Learn to love discomfort
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Get out of your own head and push yourself beyond your perceived limits to truly understand what you're capable of.
Beware the dangers of loving comfort. If you’re human, you’re likely in a regular battle between comfort or laziness and perfectionism. Perfectionism tells me I need to do everything well. Laziness tells me that, if I can’t do everything perfectly, then I shouldn’t do anything at all. Comfort tells me that I’d rather not push myself too hard lest I pull a muscle or feel too challenged or come face-to-face with my own inadequacy or...have to get out of bed.
We need discomfort. It’s how we develop good things. Muscles grow when we’re fatigued, including our hearts and brains. If you want to acquire a new skill, become a more intellectual thinker, or understand a challenging topic, you have to work your brain to the point of discomfort. Friendships grow when you get deep and uncomfortable (listen to How to Deepen Relationships where we dive into this more). If you want to become more fit or lose weight, you must push yourself physically. At work, the best way to improve at presentations is to practice them in front of others. In order to succeed at anything you must embrace discomfort.
When you face discomfort and push through it, you will learn how capable you really are. The walls you thought were your limits will be pushed further and further out. When I started doing CrossFit eight years ago, I couldn’t do a push up. I thought I was out of place in the gym and hated going. Five years later, I was fighting with a full set of abs, and could do 15 pull ups. If I hadn’t pushed through the discomfort, I would still believe the lie that I’m not strong enough.
If you don’t embrace discomfort as an essential part of life, you’ll end up embracing laziness. With laziness comes a host of other issues like lack of productivity, initiative, and responsibility. No one chooses to be lazy; they slip into it over time as they make small choices that take them closer to comfort. Be hyper vigilant to avoid this slippery slope.
At 41 weeks pregnant, I was doing burpees. At six months postpartum I go days without exercising or even going outside. At eight months pregnant, I demolished and remodeled my kitchen. At six months postpartum, I don’t even take the trash out. Between having a baby and quarantine, I’ve become quite lazy and comfortable. I’m ashamed to admit it: I have a comfort problem.
Exercise used to be my antidote to laziness. Between bodybuilding, obstacle course races, and fighting, I spent years staring down my inner comfy self and forcing her to grow. I always had time for the perfect, complete workout where I would go 110% percent. I competed with myself, with others, and stayed in peak athletic condition. I was well-acquainted with discomfort as a means to grow. I was also well-acquainted with perfectionism. It was what pushed me to get out of bed and go on fasted morning runs while fight training or to do grip strength training for the next obstacle race. Though I hated doing these things, I did them anyway because I felt assured of positive outcomes.
Now that I have a baby and can’t do things perfectly, I lack motivation to do them at all. Lately I’ve considered going hiking (something I used to love) but have talked myself out of it because I’m afraid I won’t feel well doing it. It used to be easy and now I’m afraid it will be very hard. Who is this person? Why does she talk herself out of doing good things? Of course, I won’t feel well at first but, by doing it, I’ll feel better over time. I know this to be true and yet, cognitive awareness doesn’t incite action. Or I will forego a daily workout because I won’t have enough time while the baby naps to do it well. So I don’t do anything at all.
How did this happen? When I first had my baby my husband did everything because I physically couldn’t. Then, as I recovered, I relished the comfort. I stopped pushing myself. I wake up in my comfy bed, covered by my giant fluffy cats, and my husband brings me coffee. Sure, I’m busy all day. But I love comfort and seek it out. I will do any tasks that I can in my bed.
Two things need to happen to turn this situation around. First of all, I need to reset my expectations for myself to combat perfectionism. I have a baby. I cannot expect myself to train hours a day and have abs. I cannot expect to exercise uninterrupted every time. I can only expect a few things of myself: that I exercise at least a few minutes each day and that, when I do, I give it 110%. Second of all, I need to get uncomfortable consistently. If I don’t want to do something, that’s a strong sign that I should do it. When I’m done with a strength set, I need to do 1 more rep. Or, if I’m doing a 30 second sprint, on my last set, I need to just keep going until I simply can’t go anymore. At home, if I don’t want to go sweep the deck or take the trash out, then I should. I know that, as I accept discomfort, I’ll become a more productive and motivated person.
I’ve been there before. I can do it again. Last night I took the trash out and I exercised during one of my baby’s naps every day this week. Some of the workouts are only 20 minutes but I use those 20 minutes well. Baby steps, people.
The Mark Twain quote below is often used to support productivity conversations. But I think it relates here because the root of productivity is a willingness to get uncomfortable and fight laziness and perfectionism.
“If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And If it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first.” - Mark Twain
Do the hard thing and do it early; don’t waste time. Attack your discomfort head-on and push through it. Don’t let the need to be perfect or comfortable get the best of you. Remind yourself how capable you are. What can you do this week to push your limits?
Hi, there! I go deeper into topics in my podcasts. Each are about 20 minutes long and they drop weekly. Please check one out here!