Discomfort: A Catalyst for Personal Growth
We modern day humans are fortunate to be living more comfortable lives than ever before. We have modes of transportation that allow us to never have to take a long walk when trying to reach our destination. We wear comfortable shoes so our feet are protected from sharp rocks and sticks on the ground. If we are feeling hot or cold, most of us have access to an air conditioning system or heater to adjust the temperature to our liking. Unless we’re standing in line at the DMV, we are rarely put in situations where we feel physically uncomfortable.
That’s a good thing, right?
Yes and no. Although we must be grateful that we don’t have to go through the daily struggles that our ancestors had to go through, there is one major downside to our comfortable lives: we can’t stand being uncomfortable anymore.
It’s human nature to get accustomed to our environments. If we spend a year in Thailand with no access to A/C, we’ll get used to the hot climate after a while. However, if we spend most of our time indoors with the A/C on blast, we are more likely to complain when we have to stand in the sun for ten minutes.
Life isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. Sometimes things go our way, and sometimes our car breaks down on the way to the most important job interview of our lives. Getting accustomed to comfort leaves us unprepared for situations where we find ourselves outside our comfort zones. Anything worth pursuing requires effort, perseverance, and the ability to adapt to situations that may not be ideal. Keeping that in mind, it would be logical to practice being uncomfortable so we are prepared when things inevitably get rough.
The good news is that humans have a remarkable ability to adapt. We can literally make the uncomfortable feel comfortable with frequent exposure. Take fitness, for example. If we start exercising after years of being sedentary, we may feel uncomfortable after performing 10 repetitions of bodyweight squats. After several weeks of exercising, we might be warming up with bodyweight squats and will certainly need additional resistance to feel discomfort. In fitness, discomfort is a prerequisite to making desirable adaptations!
Let’s get uncomfortable
We can all agree that Navy SEALs are badasses, right? What is it that makes them so badass? They are trained extensively to thrive in uncomfortable situations. I once read an article where a Navy SEAL explains part of the concept behind their training. He said: “If it doesn’t suck, we don’t do it.” SEALs believe that when our minds tells us we’ve reached our limit in any given situation, we’re only at about 40% of our capacity. It’s an interesting perspective on how to improve mental toughness and reach our potential.
Do we have to train like Navy SEALs to improve ourselves? Of course not, but we can certainly take a page from their book. Here are 3 tips to practice getting uncomfortable on a daily basis.
Take cold showers. Hear me out! I understand how good it feels to take a hot shower after a long day, so this isn't something we have to do every single day. Taking a cold shower is a simple and practical way to deliberately practice being uncomfortable. I’ve been experimenting with this myself for several weeks and have noticed a reduction in mental resistance before doing something I know will be unpleasant. Plus, there is some scientific research that cold exposure may aid with weight loss, improved brain function, and improved immunity, so why not give it a shot?
Set personal exercise challenges. I’m always surprised by how many people exercise routinely, but haven’t got a clue on how much progress they’ve made. Setting physical challenges doesn’t mean lifting heavier weights every week. Here are several examples of challenges we can all easily implement into our lives:
AMRAP (as many reps as possible) Challenge: Set a timer for a given time, but no more than 10 minutes. Pick a series of exercises that are not technical, such as bodyweight exercises. Squats, lunges, plank variations, push-ups, and plyometrics are good options. Write down the number of repetitions performed in the set amount of time. Try to get more reps the next time around.
Isometric Time Challenge: This can be done with a ton of exercises. Isometric exercises involve holding a position that allows muscles to contract without actually moving. Most people think of bent arm planks when they think of isometrics, but other good examples are holding the top of a chin-up position, the bottom of a bodyweight squat, or what’s known as a boat pose in Yoga. The challenge is to hold the position for as long as possible and try to hold it for longer the next time around.
Do one thing that scares us every week. We can get creative with this. If we’re afraid of public speaking, we can find opportunities where we get to address a crowd. If we feel that we’re socially awkward, we can start a conversation with a stranger. Exposing ourselves to things that scare us will force us to adapt and evolve in the face of discomfort.
Every successful person I’ve ever studied has a history of adapting to uncomfortable situations. Whether our goal is to become an entrepreneur, make exercise a daily habit, or climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, we will eventually have step outside our comfort zone. Deliberately putting ourselves in uncomfortable situations means making a choice to transcend the fears that hold us back from reaching our potential.