For the past couple of years I’ve practiced a few small ways to help myself be more comfortable with being uncomfortable.
My reasoning is to build my resilience and feel better able to deal with and adapt to the inevitable changes and discomfort that life brings anyway.
In addition, having three young children brings daily delights and challenges.
I’m also fortunate that in my day job our roles and systems and industry has evolved – and continues to evolve – almost daily, so a flexible and adaptive approach has been essential in both of these major life areas.
Back to the three minor but nevertheless very helpful ways I deliberately make myself uncomfortable daily.
1. Putting my head under a cold shower in the morning.
This originated through a combination of vanity and laziness. I have short hair so maintenance is very low, and I cut it myself (haven’t been to a barber in about 15 years!) but when I wake up my hair usually looks akin to a fluffy chick in a strong tailwind.
The easiest way to restyle it is to wet it again, partially dry, then add a little wax.
For the wetting part I stick my head under the shower for 30 seconds, which is less time than it takes for the water to warm up, thus a very cold experience.
At first your body instinctively braces itself for what’s to come, and the freezing water feels shocking initially, until it starts gushing down the back of your neck and ears, and then, the worst is over.
In fact a couple of seconds later you relax, and it becomes invigorating and refreshing.
What this represents to me is that most unexpected (or expected) rapid changes feel very uncomfortable at first, and we want to recoil and revert to what’s comfortable.
Steel yourself and stick with it though, and pretty soon the discomfort passes and in fact the change can often be rejuvenating.
2. At least 100 press ups each morning.
Maybe 18 months ago now, an ill advised venture in the woods involving a home made zipwire and an improvised bail out to avoid a rapid encounter between my face and a large tree, meant I sustained a chest/shoulder injury that prevented me from being able to do even a single press up for a few weeks.
As I gradually returned to them (as part of my daily yoga practice) I wanted to be stronger and more capable than before.
So five press ups became 10, then 20, then 50, and so on, until I’d built up to 100 each morning.
I generally do these in three or four sets, and my current preferred pattern is 35, 30, 25, 20, a total of 110, though sometimes I might do three sets – 40, 35, 30.
When I get in plank position before my first push up, I wonder how I’ll do 10, let alone 100.
But I start anyway, and just steadily pump away until I’ve finished the first set, then downward dog to stretch my arms and legs, then back into the next set, until I finish.
This activity is important to me not just for the physical (and cardio) exercise, but to show that if we commit to something and just take one small step after the other, we’ll get where we want to.
It’s no breeze, it’s not easy, and usually the last five or 10 press ups at the end of each set are quite a struggle, but I push through the discomfort, and do them anyway.
And feel so much better for it at the end.
3. Cycling to work.
I’ve written about my ebike previously, and as it’s not a high end super lightweight model, the regular mountain bike frame plus additional hub, battery, electronics and panniers (and their contents) means it’s very heavy.
One reason I’ve named it The Mule.
This means with the electric assist switched off, it’s a weighty bike to ride, something like 22kg unloaded, compared with maybe 13 or 14kg of my non-electric and partly stripped Specialized hybrid.
So whilst for two thirds of the journey I use the electric, for the first third each day I rely on pure leg power.
I’m by no means a super fit rider, the whole trip is only 3.5 miles, and many a casual cyclist would easily cycle the same journey in a quicker time, but speed is not the aim.
I choose to cycle the first leg unaided because it’s a challenge, it’s uncomfortable, it makes my heart beat faster and my legs ache, but once I’ve mounted that last hill before the downhill stretch into town when I switch on the electric assist, I feel invigorated and pleased with my efforts.
Once again, it’s a way of making myself uncomfortable, pushing myself in some way over a short period, to remind me that discomfort isn’t so scary, gets easier as we lean into it, and virtually always passes.
And, like the other two here, the uncomfortable experience also makes me more present, more aware of how I feel right there in that moment. So perhaps a kind of mindfulness.
I couldn’t end this post without mentioning some of the works of Pema Chödrön, not least of all one called appropriately “Comfortable With Uncertainty”, which includes thoughts such as –
“The root of suffering is resisting the certainty that no matter what the circumstances, uncertainty is all we truly have.”
Check out some of her writing here if you’re interested.
How about you? In which ways do you challenge yourself regularly – large or small?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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