When you look it over it sounds like an odd statement. Why would anyone want to enjoy, seek out or even practice being comfortable with being uncomfortable? We all crave comfort to some degree right? Comfort in your relationships, comfort in your job, comfort in your place in society - we all aim to be in that “comfort zone.” A lot of us need to get through a lot of discomfort to get to the other side and a some of us enjoy the battle and thrive in a low place where most can’t go. The truth is, if you are a competitive athlete and have designs on being at the top of your game, you need to establish some comfort in the hard areas.
Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is a place or a zone that a lot of athletes can’t get to or stay in. Who here loves long training days? Time spent away from family and friends? Rigid commitment to health? Relentless pursuit of a goal? Not many of us. Who backs off when the going gets tough or throws in the towel because it is too hard? A lot of us - more than we would like to admit. Why do we stop, why do we back off, why do we pull back? Because it is uncomfortable and we don’t like it.
Name any sport and tell me that competition and training is comfortable. It isn’t. It is a grind - a long grind that most people are not cut out for. I recently had the pleasure to watch an athlete that I consult with perform her first attempt at 19.3 (Crossfit Open Workout). Looking around the gym and watching this athlete along with others perform, the clarity of who is okay with being uncomfortable became apparent. She is okay with being uncomfortable, in fact she excels when faced with resistance, it is part of what makes her an elite athlete. I could see athletes all around her give in and give up as they felt more resistance. Body language changed, shoulders began to drop, signs of frustration were evident because it was too hard. Did their bodies give out? No. Were they on the verge of collapse? No. Their mind told them to stop. In fact, it is rare that an athlete will push to the absolute limit where their body gives up, it is almost always the mind first.
How do you help yourself (our your athletes) become comfortable with being uncomfortable? There are a few things you can do:
Work on your mindset. In particular, learn to cherish the process as much as the end result. Those that can find joy in the process or the journey will be able to live more comfortably in the mud
Build up your grey matter. Work on strengthening your mind and build up some resistance to enable you to push harder and longer through pain and discomfort. I have mentioned all of this before, but, things like: meditation, yoga, halo neuro training etc.. all add up.
Make training conditions inhospitable (not all the time). Change the environment your athlete (or you) train in to help prepare you for uncomfortable scenarios. Pipe in crowd noise, invite spectators, train in different temps… whatever it is, safely add negative stimulus to your training in order to increase exposure to difficult scenarios and build your immunity.
At the end of the day, if you are really serious about competing at the highest level it’s time to embrace uncomfortable situations and really push yourself and your athletes. It is hard work? Yep, but what's wrong with a little hard work?