The saying “be comfortable being uncomfortable” is a common idea in our fitness culture. Until now, I’ve kind of thought it was like a Yogi Bear-ism, you know where he says things like “Disney Land is so crowded no one is going there anymore.” Even though the saying is contradictory you still understand what it means.
Recently though I’ve come to a new level of understanding about just what it means to be comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s not just a nice saying you embroider on a pillow, but rather it really is about unlocking more potential in your fitness.
When you train, or just general push yourself to new limits, both your mind and body are under stress. For most folks, it’s the mental discomfort that causes them to crack long before they ever reach their true physical limits. Thus we are dealing with the discomfort of both the body as well as the mind.
To be comfortable being uncomfortable means to be mentally comfortable with the physical discomfort.
The best example I can think about is when I would start a new bike racing season every spring back in Vermont. After a winter of light training and conditioning I would charge through the trails and within 5 minutes feel like dying. My legs would turn to lead and my breathing felt labored as ever. I always thought I was really out of shape during that first race.
As the season wore on, I did get a little more in race shape, but the feeling of physical pain never died down one tiny bit. If anything, I was pushing myself to even higher levels of self induced torture. Even thought the physical discomfort was always high my mental discomfort decreased substantially. In the first race I would feel bad and my mind would say “Holy crap this is terrible! I’m going to die!” But after a few races things changed. Even though my body still felt like hell my mind was saying “well, here we are once again in the valley of pain and suffering, but that’s okay.” I was now becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Making peace with physical pain and discomfort is essential to your training. If you’re going to progress your training and make gains, you have to mentally be at peace with a higher level of exertion. Again, bike racers are pros at this. They can bring their body to levels of physical discomfort that would crack most folks within 5 minutes and then they stay there for 5 hours. It’s no wonder that my best workouts in the gym always came in the fall. Bike racing season was over so I had more energy to spare, yet my mind was comfortable pushing to very high levels of exertion.
Make peace with the discomfort. It’s your best friend and once you stop fighting it you may even learn to enjoy it.