No Magic Pill

Knowledge + effort + time = success

Getting comfortable with discomfort

Posted by Ben on Friday, June 27, 2008

Yes, this is also the title of a kettlebell-focused blog, but these four words speak to a myriad of issues both in training and in life. We all develop routines and habits, patterns that automate physical and mental tasks so that we can focus on the not-so-common elements of life. Obviously, the more ingrained a habit, the more seemingly comfortable we are, creating the buzzword “comfort zone.” Process and procedure are decidedly left-brain characteristics, a trait reinforced in our society, especially in public education (math and science) following the 1950s space race with the Soviet Union, and it is this method of thinking that dominates content on standardized tests (even standardized testing itself is a self-fulfilling prophecy). School programs deemed extraneous—including gym and arts classes—continue to lose funding in favor of more measurable disciplines in all grades, which is a huge disservice to our youth and to our country in general. Imagination and creativity are quashed before they get any chance to fully develop just so schools can receive funding based on a long-outdated ideology.

The United States graduates fewer and fewer scientists each year, especially in relation to other supposedly “developing” nations like India and China, even though we pour more and more resources into math and science education at earlier and earlier grade levels. Why is this? I’m just guessing here, but maybe students are using their post-secondary education to explore more creative avenues of thought after thirteen (or more) years of linear education, finding out they like it, and swinging their intellectual pendula away from numbers and toward relationships (academically speaking). However, the more successful scientists and mathematicians are, first and foremost, thinkers, using their nurtured imaginations and creativity as the foundation for the critical thinking required for “outside the box” ideas that give way to scientific breakthrough. (I just happened to start my creative exploration in ninth grade rather than in college, but that was because I had some remarkable English teachers, not because of state-mandated curricula, hence my two liberal arts degrees.)

So, what does this have anything to do with, well, anything? There’s a difference between efficiency and complacency. Efficiency is a break-even point where things run smoothly, almost automatically, but maintenance and upkeep are still required. It’s a comfortable homeostasis where all parts of the system are balanced. Problems arise when we start to doze at the wheel—cruise control is great if there’s no traffic around, but you still have to drive the car, no matter what. Our bodies are impeccable at adaptation and adjustment for various conditions, and far too often, we take that for granted. Even if we decide to do some maintenance, it often falls under the “just because” category, and in that mindset, we become passive in our own upkeep. We settle into process and procedure of going through the motions (changing the oil at, say, 10,000 miles or more) rather than performing preventive maintenance (checking the engine belts for wear) or even enhancing performance (NOS system, anyone?). Without even passive care, our bodies will adjust as much as they can and then eventually start to break down, so instead of that $30 oil change, now you may need more expensive repairs, maybe even a complete overhaul, since you can’t just go pick up a new body down at the local dealer… for now

Fortunately, our bodies do respond to corrective behavior unlike non-living objects, and it doesn’t take the latest and greatest gadget to do it nor does it require a compartmentalized approach, more just an integration of one or two things here and there into your daily lives to make all the long-term difference in the world, even if that simply means starting out by just talking to someone about it. Just don’t bite off more than you can chew, please. Little bites. Savor the flavor. Be determined, be enthusiastic, be determined to finish strong (thanks to nine-year-old Jack for that inspired thought!), but be smart about it. There will be some discomfort at first, and it may seem counterintuitive to adopt behaviors that just don’t feel right, but short-term discomfort is a miniscule price to pay for long-term health and livelihood.

(Apologies for the mixed metaphors. Coffee was taking hold over the course of this writing.)

—Insulin is a good thing. It’s the condition behind glycemic correlation that’s the problem.
—Underage drinking isn’t the problem. Lack of parental involvement, conversation, and supervised sampling is the problem. Simply telling people not to do something is a sure-fire recipe for getting them to do it, and in a much less structure, less safe environment.
—What? People lie to get money? The hell you say.
—Does flying—or maybe just the hoops and red tape to get you in the air—make you anxious? Here’s a proposed solution (this should also be implemented immediately at the public grade school level; am I the only one who noticed a jump in discipline problems once certain drugs were outlawed?).
—Webmonkey (hey, look, a monkey!) put out a five-point how-to on better blogging. I’ve addressed the fifth one; the other four, not so much. Oh well :)
TED. is. awesome. (Congrats!)


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