Being Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

I wrote the post below in 2009 when I was going through a transition in my workouts. I was reminded of it this morning, while I struggled to get comfortable in the position needed for bent-over barbell rows. “Grrrr… I HATE these!” my inner eight-year-old said, in a petulant voice. I did the damn bent-over rows, but I pouted the whole time and wasted all kinds of mental energy on the hate-hate-hate chant in my head.

Then I came home and re-read this post—and realized that in the time since I wrote it, the front squat has become one of my favorite lifts. Just goes to show you…

It’s also worth mentioning that while this post starts out specifically about front squats, the whole notion of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is helpful in every area of life. My thyroidectomy and the resulting hormonal crash (and a few years of lots of doctor visits and experiments and disappoints and generally not feeling very well) all got much easier—emotionally and physically—when I settled into the discomfort… of not knowing all the answers, of not knowing how long the challenges would last, of not knowing if or when I’d feel better.

Undesirable to-do items, scary conversations, endless workouts, intimidating tasks—they all become manageable when you wrap your arms around the discomfort, give it a big hug, and welcome it into your life.

Learning to properly lift heavy weight and practicing the Olympic lifts has been almost like starting all over with CrossFit. There’s a huge difference between a front squat with 15-lb. dumbbells at Bootcamp and an 80-lb. front squat with a barbell.

Dave and I were scheduled to do 5X5 front squats on Friday morning. In case you’re not familiar with the lingo, that means we would do 5 sets with 5 front squats in each set. The idea is to keep adding weight until we’ve either completed 5 sets or failed at the weight.

We’ve performed similar workouts recently with deadlift, back squat, shoulder press, and push press. The results have been mixed. I love the overhead lifts. I feel strong and playful. On those, I can think to myself, “Betcha can’t push press 90 pounds!” and I feel inspired to try.

The squats are another story. The back squat, in particular, always makes me nervous. My snake brain doesn’t like that “sticky” feeling at the bottom, even though my intellectual brain knows that’s the good spot.

I was apprehensive about the front squats; I’d never done them “for real” before, and I didn’t know what to expect.

Then I watched this video at Again Faster.

I encourage you to watch it, too. I know you probably won’t want to. It’s 9 minutes long, and you were just about to get coffee before you go into your next work meeting. You’re not doing front squats for your workout today. You’d rather take a break and read GoFugYourself.

But really, trust me. Watch the video. Now. Not only for Jon Gilson’s excellent details on the front squat, but for the philosophical message inherent in his instruction.

“The primary reason it’s difficult… is that it’s uncomfortable.”

Those words are repeated throughout the tutorial, to great effect. I totally bought that message—so much so, that by the time I got to the gym, I was 100% ready for the front squat to maybe not feel so good, and for that to be 100% OK with me.

I’d built it up to be pretty gnarly in my noggin, so when I actually did a few practice sets with the empty 45-lb. bar, I could acknowledge that it was, indeed, uncomfortable, that I didn’t much care for it, and that if I was going to be successful, I was going to have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I’ve learned this lesson many times before: on the California AIDS Ride, when a run feels long, on round 3 of a 5-round met-con workout, during a seemingly unending conference call at work, anytime life seems particularly unfair. Fighting against that discomfort gives it power. It’s distracting; my energy is focused on all the wrong things.

But when I give myself over to the discomfort and accept it as current state of being… poof! it’s almost gone. Note that I didn’t say “it’s gone.” I said it’s almost gone. It’s no longer a distraction or an impediment to what I really want—which is to finish the ride, the run, the meeting, the lift.

There are times when nothing feels better than to be a fist of rage, and during those times, I embrace my 5-foot-4-inches of fury. I rant. I rave. I fight back. But when it’s just me and a challenge, it’s often better to give that discomfort a hug and welcome it to the party.


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  • Gabrielle says:

    You cracked me up with that part about, “I know you don’t want to watch this…and are about to get coffee”…I was just drinking my coffee and thinking, “I’m not going to watch that,” before i read that. But you called me out, and I was so amused I watched the video. Really good points in it and well illustrated. Definitely worth the watch 🙂
    As you pointed out there are a lot of valuable applications to getting comfortable with discomfort, and I really appreciate that when it comes to those various situations in life that are uncomfortable but beneficial. I’m glad I saw this (including the video link! lol). I’m sure I can find some ways to apply this to my day. I really liked this!