Get discomfortable! (That’s not a typo.)

Monkey holding signI love my Tuesday-night yoga class. Every week is a different experience, ranging from super-chill to work-up-a-serious sweat. That’s because our teacher, Jill, builds the class around our requests.

However, last week was not fun.

A few weeks earlier I’d done a 14-mile walk through the hills of San Francisco that, combined with a six-hour flight home two days later, left the top of my IT band feeling like it’d been glued into a knot.  (The IT band is the stretch of tissue that runs from the outside of your hip to your knee.)

So when Jill asked for requests last Tuesday, I pointed to my right upper thigh and said, “Something to make this very painful spot feel better.”

What I was hoping for was a nice yummy stretch that would feel good in the moment AND make the pain disappear. What I got was four excruciating minutes lying on a yoga therapy ball placed right underneath the spot.

I’d actually been using the ball daily since the 14-mile walk, but with a tolerance of only 20 seconds. That was how long I could ignore the message coming from the monkeys in my head:

Danger: serious discomfort ahead. Run as fast as you can!

Lying on the floor of the yoga studio surrounded by a roomful of people, I didn’t want to wimp out. So I gritted my teeth, breathed through the “I want to get off this ball” thought repeating on an endless loop in my head, and gutted it out.

To say I spent four minutes in extreme discomfort is an understatement.

But the payoff was huge. My leg felt a thousand times better.

Once I realized that four minutes on the ball not only didn’t kill me but actually made my leg feel better, it was easier to do it at home. And after a few days my leg stopped hurting. Yay!!

This pattern plays out in our lives all the time.

The mind-monkeys that wanted me to get away from the sensation of oh-my-word-this-hurts as quickly as possible are the same ones that show up in any uncomfortable situation.

They’ll scream that you need to GET AWAY FROM THE DISCOMFORT RIGHT NOW.  Whether the situation involves resolving conflict, improving your fitness level, creating a new habit, recovering from an injury, saying no, expressing a dissenting opinion, or whatever creates discomfort for you, the mind monkeys are convinced that your only hope is to flee the situation.

It’s hard to ignore that impulse to flee.

But staying in the discomfort teaches you how to work through uncomfortable situations.

And that’s what ultimately makes life flow more smoothly.

Make no mistake, it’s a skill.  And like any skill, you cultivate it through practice.

Here are six steps to get you started.

1.  Choose something that creates discomfort for you. And yes, I get that just reading that sentence might make you want to stop reading right now! Please don’t :-).

Choose something small to start with. Perhaps it’s sitting still, stretching a sore muscle, having a slightly difficult conversation, or going for a walk when your to-do list is undone.  It doesn’t matter what you pick so long as you pick something to start practicing.

2.  Set a timer for a period long enough to build your discomfort endurance muscle but short enough that you can manage yourself through. (You need an objective measure of time or your mind-monkeys will convince you that 20 seconds is enough.)

3.  Breathe, breathe, and breathe.

4.  When the monkeys start carrying on, keep breathing and make the choice to stay right where you are.

5.  Do something kind for yourself at the end of each practice. You’ve just done great work!

6.  Rinse and repeat at least a few times a week.

And remember that the more you expand your capacity for discomfort, the more opportunity you’ll have to live your day the way you want to live your life.

So go get discomfortable!

“Change is inevitable, growth is intentional.” Colin Wilson


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Sherry Essig

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