The Importance of Staying Uncomfortable

“Wrestling is not for everyone, but it should be.”

— Dan Gable

I wrestled in high school and a little in college. I was never that good, but I did learn (perhaps, because I was never that good) to embrace discomfort. Once I let go of my inherent need to be comfortable, more opportunities opened up. I could endure being smashed by a better opponent while I waited for my chance to strike. I could push myself a little harder to get just a little bit stronger every day, and I stopped complaining about minor things. The gift of no longer searching for relief in every moment was an amazing gift, and one of the reasons that I truly hope my son will wrestle one day.

Unfortunately, I forgot some of those lessons in my late twenties. I got flabby and out-of-shape physically, and I got really comfortable in every other way with soft couches, TV binges, and just the right amount of productivity. I don’t want to sound overly dramatic here. I was still a good husband, a decent leader, and I even managed to publish a book that took way too many hours to write. It just wasn’t until my mid-thirties, while running my own company, that I realized how much I reeked of comfort, and how much it was affecting my mind and output as much as my soft middle.

I thought about how much better I would be doing if I lived a little more like my younger self who used to unabashedly “embrace the suck,” and I decided to make a change. I started running. Running sucks. Runners know it, even if they only admit it to other runners. It wasn’t comfortable, but I thought it could be worse, so I signed up for the Hottest Half — a half-marathon, in Texas, in August. That was really uncomfortable, so then I started barbell training. I thought it would be really painful to throw a few hundred pounds on my back and squat as much as possible, and I was right. Eventually, I discovered Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), which can cause a lot of discomfort; not as much as wrestling, but still pretty far from a comfy couch.

After a couple years, I was able to look back and realize that I had gained more than some new torn ligaments and cauliflower ear; I had gained a powerful new advantage in life. I woke up earlier without complaining. I stayed up later when I needed to write articles like this one. I made the time to do things that I know will really matter instead of staying in my little spot on the couch. I helped friends move instead of watching Netflix. Why? I was no longer attached to my old protectiveness over myself and my comfort. Plus, nothing really seems that bad if you’ve already gone through some really heinous experience in the gym or on the BJJ mat that same week.

I don’t want to sound more hardcore than I am. I’m not an ex-SEAL, I don’t shed actual blood in my garage gym every morning before breakfast, and I’m not even winning the fight against the “dad bod” most days. I think that’s the great thing about learning to embrace discomfort in daily life (and getting stronger and harder working as a result), though. My bar for discomfort might be a lot lower than my 20 year old self’s level, but it doesn’t matter. As long as I really stretch myself and embrace the suck a little, I’m still going to get the benefits.

So, I guess that’s the lesson that I’m learning (and maybe sharing, if you’re interested). It’s important to embrace a new level of discomfort, even if — specially if — you’re not a super-motivated god among men, ready to deadlift small cars every morning at zero dark thirty. I started out failing to finish a couch to 5K program until I pushed myself to run a 15K (and then a half marathon). So, maybe the first step is just going a few steps past what’s comfortable, then a few more steps to real discomfort, then keep doing it until your new goals are beyond what you would have imagined.

“Go without a coat when it’s cold; find out what cold is. Go hungry; keep your existence lean. Wear away the fat, get down to the lean tissue and see what it’s all about. The only time you define your character is when you go without. In times of hardship, you find out what you’re made of and what you’re capable of. If you’re never tested, you’ll never define your character.”

— Henry Rollins