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The U.S. Navy SEALs have a saying, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” The idea is that If you can be comfortable being uncomfortable, you’ll be better prepared to handle any situation – physical or otherwise.
I’m not suggesting we all spend a sub-zero weekend in the woods or anything. And I’ll bet the whole idea of prolonged discomfort isn’t very appealing to you either.
But if progress happens outside of our comfort zone, then the things we’re avoiding – physical or otherwise – could be a clue to our own growth and success.
Is there something in your life that you know could be better but you avoid?
- Finally getting your finances in order?
- Making a career change?
- Getting control of your diet and fitness?
- Speaking with a coworker or a family member about something?
We tend to avoid drama and confrontation when dealing with other people. But it’s also easy to avoid confronting ourselves about something we know isn’t working. We’ll stay in a situation that sucks because it’s comfortable. It’s familiar and regular. Making a change would be uncomfortable.
- Getting control of your finances could mean some uncomfortable lifestyle adjustments. Maybe eliminating some things, or accepting that for now, you need a side income.
- Transitioning to another line of work could be uncomfortable. You might need training or education, and have to go through the process of interviewing again.
- It’d be uncomfortable revamping your diet, scheduling exercise time, and then actually getting out there.
- It’d be uncomfortable speaking with someone about a situation that needs changing.
- And it would be uncomfortable thinking that your first few attempts at any of these might fail.
Whether your challenge is physical, mental or emotional, it involves mind over matter. And like a muscle, your mind can either adjust and grow stronger, or tighten up and atrophy. But choosing the uncomfortable path once in a while can be a catalyst for growth that lasts for decades.
Commuting the same route every day, seeing the same people, eating the same lunch, performing the same tasks, then watching the same nightly TV shows lulls us into a routine that could last for years.
You might have pleasurable moments, but life overall is just, meh. As Dr. George Sheehan, the running doctor said, “Happiness is different from pleasure. Happiness has something to do with struggling and enduring and accomplishing.”
Sometimes the Situation Presents Itself
I had no idea at the time, but I recognize now, the first time I was faced with the decision to either get comfortable being uncomfortable, or walk away. And how it carried through to other parts of my life.
I’d always loved to run as a kid, but when I showed up for the freshman cross country team, I doubt I had ever run more than 100 continuous yards before. For our first practice, the coach drove us to the Sea Bright, NJ beach where we ran sprints in the deep sand for 30 minutes until he finally called us in.
“Thank God”, I thought, as I trotted in, exhausted.
“Ok”, he said, “practice is over and I’ll be waiting for you back at school.”
“Wait, what? Waiting for us?”
We were to run back – about 6 miles.
That was my introduction to the concept of mind over matter. My 14 year old mind would never have imagined that I was capable of running 6 miles. But sure enough, we all hobbled into the school parking lot an hour later, and there he was, sitting in his car.
He knew most 14 year olds wouldn’t be accustomed to running 6 miles. He knew we were capable, but that was his way of seeing who would struggle through it and who would quit. More importantly, it showed us that we were capable of things beyond what we had ever considered.
His challenges over the next few years still resonate with me, decades later. They may have been physical, but through them I learned two things. One, is that we’re capable of a lot more than we think we are. And getting comfortable being uncomfortable is the key to growth and progress in any area.
How Can You Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable?
Identify One Area
Don’t try to revamp multiple areas at once. Think of just one part of your life that isn’t working. Is it something you’ve avoided for a long time? Does it make you uncomfortable just thinking about addressing it? That discomfort isn’t something to fear, it’s actually a sign that there’s huge potential there to improve your life.
Pick just one area and slowly introduce a change in your routine. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable is an essential part of the process, because you may not see any improvement for weeks. But as your comfort level increases, so will your results. And over time, gradual improvements will have a bigger impact on your trajectory than a big push that fizzles out in a few weeks.
For Every Decision, There’s a Payoff and an Opportunity Cost
Here are a few examples:
For Personal Finance
The Payoff – is what you’ll gain by your choice. If you wanted to get a handle on your money, you’d commit to writing out a budget, then make the lifestyle choices to live within it. And gradually, you’d find more money to save. You’d be uncomfortable for a while, but once you saw progress you’d have the motivation to keep going. You’d probably retire earlier. Maybe years earlier.
The opportunity cost – What if you didn’t try to address your money situation? What would it cost you? You’d probably continue to live paycheck to paycheck, unprepared for emergencies, and unable to save. You’d have no idea when you could retire, or even if you could retire.
For Personal Fitness and Health
The Payoff – You’ll just feel better. You’ll have more energy, more zest for life and you’ll reduce your chances of illness. Your clothes will fit better, and you’ll probably wear clothes that you wouldn’t when you’re not fit. The lifestyle adjustments might be uncomfortable for awhile, but once you started seeing the results of healthier habits, you’d be motivated to continue.
The Opportunity Cost – When you surrender to the idea that adults working full-time with a family can’t be fit and healthy, it costs you physically and emotionally. Your energy level is lower. You start buying “comfortable” clothes. And you run risks like higher blood pressure and heart disease.
If I had decided to ditch that 6 mile run as a freshman because it was uncomfortable, the cost would’ve been to never meet any further challenges from my coach that showed how being uncomfortable leads to growth. I wouldn’t have run the NYC Marathon a decade later, or dozens of other races. And I’d probably have a lower level of perseverance in other areas to this day.
Don’t Try to Re-invent the Wheel
Whatever area you want to address, you can be sure that someone has already encountered it and documented ways to handle it. If it’s personal finance, there are hundreds of free budgets and tips to try. If you’re trying to improve your health and fitness, you’ll find dozens of free diets and workout tips on Google and YouTube.
Another way to feel more connected and supported is to have an accountability partner. Sharing your goals and challenges won’t make them any less uncomfortable, but can provide more motivation to meet them.
One of the biggest regrets people have near the end of life is when they suddenly realize that they never lived life on their own terms. They got stuck in an unfulfilling job or relationship, and and remained there out of convenience. They never traveled to their dream destination, or got control of their finances or their health.
The point is, that there are a hundred excuses not to do what you want in life. All of them probably revolve around being uncomfortable in some way. But if you’re open to the fact that discomfort isn’t always something to avoid, you’ll also experience more growth and opportunities than you’ve imagined.
Jitters, nervousness, sore muscles, hunger pangs, uncertainty, anticipation, waking up early – they’re not your enemies. They’re signs that you’re breaking out of your comfort zone. Our minds and our bodies have a way of rising to the occasion when challenged. And the lessons learned from those challenges will stay with you for decades.
What about you? Is there an area in your life that you know could be better? One that you’ve been avoiding? That very thing you’ve been avoiding could be the key to a huge improvement in your life.
So what does the next year look like for you? Another comfortable one, or…