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Getting Comfortable with Discomfort

I was once asked by a therapist to write down all the qualities one needed to posses in order to train for and complete a marathon. Having run several, it took me almost no time to list off at least 20 attributes. There were the obvious ones of dedication, determination and ability to keep your on eye on the long term goal, but some not so obvious ones made their way onto the list as well. Among them was being okay with getting bored and spending a LOT of time alone, but most importantly being able to embrace discomfort. Spending hours on your feet running mile after mile guarantees that you will eventually experience pain to the point where you really question your judgment in signing up for such a ridiculous event. But the acceptance of the discomfort is how finish lines are crossed and goals are met.

This got me thinking about all the ways discomfort pops up in our lives, especially when it comes to our health and wellness. So many people struggle to make changes because of the discomfort they may feel when doing so. They want to start a new exercise routine but as soon as their muscles start talking and it’s hard to breathe, they throw in the towel. They are interested in cleaning up their diets but can’t imagine what it would be like to eat less of their favorite fast food or cut back on their nightly cocktail. The problem with this kind of thinking is that it fails to recognize the discomfort they are experiencing by NOT making the change. Sleeping poorly, having no energy, getting winded easily, worrying about their health- isn’t that discomfort too? For sure, but the difference lies in the potential of the discomfort.

Discomfort that comes from setting a goal like completing a 5K or experimenting with a plant-based diet; reaching for something just outside of your comfort zone, is the kind worth getting comfortable with. It’s discomfort that hints at growth and possibility, leading you to a better version of yourself you may not knew was possible.

What you say to yourself when the going gets tough matters too. When the feeling of panic at mile 18 starts to set in, I hear the voice in my head telling me that it is still too far to go and it is only going to hurt more if I keep going. I’ve learned to counter that voice with my mantra of “It’s fine. You’re fine. Keep going.” Really friends, once you recognize that those kind of growing pains are a natural and necessary part of the process of change, it becomes a little easier to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Showing up for yourself when the novelty wears off is really where the magic happens.

And here’s the other thing. The pain of the moment won’t last. It will ebb and flow and all you have to do is hold on for the ride. Somehow the agony of mile 18 of the marathon inevitably evolves into a glorious moment of celebration at mile 25. I’ve hung in there. I’ve kept at it and I am about see this crazy thing through. I could be the last woman crossing the finish line and I might as well be winning Olympic gold.

I am not about to tell you that running marathons gets easier the more you do, but staying with the hard parts of change, does. The more times you put in the workout on the days you don’t feel like it, the easier it is the next time. The more you experiment with a new kind of cooking or eating, the faster the process becomes and soon it is second nature. Habits aren’t built on the easy parts. They are forged from the sense of great accomplishment you feel when you’ve leaned in to the challenges.

You’re fine. It’s fine. Keep going.

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