Learning to Lean Into the Discomfort

This is a creative commons photo, so it’s not me! But planks are a perfect representation of when I lean into the discomfort as far as exercising is concerned because I FREAKING HATE PLANKS. But they’re effective. I’m learning.

One of the first things I learned in therapy was to “sit with the discomfort.” That’s a helluva thing, right? To normalize the idea that discomfort can be a … good process? A healing process? A transformative process?

There’s this idea in economics — I’m not an economist, but I’m aware of the idea — called creative destruction. It’s a fundamental idea of capitalism, whereby one set of production units replaces another. So, think for example about the automobile replacing the horse and buggy. Or electricity replacing candles.

At first, that might seem like a raw deal for those who operate horse and buggies or make the carriages or tend to the horses or whatever else. Or make the candles. What will happen to them? Shouldn’t we protect their jobs and their livelihoods from the encroachment of these new fangled capitalists and their fancy automobiles? And electricity? Well, the idea behind creative destruction is that first and foremost, the automobile and electricity will make all of our lives better in the long-run relative to the continued (and especially the artificially enforced) widespread use of the horse and buggy and the candle. But yes, a byproduct of that will be the “destruction” of those occupations in large measure. However, secondly, those who lose jobs can now find new work in what the existence of the automobile and electricity make possible, whether that’s directly or indirectly, hence “creative.”

That’s a long-winded way to get back to the idea that “discomfort,” just as “destruction,” can be a positive, net gain for us as a society and as individuals when looking at the long-view. Obviously, the short-term, any amount of discomfort or destruction is going to suck, quite frankly (which is why politically, it’s often not easy to embrace this idea because the short-term can get you voted out of office, but I digress). But you have to take that long-view to appreciate the way it works.

In terms of therapy, the discomfort looks like sitting with the grief I’ve been avoiding post-break-up from my romantic relationship in late 2019. Or that sometimes I will still have bad days and bad thoughts and bad feelings. But they don’t have to guide me any longer. A lot of the work around getting better mentally isn’t to avoid those thoughts and feelings, but to sit with them and acknowledge them. As counterintuitive as that sounds, that’s how they lose their power. It’s when we try to ignore them that they gain their power over us.

Another way in which I’ve been learning to accept and even lean into the discomfort is with exercising via the FitOn app I’ve talked about and much like my therapist, even the physical trainers on the app have talked about embracing the discomfort. That, if your arms are shaking, that’s good! If your abs are shaking, that’s good! If your legs are shaking, that’s good! All of that means your body is working. But it’s discomforting! So, you have to accept it. That discomfort leads to growth, not just of muscles, but of our brains. And those trainers are good because they always will be like, “Come on now, smile!” and I do and I feel better. Bastards.

One other area I’ve learned to embrace the discomfort, and admittedly, this one can be a bit dicey, is with my diet. As I’ve also mentioned here, I’ve been counting calories since late June to drop the pounds and I’ve dropped more than 20 pounds since starting. My caloric intake each day, as tracked by MyFitnessPal, cannot exceed 2,330 calories. However, most days, I end with anywhere between 900-1,100 calories to spare (if you don’t eat enough, the app will warn that you’re not eating enough and won’t let you complete your daily diary).

What that means is, particularly at night when I’d normally be craving a late-night snack, is that I lean into the discomfort of being hungry still. I’m not starving myself, folks. It’s not a painful hunger or anything remotely like that. But it’s a, I could, and normally would have, eaten another 300 or so calories tonight after dinner to satiate myself feeling. Instead, I lean into the discomfort to continue making progress on dropping pounds and getting to the place I want to be physically (and mentally). Learning that I don’t need to overeat.

So, I said dicey in the sense that, there’s obviously a lot tied into eating and our body image and I want to be mindful of that. Because that very easily could turn into a problematic eating disorder.

Anyhow, I’m sure an actual therapist could explain this all better than I am and maybe I’m interpreting it a few different ways, but that’s how I’ve come to take it and it’s worked for me at least. As usual when it comes to therapy and even physical exercise, find what works for you!

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