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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 maybe 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.
It’d be uncomfortable getting control of your finances. It would mean sitting down and facing the fact that your lifestyle may be a road block to getting ahead. Or that you need a side income.
It’d be uncomfortable getting more education, sending out resumes and 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 in your life about a situation that needs changing.
And it would be uncomfortable thinking that your first few attempts at any of these might fail.
These challenges may not be physical, but in a way, your mind is like a muscle that when never worked, tightens up over time. Forcing yourself to be uncomfortable once in a while can be a catalyst for growth.
When you commute the same route every day, see the same people, eat the same lunch, perform the same tasks, then come home and watch the same shows, you’re comfortable with the routine. 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.”
How I Became Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
Though I had no idea at the time, I can recognize when I first experienced the SEAL’s practice of getting comfortable being uncomfortable. 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 the 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 over 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 that 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’s not 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. Picking just one area and making the commitment to focus on it will be a great motivator once you experience an improvement.
Consider the Opportunity Costs – For every decision there’s a payoff and an opportunity cost.
Here are a few examples:
For Personal Finances
The Payoff – is what you’ll gain by your choice. For example, if I want to get a handle on my finances, then I’d commit to writing out a budget. And through my budget I’ll find more money to save. It’ll be uncomfortable for a while, but once I see progress I’ll have the motivation to keep going. I’ll probably retire earlier. Maybe years earlier.
The opportunity cost – What if I didn’t try to address my money situation? What would it cost me? I’d probably continue to live paycheck to paycheck, possibly not have an emergency fund and definitely not retire early. In fact, I may never 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. Once you start seeing results, you’ll be inclined to eat healthier. It’ll be uncomfortable for a while, but when you incorporate healthier habits and see results it’ll be motivating to continue.
The Opportunity Cost – When you surrender to the attitude 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 other 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 can lead to growth. I never would 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 hundreds of free diets and workout tips on Google and YouTube.
Another way to feel more connected and supported is to have a partner. A workout partner, or you and your spouse getting control of your finances together, or even an accountability partner can be motivating. Sure, there’s still the uncomfortable part of actually doing it, but having information and support can ease the roadblocks.
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 a job they never enjoyed. Or stuck in an unfulfilling marriage and remained there out of convenience. They never traveled to their dream destination. They never started saving money early enough or they never took better care of 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…