Learning To Be Comfortable With The Uncomfortable

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.

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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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16 thoughts on “Learning To Be Comfortable With The Uncomfortable”

  1. Dan, you are pretty fit if you do 110 push-ups. That is a heavy bike, and speed isn’t important in your situation. I was never a fast rider, even when I was young. Since my last crash a few years ago, I have done little cycling. Some days that knee is OK, some not, so it’s mostly walks for now. I used to love to challenge myself with faster commute times, higher mileage on weekends, etc. I have been doing The cold showers also, and quite like them now. I had to stop doing other exercises for a while due to another injury, as I get older I don’t recover as quickly as I used to, but I was tracking my pushups also.

    1. Thanks Jon. I think I’ve always had a good strength to size ratio. I’m pretty small, but strong for my size. I remember being at college and a friend of mine who did weights and all sorts could only do a couple of pull ups on a bar. I could quite easily do five without thinking or practicing, 10 with a bit more effort. He was very envious! He had more brute strength in his arms, but was about six stone heavier so this negated his arm strength with pull ups. I was much faster than him too, again I’m sure his legs were stronger than mine, I just had less weight to propel.

      I do wonder about my limbs, my legs especially and the millions of miles they’ve walked and cycled. I was amazed when I used to have an activity tracker that 10k steps a day – which was achievable without major effort – obviously added up to a million steps in just 100 days, and over 3.5M in a year. I’d never thought about those numbers before.

      I think how many tens of millions of rotations/motions my knees have done, and whether this will stand me in good stead when I’m older, or they’ll be worn out by the time I’m 55 or 60!

  2. You have a masochistic streak.
    Take it from an old man: life will present more than enough challenges all on its own. You don’t need to invent any for yourself.

    1. But that’s the point Marc, if I overcome these frequent minor challenges I feel it makes me better equipped to deal with the unexpected ones life throws at as anyway.

  3. Right now, having a wife and 3 kids, and a job in the IT industry, is enough of a challenge…
    But I should exercise more, that is for sure. In the beginning of the pandemic we (my and my two older boys) went cycling in the wooden trails behind our neighborhood almost every day. I’m not sure why we stopped… but we need to restart.
    If it applies to photography, I certainly could challenge myself more as well. Maybe I should “simplify to get more done”? (how is that for a blog text title?… hehe)
    And then there’s my adventures in music… When I get the chance I’m writing a little bit of music, but not nearly as much as I could do a couple of decades ago.

    1. Cycling in the wood trails sounds great. I should cycle with my son more too, he’s seven and recently got a bigger “gear bike” as he calls it as opposed to the one speed BMX bike with 20″ wheels he had before, so it gives him far greater range. We cycled down local country lanes the other week and he comfortably managed twice the distance he’d ever cycled previously.

      What kind of music do you write? I remember some years ago (probably 20 if I’m honest) I used the dabble with music quite a bit, often with my then partner. I don’d do anything now, except listen to it. It just took so long, and I don’t have that time these days.

      1. As far as music – in the past I wrote more rock and hard rock. Now that I’m older I still like rock but I also end up writing more downtempo, acoustic based songs… I have a setup to write some music with more electronic influences, but that hasn’t happened much yet.
        I’m involved with my church’s music ministry these days so that also influences a lot of what I end up doing in terms of writing…
        We’ll see where this goes…

      2. Interestingly, your software does not me reply to you when you already replied to my reply… so this will go here…
        It’s both 🙂 My name is Christian, and I also do Christian music in the few times I get to play these days…

      3. Ha, my software? I wish I owned WordPress! You can limit the number of replies that nest, if you have the number too high they just get closer and closer to the right edge and become illegible. Yes just go back up to the last comment you can reply to and post there.

        A mystery solved with your name, I always wondered since we met a few years back on PentaxForums.

  4. Sometimes I’ll do things left-handed. This was a good essay, Dan. I’ll reflect on this more and try to remember and come back when I think of some other things.

    1. Thanks Jason. When I was around 12 I broke a little bone in my right hand and had it in cast for a few weeks, so learned to use my left hand to write. Very slow at first, but I got to a reasonable rate after a while. I often switch my mouse on my work computer so I use it left handed too, just to rest my right hand. I think it’s good to try to practice being ambidextrous.

      You’re welcome back any time, as you know.

      1. It occurred to me that reading is lately probably the biggest way I challenge myself. That’s a reliable, easy one. But one of my favorites.

      2. I read a post very recently about how the author tries to read a range of sources, and a consistent proportion that they don’t agree with or is very different to their culture in some way. Just to keep their mind more open and aware that our view isn’t the only one in the world.

        Been enjoying your blog as always, heading over there shortly to catch up with some comments.

  5. I threw a disc out 3 months ago & after 3 mo of Physical Therapy am better then before. This happened partially from walking a 70lb pup & new nanny for a 16 mo old. I always walked a lot but it wasn’t cutting it @53 yo keeping up with a 2 yo. Hubby & I started the gym last wk when PT ended. My point us this: I covet my workouts. They are 1 thing I can control & in this is my freedom. Even with the mandatory mask that became required everywhere in Oregon(Everyone is always outside now) . with so many NO’s right now, it’s a huge yes=mental break. I’ve tried @home & it’s not the same I get distracted. I like how you highlight simple things here bc It’s realistic.

    1. I think a few simple, sustainable habits always trumps something more grand, expensive and hard to maintain. I’m not super fit, bit I love that the only fitness “gear” I’ve bought in the last ten years is a yoga mat and pull up bar, a total of about £30. My body is the only other equipment I need. Amazes me how much people spend on gyms and the gear, clothes etc to go with it. Though I expect most people would have had a major reassessment in this area over the last few months, and realised how much can be done with very little.

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