In one of the workout videos I like to watch, the trainer says, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” I’ve also been eyeing a workout t-shirt that says, “Comfort is a Slow Death…Prefer Pain.” Maybe pain is too strong of a word, but discomfort certainly applies to most of my workouts, but I’ve found that this idea goes much deeper than just the discomfort of a deep stretch or lifting heavy.
It’s all too easy to become comfortable, particularly as I get older.
It’s easy to stick with what I know, with what works, and not try new things. Why should I upgrade my phone to a newer model if this one works just fine? Why should I learn a new system at work if I’m an expert in this other one already? Why should I spend time with people I don’t know when I already have a group of friends? Why should I make friends with people who don’t think like me…or don’t look like me if it’s easier to stick with people who I already feel comfortable with? Why should I change out of my comfy clothes and dress up to go out to something? Why should I learn something new, risking looking silly or foolish when I already know so much?
It’s such an easy trap to fall into because it feels…comfortable.
And it’s something I consciously try to resist every single day because it really is a slow death. Avoiding discomfort slowly begins to restrict your growth. Just as refusing to move in new and different ways slowly makes your body tighter and tighter, your muscles freezing into one shape until you are trapped in your own body…the same thing can happen to your mind or soul. By refusing to look like an awkward beginner or feel the discomfort of the effort of trying something new, you allow your entire being to dry up and shrink back into itself, becoming rigid and inflexible.
Have you ever heard it said of someone older, “Well, that’s the way they are…they can’t change now.” The assumption is that this process is inevitable, that we have no other choice but to accept it and console ourselves with comfort as the world shrinks around us. The fact is that this is the source of so much suffering as we age. In our bodies, this plays out as all kinds of illnesses as well as injuries that come from not moving or making the same movements over and over. The avid golfer puts their back out because they’ve done little else but golf for 20 years or more. The tennis player’s elbow gives out. The sedentary person starts seeing issues with high blood pressure and diabetes. In minds, people can become more stubborn and opinionated, unable to see things from a different perspective. They can retreat and become isolated. There is even evidence that avoiding learning new things plays a part in the development of alzheimers and dementia. We become prisoners of our bodies and our minds, trapped in pain and suffering…all because comfort lulled us into complacency.
It’s not easy to try new things.
When I first started working out again last summer. I couldn’t do a pushup. Not even on my knees! It was embarrassing for me. I felt shame that I’d let my fitness slide so much. I could remember doing one armed pushups in college with ease and now here I was, shaking and struggling to do one pushup on my knees. I just kept doing what I could, trying to do a little more each day until now…I can do plenty of pushups on my toes again. It didn’t happen overnight and I had to struggle through that awkward stage where I felt ridiculous. When I went back to yoga, the first time I went to a studio class, it was all people in their 20’s and the were all wearing very little. Here I was in my 40’s, quite overweight, covered up more with my hair covered, too. I looked SO out of place as I looked into the mirror and saw myself among the rest of the hot yoga class. The teacher mentioned a song being out when she was in Junior High and I only felt older…that song had been popular when I’d already had kids! I was red in the face, sweaty, awkward, and shaking, but I kept up and I kept doing yoga even when I felt awkward or silly.
I certainly felt silly signing up for a yoga teacher training. I’d done yoga for about 20 some years off and on, but I’d never been the super bendy, tall and willowy yoga girl. I am built stout, short and stocky. I often can’t do some poses simply because my anatomy doesn’t allow it. I have muscles and curves in the way or my arms or legs simply aren’t long enough. I was also still working on regaining strength and flexibility. (Remember the pushups?) I signed up anyway and set myself to really working hard in the two months I had before my classes began. Even so, when I logged on for my first online class, I felt SO vulnerable. They had us start teaching that very day, on camera, watching and writing notes for feedback. I felt like they probably would just tell me to quit. I was older than many of the students and less flexible or fit than many.
And yet, I also was a better, more thoughtful speaker than some. I found that because I am not that “bendy yoga girl,” I could talk people through poses and modifications more clearly than some of my fitter or more flexible peers. Having struggled with some of the poses myself, I knew more how to help students. And…after hour after hour of doing the poses and getting solid feedback, my own form improved along with my strength and flexibility.
These same things carry over to learning a new skill at work or trying to broaden my mind or social circle. The more I dive into uncomfortable new things, the easier it becomes and the more flexible my body and mind become. I even FEEL younger, with a similar ease in my body and my mind as I had when I was younger, but somehow lost for a while as I settled into what was “comfortable.”
So…how do I do it?
I find that I have to not overthink it. If an opportunity to try something new comes up and there aren’t any huge costs or risks beyond making a fool of myself…I commit myself to it before I can think of all the logical reasons why I shouldn’t. Even better if it comes with some kind of commitment that I can’t take back because then I know my sense of obligation will pull me along. This can be as simple as committing to a friend that I’ll try something with them…I wouldn’t want to let them down. Or, as for my next yoga teacher training, I went ahead and put down a non-refundable down payment today and the dates are on the calendar. When my husband brought up the idea of renting a cabin in the woods for Passover, I said yes before I could think through how difficult the logistics might be, knowing that we could figure them out. When a new project comes up at work that sounds interesting that that I could learn from, I volunteer before I have a chance to think through all my self-doubt.
If your first gut response to something is “Yes! I want to try that,” then say yes before every doubt you have about yourself can be brought to you by your mind…because it will. Let’s say you want to learn to play guitar. If you don’t hurry up and sign up for lessons and get a guitar, your mind will start helpfully pointing out every reason why this is a dumb idea before you even begin. It will tell you you’re too old to learn, that you’ve never had musical talent, that it costs too much and there are more important things to spend your money on. It’s selfish of you to take the time and money to do this. Then, it will dig into all your memories to find every embarrassing time you tried something new and made a fool of yourself. Remember that time you tried out for the Junior High Volleyball team and the ball hit you in the face and everyone laughed? Yeah? Well, this is going to be just the same. You’re going to try to play the guitar and you won’t be good at it and everyone is going to laugh at you. You might as well not try at all.
If you’ve already paid for the lessons and bought the guitar, it’s easier to tell that negative voice to shove it. If you’ve already paid the down payment and asked for the time off, it’s harder to back out. If you’ve told a friend you’d go try goat yoga with them and they’re counting on you to be there, it’s harder to let them down. Make it easy for you to say YES to those things that you keep thinking you might like to try and hard for you to say no. I also try, when I can, to make the first step to my new goal right away, rather than off in the future. The sooner I get started, the easier it is to keep going. If I sign up for a 5k in one month, I go running that day and I buy the new shoes that I’ll feel guilty leaving sitting in my closet.
Like Nike says…”Just do it.”
Life is far too short and precious to reach the end of it and think of all the things you didn’t let yourself try because you were afraid of what others might think or that you’d fail. Failure isn’t the worst thing in the world…it means that I tried and learned something. Sometimes…it’s learning that something really isn’t for me. I also find a good sense of humor helps. It’s good to be able to laugh at yourself. I laugh all the time when I do balance poses because I fall in and out of them. I keep trying, but I laugh when it doesn’t work. I also find that when you laugh at your own awkwardness, people tend to take it less seriously, too and are more likely to remember your good sense of humor than how awkward you were.
Life can be a wonderful adventure if you are able to be open to it rather than slowly closing yourself off to it. I encourage my kids to lean into the things that make them uncomfortable because that’s where their greatest growth is. For my daughter, this means pushing her out the door into social situations or signing her up for camp. She’s more comfortable at home, but the more she stays there, the harder it’s going to be for her to step into those awkward social situations and the more her world will close in around her…and she’s far too young for that to start now.
So…what new thing are you going to do to step out of your comfort?
Today, I’m putting on a huge inflatable unicorn costume to deliver treats to my community. I’ll look absolutely ridiculous and probably laugh most of the time and it’s definitely outside my comfort zone…so it’s a perfect way to celebrate Purim. After all, I’m pretty sure Esther felt pretty uncomfortable stepping up to talk to the King and confront Haman, but it was her way to grow into who she was meant to be.