Getting comfortable being uncomfortable: it doesn’t sound the most fun prospect in the world, does it? But, there is no way of sugar coating this: if you are going to get fitter, get more buff, lose weight, build muscle do pretty much anything worthwhile, you are going to experience a degree of discomfort, on a regular basis, and the sooner you get used to that, the better. If being comfortable is something you are not prepared to sacrifice, then the best thing to do is stay on the sofa. Sofas are designed to be comfortable.
I can’t tell the number of times I put off starting doing any exercise because I didn’t like the idea of the puffing panting uncomfortable bit… the number of times since I started that I put off going out for a run or getting under the bar, simply because I was sitting comfortably and the thought of getting outside in the cold and the rain or the baking sun and having to get through the toxic ten minutes at the start of any run when everything hurts and you haven;t got your breathing together yet or putting a load of weight on my back and squatting down under it… just seemed too uncomfortable to overcome my inertia
The truths of the matter are that:
a.) it isn’t anywhere near as uncomfortable as we imagine it’s going to be. We are not talking about childbirth or circumcision here. We are talking about going for a jog or lifting some weights, being a out of breath or struggling to lift our arms; and
b.) Toughen up, Princess.
Most of the time, modern life is very pampered. We do not have to be cold, we are seldom properly hungry we have labour saving devices to save us from back breaking effort. We have no predators. We Do not have to hunt or forage. We don’t have to fight to survive. All of which is well and good. These are the advances of a technological civilisation and I would much rather it that way. I am much happier running my 5k without a sabre toothed tiger on my tail. I have done enough small scale farming to know I am glad I don’t have to rely on it for subsistence.
However it does make us softer. We become more fragile. The less we need to do, the less we are used to doing and the more having to do anything becomes like a hardship.
“Get comfortable being uncomfortable” is one of the mottos of the US Navy SEALs. During their infamous Hell Week, prospective SEALs start each day with “Surf torture” – lying or kneeling in the frigid Pacific surf as wave after wave of dark water crashes into them, sapping their strength, robbing their bodies of energy as a prelude to the gruelling ordeals of the day ahead. It is a test designed to break those who are breakable, Those who get through it are the ones who are able to endure whatever hardship is thrown at them.
When I was training to do Winter Obstacle Course Races I used to force myself to do cold water acclimatisation while out on early morning practice runs, leaping into ponds and streams, making myself submerge my whole body then carry on running in the cold morning air. It wasn’t anywhere near the same league as what the SEALs have to endure, but it was pretty miserable stuff, and took a lot of willpower to do it. The payoff came, however when it came to the actual events and obstacles involving immersion in rivers, lakes and skips full of ice cubes. they were no less cold, but I knew what to expect. I was used to the shock of suddenly being in freezing water, and I knew I could deal with it.
These principles of self-discipline and fortitude are the basic tenets of Stoicism, and the principle of all things Spartan – both in the historical and the modern OCR movement senses/
By doing things we find uncomfortable we expand the boundaries of what we deem comfortable. Once you are able to be comfortable being uncomfortable, you can take ownership of the situation. You can learn to embrace the suck. It allows you to step outside of your comfort zone without fear. You do not have to just grin and bear it, you can stare adversity down.
I should stress there is a a great difference between being comfortable with being uncomfortable and being a masochist. It is not a question of actively seeking out discomfort (although that is something the Stoics espouse. Silly Stoics) , rather not letting discomfort be a factor in deciding where you go or what you do.
I realise this may all sound rather macho stuff: Navy SEALs, freezing water, pain and toughness. The principle is the thing though. Being uncomfortable is in essence the same whether you are lying in the cold wet sand with the waves crashing down on you while a drill sergeant screams at you to quit or whether you are staggering along a cold wet street doing your first 3 minute run in 30 years and your legs and lungs are screaming at you to quit (NB I know there is a world of difference of degree between the two, I mean no disrespect to Navy SEAL recruits). It is all down to you and how you respond to it. And the more you respond by not quitting, by being Stoic, by embracing the suck and getting the fuck on with achieving your goal despite how uncomfortable it may be, the more comfortable you become being uncomfortable, the closer you will be to winning.
Here’s another way of looking at it: you can choose to muscle your way through the uncomfortable bits now to become a fitter, more flexible you now, or you can defer that whole discomfort thing till later when you’re older and can’t bend down or get up off the toilet or get up the stairs without pain. Only then you won’t have any choice in the matter.