When I think about my transformation four years ago – quitting a twenty-year smoking habit, losing fifty pounds, and starting to run – I tend to downplay the way it really happened and hide it all behind a hand-wringing and almost apologetic discourse on ‘Perfect Storms’.
It’s important to me because if I can hit on “The Secrets” to weight loss and gaining control over bad habits, if I know how to ‘flip the switch’ or ‘pull the trigger’, then I can do or be anything at all.
It might be in the way the questions are framed, that we find answers. For example, when asked how to start working out and getting fit, I might rattle off one motivational thing after another, but what if there is no formula to success? When someone asks how to quit smoking or lose weight, it’s always been easy to talk about having a plan and sticking to it or layering the accountability as much as possible, but what if there is no trigger to be pulled or switch to be flipped? Waiting for some magical piece of knowledge or that moment when lightening strikes and our lives are changed forever, a religious experience; and while we wait, we slowly ease our lives into a slowly fading existence, where, in the end, we were only waiting comfortably for death all along.
Recently, I heard a podcast where the hostess used a very interesting term that I had never heard before; “appropriate discomfort”. I knew what she was talking about, immediately. In running, we like to say that ‘tempo runs should be at a pace that is comfortably uncomfortable’. Our society seems to program us through marketing to seek out pleasure wherever and whenever it can be found and to shun discomfort whenever possible, or at least dull the pain; escape – but that’s not right. To escape discomfort at all costs is to escape life itself.
Eschewing the difficult, uncomfortable and awkward situations in our lives, our relationships and our health and fitness, will only keep us where we are. We won’t improve, we won’t learn to deal with these times and circumstances honestly and straightforward on their own merits. For example, “If drinking helps you deal with a life you don’t like, then you are going to get really good at dealing with a life you don’t like”. And you’ll settle for a life you don’t like – that drink will take the edge off once you get home.
It’s very hard for me to look life straight in the eye with no coping mechanisms, with no distractions to tear my gaze away from the naked discomfort I feel, to stand there and just ‘be’. It feels vulnerable, and I want to escape. I want to end the discomfort. I want to take the edge off.
Even in running and especially in dieting, I find this reflexive persistent desire to find the easiest way possible and to do the bare minimum; to cut corners seek out comfort – the ‘quick fix’. I don’t want to feel hungry, and I do feel hungry even when I couldn’t possibly be hungry. It’s o.k. to feel hungry sometimes and still not eat. It’s o.k. to think I need to eat a little extra and still stick to the plan. I won’t die from hunger.
In running, if I’m not willing to be uncomfortable on my runs, whether it be how I physically feel, or whether I have the motivation to get out of bed and do my workout, or even if I don’t like others seeing me run because I’m embarrassed – then I just won’t make any progress as a runner. If I don’t push my boundaries, I won’t grow.
So that’s it. I know what needs to be done, it’s just really uncomfortable sometimes. It’s really hard to just remain in my discomfort without the food that brings me so much pleasure, or the bed where I dream and rest peacefully. I know what works, and when it becomes difficult and uncomfortable, I’ll know that I’m probably on the right track.