Today we’re diving into the work. We’re diving into the discomfort. What it means when we feel it, what we can do about it, and ways to embrace the discomfort.
Because life, and by extension health and fitness, isn’t always comfortable.
There are moments of discomfort. There are tough moments. But what we do in these moments can make all the difference?
“Lean into the discomfort of the work.”Brene Brown
Before we dive in, I do want to make two disclaimers. We’re going to be talking in terms of health and fitness today. While there are times in life where there is discomfort, some of the things in this article or episode may not apply. We’re going to be talking solely in terms of health and fitness.
Second, I want to make the distinction between discomfort and pain. Perhaps you already recognize the difference between pain and discomfort; it will be different for every person. But here, we’re talking about discomfort, specifically. Pain is typically a full stop. If we feel pain and keep pushing, it’s a fast track toward potential injury. But discomfort is a whole other beast. That’s what we’re talking about today.
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This aired on the Fuel Your Freedom Podcast, episode 013. You can check it out here or on all major podcast platforms!
So, let’s dive into it.
No one likes to be uncomfortable – heck, even at a biological level, our bodies crave normalcy. In the literature and science, this is referred to as homeostasis.
Homeostasis is “the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes”. The body wants to be at an stable position for most of the day. To use a training example, when we train and elevate the heart rate, we feel that discomfort trying to force us to slow down, to rest, to stop. When we do, the heart rate will drop.
We also may start sweating during periods of high intensity work. This is the body’s way of cooling our internal temperature and bringing that body back to normal.
But this extends beyond simply workouts.
You know that I believe (and have talked about before) that the hard things we do in the gym prepare us for the hard things we have to tackle in our lives. The same goes for discomfort. But the discomfort isn’t only in physiological responses.
Lifting a heavier weight is uncomfortable. Running a long distance is uncomfortable. But so is moving cords of wood, working in the garden, or enjoying a walk or hike with your family. When we do the hard things in the gym, we’re better prepared to endure and tackle the adventures we want to have outside the gym.
It can also be mentally challenging.
It’s tough to keep pushing through when your body is telling you to slow down, stop, or change what you’re doing. But the proof is quite literally in the pudding. When you prove to yourself you are capable, you (and your body) remembers that in the future. It remembers that time when you kept going when your mind wanted to stop. How it felt at the end when you didn’t stop, when you did push through, when you did keep moving forward. You know you can do it the second time because you did it already.
When I first started running in high school, this came up a lot. It wasn’t my lungs, my legs, or my body that wanted to give up first; it was my mind. My mind was telling me all of the things to try and get me to stop. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I finished my run as a walk. But, other times, I didn’t. I didn’t listen and, instead, pushed through the voice telling me to slow down, to “just walk this one time.”
Over time, that voice faded. No longer did I hear it. Because I had drowned it out. I proved to myself that I was capable and didn’t need to stop. That, despite the discomfort, I could keep moving forward.
This isn’t just about running. This is about everything in health and fitness. When we feel that discomfort, change is usually just on the other side…if only we keep moving toward it. This change can be adaptation, heavier weights, longer distance, etc. No health and fitness pursuit comes without discomfort.
Pushing our boundaries of our body is quite literally how the body adapts. Just as the body wants to stay in homeostasis, it wants to conserve energy. It’s not going to put calories (energy) toward building muscle if it doesn’t need to. So, if we’re always lifting a 20-pound weight, without manipulating any other variables (tempo, volume, etc.) the body will adapt to that weight. To continue to get stronger, we MUST change and increase the difficulty of our training.
This is uncomfortable. But, as with everything, we can feel discomfort and keep moving forward. Where pain brings us to a full stop (as it typically should), we can push through discomfort. In those moments we don’t, we leave progress on the table. We don’t find out what that change is on the other side of the discomfort because we never pushed through it.
Of course, there are times to pull back. To rest and allow our body to take a break from the discomfort. If we’re constantly uncomfortable, that can lead to pain. But don’t be afraid to toe the line. To push forward and pull back. Don’t be afraid to see what you’re capable of on the other side of that discomfort. Because you’re capable of difficult things. You’re capable of feeling uncomfortable and to keep moving forward in spite of it.
Next time you feel discomfort, lean into it. Push the boundaries. Run for just 2 minutes longer, 1 minutes even. Put five more pounds on the bar or grab the heavier pair of dumbbells. It will be okay if you feel uncomfortable temporarily because you’ll learn who the person is on the other side of that discomfort. You’ll learn who YOU are.