The Value of Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

In 2011, one of my favorite celebrity fitness trainers, Jillian Michaels, changed my world with her Extreme Shed & Shred workout video.  No.  I din’t become a lean, mean muscle machine after struggling through her workout video.  It’s what she said that caused a shift in my mindset.

As a self-professed at-home workout junky, I am always on the lookout for a new DVD (now streaming service) where I can “feel the burn”—cliché, I know.  Anyway, as a frugal woman, at-home workouts are also cheaper than a gym membership, and I can workout whenever I want.  All that being said, my girl Jillian planted a seed in my heart and mind all those years ago when she said, “…sit in that uncomfortable place, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”  There I was holding a five-pound weight in triangle pose when her words shifted something within me.  Immediately, I took her words to heart.  No, it wasn’t mind-blowing in the sense that I sprang out of triangle pose and immediately started chasing after my dreams (it would take another three years for me to muster up the courage to even start blogging).  For a time the message lay dormant, but later came back to me in a way that has recently caused me to almost use her words as a mantra in my personal life as well as my professional life—in my classroom as a middle school teacher.

This past year I started incorporating yoga and meditation into my classroom.  And at the start of the second semester, I used Jillian’s words to inspire my students (and myself).  It started with the quote and image of Jillian Michaels in one of my least favorite yoga poses, wheel—and a variation of wheel at that, with one leg in the air (she’s such a bad ass—and I absolutely LOVE that about her).  Actually, the PowerPoint presentation for my students led with a quote from motivational speaker Lou Ryan.  It read, “Most people condition themselves to avoid problems, rather than facing them positively and using them as an opportunity to grow.”  The next slide was the image of Jillian and the words that shifted my mindset, words that I was hoping would also shift my students’ mindsets.  Later that week, I added an additional reminder of this message to my classroom when I copied those words onto a mini-chalkboard that I then hung from my classroom door.

Why, you ask?  I was on a mission to help eradicate an epidemic—limited mobility and flexibility in youth.  I wish I could tell you that nearly all of my 124 students could touch their toes.  But that would be a lie.  In my humble opinion, too many of them cannot touch their toes.  These are thirteen and fourteen year old kids who SHOULD be able to reach their toes when they bend over.  But many of them couldn’t and that bothered me. Aside from that, I’ve been on a mission to incorporate yogic elements into my classroom. So each week we focused on a different pose for two reasons.  One, obviously because I wanted to increase my students’ physical flexibility.  But more than that, I wanted to increase their mental flexibility.  Each pose that was chosen was also chosen because of what it is believed to cultivate within us.  For instance, we started with Chair Pose.  It is believed to cultivate strength and endurance.  Who can’t use more strength and endurance in their lives?  I personally, need more.  Later, we practiced Pyramid Pose.  It is believed to cultivate a calm mind and body.  Yes, two things I REALLY need given my profession.  And on and on we went from one pose to the next.

It’s simple; we all need to get comfortable with being uncomfortableDiscomfort is the impetus for change.  It’s when we find ourselves in uncomfortable situations that we start to change (psychologically, physically, spiritually, etc).  No, I don’t think that change happens immediately.  Nevertheless, over time, the discomfort we experience causes something within us to change.  It begins with a shift in our mindset and that shift grows within us until our actions match up with that mindset.

Okay, maybe some of you are apprehensive to believe me, perhaps you’re like me–a natural skeptic.  If that’s the case, let me share some recent experiences with you, instances where I got a taste of my own uncomfortable medicine.

#1: Working Out in SMedium Shorts

I’ve been trying to lose excess weight for what seems like FOREVER!  Seriously though, there is an extra twenty pounds that isn’t serving my body at the present moment.  And no, I haven’t been real strict about limiting what I eat.  Let’s face it.  If I deprive myself of those things that I love: cookies, and brownies, and pie, and cake, I’d likely fall off the proverbial wagon at some point after slimming down and then end up right back where I am—or worse (this isn’t my first rodeo).  So, rather than going commando with regards to what I eat, I’ve made a pact with myself about reintroducing weight/resistance training back into my life.  Lately, I’d been more into jogging and thought that it would do the trick.  It hasn’t.  For one, I’ve been cautioned away from jogging since my knee surgery.  And two, before the surgery, I’d been jogging fairly regularly and hand’t seen much in the way of results.  Thirdly, since beginning the ascent of Mount Forty, I’ve noticed that my body isn’t as toned as it once was.  Giving these facts, I figured I should at least make an effort to bring resistance training back.  Ergo, after my knee surgery, I slowly started to reintroduce weights back into my life.

A few days ago, while in the midst of a grueling sixty minute workout with Bob Harper (another one of my favorite celebrity fitness trainers), I experienced an epiphany: I am so uncomfortable in these shorts.  Yep!  I was serving myself a dose of my own medicine; I was getting comfortable within being uncomfortable.  My SMedium sized Walmart shorts were tight.  That was no typo; I meant to write it like that.  You see, SMedium is when the garment(s) you’re wearing looks and/or feels like a small and you know you wear a large.  So yes, my SMedium shorts felt like suction cups around my thighs.  And not in that form-fitting flattering kind of way.  My thighs felt like they were going to rip the seems of those shorts apart with each and every squat I completed.  I literally felt like I was having a real-life Hulk experience without turning green and/or becoming a more buff version of myself (remember, I am currently working to get muscle back into my body).  And rather than rush to find something else that was more comfortable, I persevered through the workout with a profound appreciation for the discomfort I was feeling.  Sure, I wanted to jump in my car and go to Walmart to purchase another pair of shorts that weren’t cutting off the blood flow in my thighs.  I wanted so bad for the once lose-fitting shorts to feel like they once did—comfortable.  But I knew that purchasing another pair, one’s that were comfortable, wouldn’t teach me the lesson that I needed to be taught—get comfortable with being uncomfortable.  I absolutely felt like those shorts were about to split right down the back seem and expose my big butt for what it was—enlarged.  I desperately wanted out of the shorts.  But I kept them on.  One, because the exercise clothes that were moderately comfortable were in the dryer, and two, because I’d just continue to behave in a manner that wouldn’t allow me to change.  Again, discomfort is the impetus for change.  If we never place ourselves, or find ourselves, in uncomfortable situations, were are NEVER going to change.  Change is good and change is necessary.

#2: The Steamy Sunny Snake Surprise

I HATE snakes!  Yes, since childhood I have not been a fan of the creatures that slither. Perhaps it has to do with too many run-ins during my youth.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve never given myself an opportunity to get over my fear.  Perhaps there is a deep-seated Eve complex I’m subconsciously carrying around.  Who knows?  Whatever the reason, I just want you to know that I do not like snakes.  But we’ll get back to that in a second.

I have to ask: who goes for a walk at one in the afternoon (in July) when it’s ninety-one degrees outside, when, according to the Weather Channel, it feels like 101 degrees?  A lunatic?  Nope.  Just someone who isn’t convinced that she’s getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.  That’s right; me, of course.  After my suicidal workout with Bob Harper, I made the conscious decision to go out in the heat and humidity of Florida for a walk.  Again, you’re asking “why?”  Well, I told you I made a commitment.  I am committed to walking at least two miles EVERY day until I have to go back to work at the beginning of August.  So, that basically means that I cannot make excuses.  And that’s why I mustered up the mental fortitude to go outside at the peak of heat, humidity, the sun, and walk.  Was I comfortable?  As comfortable as one can be despite the temperature.  But I was determined to get in my two miles so that I could check off another circle in my Commit-30 Journal–this month is about bringing my metabolism back to life.

Just when I thought the universe was on my side.  I returned from my walk to find a snake in the bushes just outside the front door.  Yep.  Just when I was about to smile at myself for doing what was necessary for change, the universe balled up its fist and landed a metaphoric blow to my gut.  Let me remind you: I HATE snakes.  It’s not a HATE like the one I have for peas.  It’s a HATE tinged with fear.  I don’t care how many times someone, especially Charles, tells me that a snake isn’t poisonous.  I don’t care if it’s a few inches long.  I DON’T LIKE SNAKES!  And I especially don’t like having to see them that close to my home.  I hear you; you’re saying that it’s no big deal.  I’m going to run into snakes since I live in Florida.  Yes.  You’re right; that is true.  But I prefer to see them from afar if I have to see them at all.  I don’t want to see them sunning themselves just inches away from the front door.  So what did I do?

Did I stand there is the heat, humidity and sun waiting for it to slither off?  Did I take an alternate route into the house?  Did I find a WMD and kill it?  Nope.  I did none of those things.  I jumped past it and dashed into the house like a crazy person.  Did that experience make me uncomfortable?  Hell yes!  Do I want more tests with that particular form of discomfort?  In the words of Miss Sophia (played by Oprah Winfrey) in the film adaptation of Alice Walker’s Color Purple, “I said, hell naw!”

#3 Questioning My Negative Self-Talk

Disclaimer: the following is an exercise I completed while reading Cynthia Kane’s Talk To Yourself Like a Buddhist—a book that explores Mindfulness practices that help to shift/silence our negative self-talk.

After reading the chapter where this activity, The Practice of Questioning, was introduced, I looked up the definition for the word judgment.  For me, it was necessary so that I could really examine the way I was internally speaking to myself.  Because yes, I constantly find myself judging my words and actions all too often, and I seek to break free of the negative judgments I speak to myself.  All that being said, what follows is one of six charts I worked through to question my negative self-talk.  More than the previous two examples, this one makes me the most uncomfortable as it a sarcasm-free peek into my heart and mind—pure transparency.

Judgment: to form an opinion, estimate, notion, or conclusion—from circumstances presented to the mind.

Negative Self-Talk: I am not as attractive as other women.

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So there you have it, three examples of my getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Despite the run in with the snake, the heat and humidity of a summer afternoon in Florida, an extremely tight pair of shorts, and my opening up about a limiting belief I’ve held about myself for years, I can earnestly say that I understand and appreciate the value of being uncomfortable.  Will this be the last of my Herculean tests of discomfort?  I highly doubt it.  But I know I’m one step closer to appreciating the value in getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I’m curious, when have you allowed yourself to get comfortable with being uncomfortable?  I’d love to hear about your experiences!