In December 2013, I woke up at 3:30 a.m. in the freezing rain of the early morning to go run a 50-mile ultramarathon race with Scott, my friend and running partner.
I’d been training for months, and yet I felt completely unprepared. I was nervous, cold, and shivering.
I started out on the 50-miler excited, and went at an easy pace, chatting with Scott and others on the course. For the first 30 miles, everything went smoothly, and I felt great!
Then the pain kicked in. My right toe started hurting badly with each downhill step, a stabbing pain that made me want to quit. At 40 miles, I was cramping and sore and really tired. It started to turn cold again, and I wanted to lie down and take a nap and not run anymore.
But with Scott’s neverfailing encouragement, I kept going, despite all the discomfort. I watched my mind try to run from the discomfort and didn’t let it. I pushed through and crossed the finish line — one of the most triumphant moments of my life.
I will forever be grateful for Scott’s persistent support, but I also realized that I had provided myself with an internal support system, too. After all, I’d been training my mind to be OK with discomfort for years. I’d quit smoking, run several marathons, focused on giving up sweets and other foods I loved, overcome procrastination … all of this wouldn’t have been possible if I’d let my mind run at each sign of discomfort. My training had paid off.
What I’ve learned over the years, through some difficult habit changes, is that you don’t have to listen to your Childish Mind, and you can work despite the discomfort.
If you meditate, you can sit in discomfort, even if the Childish Mind wants you to get up and go do something else. If you run, you can keep running even when things get uncomfortable and hard. Same thing with any physical activity — there’s a difference between actual pain, which is a warning sign that something’s wrong, and physical discomfort, which is just a sign that you’re not used to doing the activity this hard.
You can work despite fears (e.g., a fear of failure), despite being confused (taxes are a good example for me), despite not being good at something. These are all uncomfortable feelings, and yet you can still work while these feelings are occurring. It’s not the end of the world if you’re feeling uncomfortable, and you don’t need to run from discomfort.
Practice working in discomfort a little at a time — don’t start with ridiculously uncomfortable situations. I couldn’t have done the 50-miler if I tried it nine years ago. When I started, I was simply trying to run for a few minutes despite discomfort. Repeated and gradual practice gave me the discomfort skills I needed for the more challenging tasks.
Get out of your comfort zone a little at a time, and expand your discomfort zone with gradual practice. Then you’ll be ready for anything.
Mission: Practice with discomfort
Today as you do your habit, work a little longer on the habit than usual, to see what it’s like to be uncomfortable and still be OK. Don’t push deep into your discomfort zone — just dip your toes in and let yourself feel it in a safe way.
Also assess your second Habit Sprint in your journal: How many days in the last week have you done the habit? Did you face any obstacles? What can you do to overcome those obstacles in the next week? Add those obstacles and solutions to your Habit Plan.