Becoming Comfortable With Discomfort

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. – Romans 5: 3-4

 

Meditations in Motion
We are laughing at our inability to take a decent selfie.

I ran a race with Hubby the day before New Year’s Eve. It was a 5-miler that we have done many times before. This year, runners ran the usual course in reverse. That meant that the big hill, which usually appears at mile one, now showed up at mile four.

I checked my running log. This race was the first time I attempted to push the pace since last June due to my injury.

The race started out fine. We ascended a small hill on the road, then turned left to run on a cinder trail that followed a creek. It was pretty, fairly flat and not too cold. When we got to about mile three, however, I told Bill I needed to take a short walk break, even though we were not climbing. I was not used to the discomfort of running fast.

We walked for about 10 steps then began running again. Until we got to the hill. The hill at mile four is steep, long, and nasty. I took many walk breaks as we climbed the hill. It seemed as though I no sooner started running again than my body began complaining, telling me to slow down.

Fortunately, what comes up must come down (especially when the course is a loop), so we finished on a downhill, which felt great. I flew down the hill and crossed the finish line. Of course, “flew” is relative. My “flying” these days would have been “crawling” two years ago.

Meditations in Motion

As I sipped on a post-race cup of cocoa, I thought about the discomfort I felt and my reaction to it.

I think that the majority of a long distance runner’s training is not really done to strengthen muscles or increase endurance. I think it is done to increase our level of comfort with discomfort.

When I first began running many years ago I could barely run 1/4 mile without walking. I covered a three-mile course, but I walked whenever I got tired, and I got tired a lot. Within a month, I had built up the distance I ran without walking to the entire three-mile course. I don’t think my legs or lungs changed enough to increase my stamina by a factor of 12 in that short time. I think I just became comfortable being uncomfortable.

Meditations in Motion

The same concept is true for other fitness goals. When I first got on Twitter, almost a year ago, I noticed many of the runners I followed participated in plank challenges. In a plank challenge, you begin the month by holding a forearm plank for 30 seconds. Gradually, throughout the month, the length of the plank increases by a factor of 10 or 15 seconds. By the end of the month, you are (theoretically) holding a plank for three minutes.

I tried to join in, but by the middle of each month, I always got distracted. Holding a plank is hard. It’s uncomfortable. My arms would begin to shake, my middle section would begin to droop, and I would lose interest in the entire project.

Then I read an article about how older runners (like me) need to maintain high levels of core strength to prevent injuries and my motivation for planking spiked. I followed my own schedule to increase plank time and eventually reached four minutes and 45 seconds.

My core muscles didn’t drastically improve; I became more comfortable being uncomfortable.

Meditations in Motion

I recently watched an excellent TED talk by Mellody Hobson, one of only two female African-American CEOs of publicly traded companies in the U.S. Ms. Hobson told a story about an exercise assigned to her by her swimming coach.

She was instructed to swim the entire length of a 25-meter pool without taking a breath. Every time she failed, she was directed to go back and try again. She failed many times before she finally succeeded, swimming the length of the pool in one breath. Annoyed, she asked her coach the purpose of the breath-holding exercise.

Mellody,” he said, “that was not a breath-holding exercise. That was a drill to make you comfortable being uncomfortable, because that’s how most of us spend our days.

The point was for her to learn to deal with discomfort. If we can relax into our discomfort, we can live a better life; we can grow as swimmers and as human beings. Mastering a little discomfort, even looking forward to it, can improve the quality of our lives in so many ways.

Meditations in Motion

Many people run into trouble by avoiding discomfort. Rather than allowing disconcerting moments into our lives, we attempt to mask them through alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, or fatty, sugary foods. We don’t exercise because not exercising is more comfortable.

Macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, donuts, and fried chicken are called comfort foods for a reason. When we eat these calorie-dense foods, we initially feel a reassuring sense of solace. Initially. Until we step on the scale or get an unsatisfactory report from the doctor after weeks, months, or years of eating too many comfort foods. Then regret and even self-loathing may seep into our psyches.

Meditations in Motion

Eating healthy foods, exercising, meditation or prayer are not soul-crushingly painful. They may involve stepping out of our comfort zone, but they are not torture. We can insert them into our routine a little bit at a time if we get used to the concept of embracing discomfort.

Once these new practices become habits, the perceived discomfort decreases, ask any runner. Your future matters; your dreams are possible. Make your own hope through discomfort. Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; character, hope.

I am linking up with Jessica and Amy at Live Life Well, Fairytales and Fitness for Friday 5, Susan B Mead for Dancing With Jesus, Spiritual Sundays for Welcome, The Blended Blog for Friday Loves, Counting My Blessings for Faith β€˜n Friends, and Lyli Dunbar for Faith on Fire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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65 comments

  1. I like the sentiment. Especially the like where you write, “Of course, “flew” is relative. My “flying” these days would have been “crawling” two years ago.” But you’re running and that’s where the magic lies. I can back from injury dong 18-minute miles! A bit up from my sub-eight minutes days. But, hey I was running!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ok, I must say I am anti plank challenge. Planks are great — but if you’re holding them for multiple minutes at a time, most likely by the end your form is not great & it’s not really helping. OTOH, if you shoot for that many minutes with small breaks, wonderful. Ok, off my soapbox now & I know not really a popular opinion. πŸ™‚

    I have been immersing myself in motivation today. I am prepping to go out for a solo long run with feels like temps in the single digit (when I got up, that was negative single digit). The wind is fierce. I have the gear, I’ll throw in the towel if it’s truly awful, but I believe the run is still doable. So I am definitely trying to psych myself up for being uncomfortable, and I do agree — that is what much of training is about (physical & mental).

    Great blog, Laurie!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Judy! I hope your long run went well for you. A solo long run in single-digit temperatures with howling wind shows your grit and determination! I hope you give yourself a great treat when you get home. Maybe a hot cup of tea or cocoa (I know you’re not a coffee-drinker!)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I embrace that verse from Romans!! I have (long ago) realized that there is no growth in one’s comfort zone. I cannot imagine that gal with her swimming endeavor…I’d be totally freaking out (and probably climbing out of the pool, never to return).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Such an important post. I am been criticized often and I can do better.

    And I probably can if I want to be in pain. But I don’t.

    I always walk when I get tired. I justify it as I will be faster in the end (which may or may not be true).

    The same with the plank. One minute is hard. I have never gone beyond that…well because I always quit after a few days. I also justify that one minute is better than zero minutes.

    But if I do run a FULL marathon, I guess I will know what pain is…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This perspective is so helpful. My natural tendency is always to remove myself from whatever situation is making me uncomfortable. Yet, I can’t think of anything in my life I’ve genuinely enjoyed or that has proven valuable to me that didn’t first require some level of discomfort. I enjoyed your post!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. i run from discomfort fast. for lots of reasons.

    maybe fear keeps us from going there. maybe we think we’ll be swallowed alive by the ache of it all.

    you’ve given me some needed food for thought today, friend. and perhaps follow-through, too.

    bless you …

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have tried the plank challenge and actually got to three minutes once. Then I let it slide and now I have to start all over again. I found it easier if I listened to a song because the songs are usually around 3 or four minutes and it helped me stay focused. Thanks for the reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I know this is true in running and exercise but I’ve recently been thinking this same thing about my comfort zone with something at work and trying something that I know will be VERY hard. But I think perhaps some discomfort now will be appreciated in the future.

    Thanks for linking up!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You are persevering and gritting your teeth through the pain Laurie … I am still dealing with this arm issue … I now have bought a lidocaine rub for the shoulder and arm as it keeps me up at night if I turn the wrong way. And some Tylenol and Aleve against my better judgment … I aim to lick this problem safely and without PT. I have ice massaged and tried every possible way to sit in an effort to figure out what I did … I have settled on the fact that I do not have good posture at the seat where I have worked for many years … likely this happened as I am older and likely as I am sitting there more hours in a day than ever before due to the blogging. Right now I am typing standing up to try to combat what I have done to myself and because it is better not to sit so many hours. I am glad I never took my unblemished good health for granted and now I can only begin to feel a little of what my mom dealt with while suffering osteoarthritis all those years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So sorry to hear that your arm is still giving you issues. I empathize with your feelings about taking good health for granted. I am the same way. I have taken to typing in a recliner. It’s way more comfortable for my hip than a conventional chair. We’re pretty stubborn old birds, aren’t we? πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • We sure are Laurie – see, because we have always been active all these years, this seems so out of the ordinary for us. I keep trying to figure out the reason. I hated to buy the Tylenol, Aleve, Tiger Balm and Aspercreme as I felt I had somehow just decided it was not worth fighting anymore. But I hesitate to use them – don’t want issues even from OTC meds, don’t want the creams, etc. I am hearing Shaquille O’Neal advertise this new TENS unit by Icy-Hot. I saw it at the store, along with an Omron TENS unit. We had rented a TENS unit for my mom after her physical therapy for her rotator cuff tendonitis was finished. We did the moist heat packs and bought a Thermofore heating pad … but she said none of it did any good, the pain was still there. I was not aware you could buy OTC TENS units. The Icy-Hot had a battery shaped like a camera or hearing aid battery and the other one used AA or AAA batteries. I didn’t buy it … I will stick to ice massage for now and the creams/pills. You would think I was being asked to go on high-powered meds, but I saw my mom who was on so many types of medicines during her lifetime – none of them helped her orthopedic problems nor the other issues that developed as a result of the orthopedic problems, so I am leery. It comes with age – it makes you wise if not anything else.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I agree with your philosophy. I hate to start taking medications – even OTC ones. I have a rice bag that I heat up in the microwave to put on my hip. That heat does it some good.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I had that bag for my mom Laurie and we put it in the microwave. I no longer have my microwave – gave it to my neighbor as I didn’t use it too much and it had to be downstairs as I have not much counter space. I am deathly afraid of spiders and one day I went downstairs to heat up something and a huge black spider was running along the top of it and disappeared in back. I came upstairs and that was the end of that. The basement is finished, but still gets bugs – I hate spiders and centipedes. My boss had the third-degree shoulder separation when he went over the bike handlebars and used a sling for a week or so, had PT for three weeks and because of his swimming every morning for years, he had muscles in his chest and shoulders, so had no pain pills and was able to get back to normal use of his shoulder. He was told by the physical therapist to use resistance bands, so he has them at home, work and in the car. He told me to try them. I got a package of them but am reluctant to do so in case I do more damage – they will stay in the package for now. I have a difficult time getting into my heavy coats I usually wear in Winter for walking. The two I use the most are lined with polar fleece and will not “move” or “glide” over whatever I am wearing and I can’t push the coat up into the air to get into it (even sideways, the method I am using currently), so I have been wearing more layers and lighter coats – I also usually wear turtlenecks layered under my sweatshirt or heavy sweater in Winter but have abandoned that as I try not to pull anything over my head, so as not to cause pain. It doesn’t matter to me what I wear to go out walking, as long as I am warm,and it’s under my coat anyway, but I have quite a combination going. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

      • I look a little like a ragamuffin, but as long as it works for now, but I do long for the regular gear … not so bulky, and hopefully soon it will be Spring and hoodie time … hopefully it is not an issue next year this time and this is just a hiccup.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. How did your injury fair overall Laurie?

    I have a gluteus medius enthesitis at the moment. A little challenging….
    But it’s all about perseverance as you mention & I refuse to give in even with FM!
    Birthday Blessings, πŸ˜€
    Jennifer

    Liked by 1 person

  11. so, so, so true!!! all of this!

    my biggest “problem” with running is that I don’t really push myself. I don’t like feeling uncomfortable. but being uncomfortable and pushing could mean improvement! same with losing weight – I don’t like having to say no to all the tasty things. why isn’t it easier? I’m not comfortable being confronted with my self-control and making of choices. But hey, we are not going to improve or learn anything if we don’t push past all of that right??

    This year I’m taking on this challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Very thought provoking, Laurie. Since I broke my rib this summer, we changed from running to walking and I can totally relate to trying to get back into the running mode. While it has been uncomfortable to admit to it, the slower pace and the walking has been a welcome change, in a strange way. I don’t know why, other than, I’m kind of hooked on walking instead of running for now. Could be that it’s easier to read my book on the treadmill that way?! LOL – I’m impressed with your efforts to persevere!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Shelley, I did not know you broke your rib. How painful! Bill broke a rib years ago and I remember there was not much that the doctors could do for it. He just had to let it heal. Hope yours has healed by now! Not sure how long those things take.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you – yes, all healed, it took 8-9 weeks though, but I learned to slow down and appreciate how important ribs are in everyday living. πŸ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person

  13. You make some excellent points, as always! Getting comfortable with discomfort, especially as we get older or have general physical difficulties, is probably the best way to stay productive and active. Even if it is not to our previous level, something is better than nothing.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Oh My G! I can not believe that you can do an almost 5 min. plank! Seriously I feel like I am going to die and 45ish seconds! You are right, it is soooo totally uncomfortable! And I think the elbow planks are worse than a regular one! LOL. I think that this totally applies to our faith as well. God likes to have us in the uncomfortable places because that is where we grow! Thanks for the reminder!

    Thanks for linking up @LiveLifeWell!

    Blessings,

    Amy

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, exactly. The uncomfortable places are where we grow. It absolutely applies to our faith. By the way, I was so happy with my 5-minute plank until my friend issued me a new challenge – 10 minutes! She is already at 6.5 minutes. πŸ˜€

      Like

  15. I needed that this morning. Not in the best head space but I can push through it. Discomfort is a gentle reminder that no matter what I face God has gone before me and will be teaching me dependence on him.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I actually love planks because I love that they make me uncomfortable. The pain in my belly, arms, and thighs tells me it’s working and that’s okay by me. We have become a society of comfort and instant satisfaction so I can see what you mean by discomfort leading to a better life and perhaps a better well being. But not just with exercise though. As you said, even prayer (not something I do but can respect those who do) can be a place of discomfort. Instead I meditate. As first it was very uncomfortable for me because my mind wandered often. Truth be told, it still does but happens less now. Stepping out of our comfort zone challenges us and these days we need that more than ever before. #GlobalBlogging

    Liked by 1 person

    • I understand very well how difficult it is to meditate. Last year, I made it my goal to sit quietly and meditate for 10 minutes. NOT EASY!!! I fidget, my mind wanders, and I forget to breathe evenly. I am a mess! Definitely out of my comfort zone! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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