for one hour. Thank you for bringing back hope.

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  • Eric Wagner

    Chris! None of your articles have impacted me the way this one has. As I have been working towards my own personal fitness goals, I remember a time when I used to shirk the hard work and simply pray for that fitness to arrive at my doorstep. After my ride across the country on my bike with my dad, I can truly relate to the satisfaction of pushing your body to those limits and expanding those perceived limitations. I fully agree that the secret to a robust, full life is to always be testing those boundaries both mentally and physically. Keep up the great writing! I’m really excited to be reading about your Smart Drug stuff, and have been looking into your friends businesses at TrueBrain.

    • ctheflow

      Thanks for the support Eric! Best of luck on your blogging as well and it’s very awesome about your trip with your dad. Yeah truBrain are good dudes and they have a really cool product.

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