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Lessons in Discomfort

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Lessons in Discomfort

    “In many instances, the likelihood of an individual succeeding (no matter what the goal) will be dependant on how uncomfortable that person is prepared to get and for how long.” C.A.H.

    The Application of the Information

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    This morning I coached someone who asked me to expand on the ‘growth comes through discomfort’ theory. It’s something I’m always teaching and it’s a concept my client was having trouble getting her head around – from a practical application point of view. As the concept is relevant to most of us, I thought I would expand on it a little today.

    What’s Growth?

    In the context of this discussion, growth could mean a range of things: learning, improvement, adaptation, skill development, greater insight, better understanding, less fear, more confidence, greater productivity, less anxiety, more patience, fewer destructive habits and even something as practical and measurable as greater physical strength and improved health.

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    For an athlete, growth might mean more points per game, a higher vertical leap or a faster time. For a shop-aholic it might mean eliminating debt and changing spending habits. For the person with a social phobia, it might mean looking someone in the eye and initiating a conversation. And, for the chronic people-pleaser it could mean saying ‘no’ to somebody, taking a stand and not backing down. In simple terms, growth means creating positive change in some area of our (personal) world.

    What’s Discomfort?

    Discomfort, on the other hand, could be anything that (in a general sense) we’d rather avoid. It could present itself in the form of a work problem, a financial situation, a conversation we’re always deferring, a fitness challenge, a health issue, a habit we need to break, a fear we need to confront, a relationship we need to end, a dynamic we need to change or even (as many people have experienced) an unexpected illness. It could arrive in the form of an emotional, physical, psychological, sociological, financial or professional challenge. Or, a combination thereof.

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    Individually Uncomfortable

    The interesting thing about the discomfort/growth paradigm is that it’s completely personal in terms of how and when it works and what it means to us. By that, I mean one person’s discomfort (and, therefore, opportunity to grow) will be another person’s minor event. There is no universally relevant discomfort scale because we all think, feel, experience and react differently. A scale like P.R.E. (a widely-used scale which gauges an individual’s Perceived Rate of Exertion while completing a physical task) tells us that comfort or discomfort, hard or easy is all about the individual. Which tells us that learning, adaptation, change and improvement are also about the individual.

    Standing on a stage and talking is simply part of my job. For me, that task is about as stressful as driving a cab might be for a cabbie. That is, not very. For someone else, it might be an exercise in anxiety or maybe even terror. And, at the same time, a major opportunity for growth. Knowing that things only have the meaning we give them, we can safely assume that there is no single experience, process or situation that will produce consistent or equal results in terms of positive or negative change across the board.

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    Naturally, not all discomfort serves a positive purpose (standing in front of a moving bus for example) and, of course, we need to be wise and discerning about how, when and why we ‘get uncomfortable’. Having said that, it’s important that we find the awareness, courage and understanding that allow us to see problems, hurdles, barriers and catastrophes for what they really are: opportunities to grow and learn.

    Is it time for you to address that thing you’ve been avoiding?

    Don’t get mad at me – you keep putting it off. I’m just reminding you.

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    Image: Jeff Black

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    Craig Harper

    Leading presenter, writer and educator in the areas of high-performance, self-management, personal transformation and more

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    Last Updated on November 18, 2020

    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

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    15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It)

    It’s okay, you can finally admit it. It’s been two months since you’ve seen the inside of the gym. Getting sick, family crisis, overtime at work and school papers that needed to get finished all kept you for exercising. Now, the question is: how do you start again?
    Once you have an exercise habit, it becomes automatic. You just go to the gym, there is no force involved. But after a month, two months or possibly a year off, it can be hard to get started again. Here are some tips to climb back on that treadmill after you’ve fallen off.

    1. Don’t Break the Habit – The easiest way to keep things going is simply not to stop. Avoid long breaks in exercising or rebuilding the habit will take some effort. This may be advice a little too late for some people. But if you have an exercise habit going, don’t drop it at the first sign of trouble.
    2. Reward Showing Up – Woody Allen once said that, “Half of life is showing up.” I’d argue that 90% of making a habit is just making the effort to get there. You can worry about your weight, amount of laps you run or the amount you can bench press later.
    3. Commit for Thirty Days – Make a commitment to go every day (even just for 20 minutes) for one month. This will solidify the exercise habit. By making a commitment you also take pressure off yourself in the first weeks back of deciding whether to go.
    4. Make it Fun – If you don’t enjoy yourself at the gym, it is going to be hard to keep it a habit. There are thousands of ways you can move your body and exercise, so don’t give up if you’ve decided lifting weights or doing crunches isn’t for you. Many large fitness centers will offer a range of programs that can suit your tastes.
    5. Schedule During Quiet Hours – Don’t put exercise time in a place where it will easily be pushed aside by something more important. Right after work or first thing in the morning are often good places to put it. Lunch-hour workouts might be too easy to skip if work demands start mounting.
    6. Get a Buddy – Grab a friend to join you. Having a social aspect to exercising can boost your commitment to the exercise habit.
    7. X Your Calendar – One person I know has the habit of drawing a red “X” through any day on the calendar he goes to the gym. The benefit of this is it quickly shows how long it has been since you’ve gone to the gym. Keeping a steady amount of X’s on your calendar is an easy way to motivate yourself.
    8. Enjoyment Before Effort – After you finish any work out, ask yourself what parts you enjoyed and what parts you did not. As a rule, the enjoyable aspects of your workout will get done and the rest will be avoided. By focusing on how you can make workouts more enjoyable, you can make sure you want to keep going to the gym.
    9. Create a Ritual – Your workout routine should become so ingrained that it becomes a ritual. This means that the time of day, place or cue automatically starts you towards grabbing your bag and heading out. If your workout times are completely random, it will be harder to benefit from the momentum of a ritual.
    10. Stress Relief – What do you do when your stressed? Chances are it isn’t running. But exercise can be a great way to relieve stress, releasing endorphin which will improve your mood. The next time you feel stressed or tired, try doing an exercise you enjoy. When stress relief is linked to exercise, it is easy to regain the habit even after a leave of absence.
    11. Measure Fitness – Weight isn’t always the best number to track. Increase in muscle can offset decreases in fat so the scale doesn’t change even if your body is. But fitness improvements are a great way to stay motivated. Recording simple numbers such as the number of push-ups, sit-ups or speed you can run can help you see that the exercise is making you stronger and faster.
    12. Habits First, Equipment Later – Fancy equipment doesn’t create a habit for exercise. Despite this, some people still believe that buying a thousand dollar machine will make up for their inactivity. It won’t. Start building the exercise habit first, only afterwards should you worry about having a personal gym.
    13. Isolate Your Weakness – If falling off the exercise wagon is a common occurrence for you, find out why. Do you not enjoy exercising? Is it a lack of time? Is it feeling self-conscious at the gym? Is it a lack of fitness know-how? As soon as you can isolate your weakness, you can make steps to improve the situation.
    14. Start Small – Trying to run fifteen miles your first workout isn’t a good way to build a habit. Work below your capacity for the first few weeks to build the habit. Otherwise you might scare yourself off after a brutal workout.
    15. Go for Yourself, Not to Impress – Going to the gym with the only goal of looking great is like starting a business with only the goal to make money. The effort can’t justify the results. But if you go to the gym to push yourself, gain energy and have a good time, then you can keep going even when results are slow.

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