The other day, I was talking with my students after a yoga class, when one of them mentioned a friend who was trying to lose weight. This is not an unusual occurrence in and of itself, but the weight loss method my student described certainly was. Her friend apparently locked herself in a room away from the kitchen at night to prevent herself from mindless overeating.
After considering the obvious failings in that plan (didn't she know where the key was?) I also found myself thinking about the time when I had some weight to lose ... and how I did everything wrong.
Years ago, I had gained some post-college "happy" weight. After living on a limited budget that didn't allow for culinary extravagance, I was so happy to have some money in the bank finally, that I spent a good portion of it on food. The combination of my epicurean adventures and my non-existent gym membership meant that the pounds piled on and the pants wouldn't button. Is there any other feeling more uncomfortable than that?
I tried to do all the "right" things. I clocked hours on the treadmill. I ate dinners of salads and fake crab meat. I even tried drinking all my meals. I was discouraged. I thought that this way just the way it would have to be now; my thin days were behind me.
That is, I felt this way until I came to the following conclusion: I had to be uncomfortable. Losing weight means that there are periods where you can't give yourself exactly what you want. As soon as that lightbulb was turned on, I lost the weight. I accepted discomfort as part of the process.
Weight loss isn't the only area of life where getting uncomfortable can help us to move to that next level of personal growth. Here are three areas of life where we all need to get more uncomfortable, because it is in that discomfort that we find answers for where, why and how we need to grow.
1. Bodily Discomfort
Whether you are doing the weight loss thing or trying to get stronger or more flexible, chances are that you wouldn't describe any physical journey as "easy." Muscles tear in order to get stronger. As tissues reform in the body during a long yin yoga session, it can take everything in your power not to move and shift. You want a hamburger but you choose not to have one because you had one yesterday. Self-control and discipline in the realm of physical wellness can be intensely difficult.
In order to work with our bodies, and have our bodies work for us, we have to realize that sometimes things get hard. Really hard. You will want it to be easy, and it just won't be. Acceptance of this is part of the difficulty, but it's also the reason we grow. The mental shift that has to click is that long-term health is much better than short-term satisfaction.
2. Mental Discomfort
If you have ever studied for a test that didn't seem to mesh with the inner workings of your brain, you know how this feels (hello advanced chemistry class). Wrapping your head around new information, whether it is a foreign language or a computer program, can feel like the mental equivalent of an Ironman competition.
As we become adults, we become less inclined to challenge ourselves in this way. But we have to stop standing in our own way! We don't have to be excellent at every subject, but this doesn't make it less valuable to learn. After all, some subjects take more than 140 characters to master ...
3. Spiritual Discomfort
Whether you have been on a silent meditation retreat or turn on the TV the minute you come in the door, we all have a wall when it comes to the spirit. As an athlete, you may be aware of techniques to get over the wall. However, what do you do if you are used to meditating for ten minutes and you try for 30 and you want to scream?
Silence can be a great teacher, but it isn't always a comfortable place. Sitting with the kind of discomfort that comes from intense self-reflection can teach us much more about ourselves than if we talked to our ten closest friends for a week.
Life is challenging and wonderful. And any quick fixes you think you might've found on the path to a handstand, fluency in a new language or spiritual enlightenment are not real tools of transformation. Recognize that you might want to scream with discomfort for an extended period of time as you not only enable yourself to change, but learn to accept the terms of that change long-term. Soon you may even realize that anything is possible.