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Are you afraid of discomfort?

Jocko Willink, former US Navy Seal, current podcast host, business mentor, author and Jiu-Jitsu black belt is well known for his favourite retort; "good". Said frequently in response to complaints or doubts uttered by those around him. Put simply, if the circumstances have become more difficult, the situation has deteriorated, or new information arises meaning a planned task has become much more difficult, Jocko will reply with "good". On the face of it, this might be seen as flippant, dismissive, or even macho and arrogant, but if we scratch just beneath the surface, this mantra can transcend setting or environment to reveal a lesser discussed phenomenon - we are getting too comfortable being comfortable!

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Of course Jocko isn't particularly happy about a task growing in difficulty, however he is choosing to reframe the shift as an opportunity. It has become a chance to increase the outcome. Say for example you're due to run 5 miles to a friend's house to visit. Then you'll grab a lift home after a catch-up. Say you arrive at your friend's house and they aren't in. Maybe they had to shoot off to tend to an emergency? Perhaps they got their days mixed up? Maybe they have been delayed in a meeting at work? Either way, you're 5 miles from home, sweat soaked, without your phone, and with no one to give you a lift. Furthermore, you ran at a pace suitable for a 5 mile run, so you're pretty tired. Good! You turn on your heels, and set off on the 5 mile return journey. The unexpected increase to your mental fortitude is a bonus! The extra 5 miles you get to put into your legs is a bonus! The time to think and be alone with your thoughts is a bonus! Maybe you have never run this far, and get to set a record? Maybe you try a new route on the way home and see some great sights? For all of these reasons, and many more, this situation presents many opportunities that can only be seen as positives. Simply, "good" has reframed your view of a situation, rather than being fixed in the negative frame that would have likely been the first response. Taken like this, it is far from macho or arrogant, but rather optimistic, practical and smart!

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Now consider that we are anti-fragile beings; that being we adapt to low level bursts of acute stress. This is how, for example, muscles grow from lifting weights - we repeatedly apply stress in small, acute bouts, to which the body gradually adapts. This means that we i) can tolerate more and ii) have to apply increasing loads of stress in order to drive adaptation. It is my assertion that this is not just how we improve physiologically, but psychologically too! If you choose to walk or run in the rain today, doing so tomorrow will be that bit easier as our tolerance increases. If you take a 10 second cold shower to start each day this week, you'll probably be able to tolerate a little more next week. In other words, we gradually cultivate the mindset and character traits that we aspire to, rather than being born with them.This view is referred to as a Growth Mindset by Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck. As you'll often hear said, the first step to overcoming a problem, is recognising you have one, and the second is accepting that you have the power to change it.

The moral of the story that I'm trying to communicate is that we each have control over far more of who we are and how we behave than we might like to admit. The reason we don't want to admit to this is because then we become responsible, and there is no longer an excuse for inaction. In an age where excuses are more abundant than ever, choose to eschew labels and work to improve yourself. Whether you are focused on a physical or psychological improvement, gradually expose yourself to a stressor that will drive growth. Whatever your approach, or desired outcome, it is likely that this will require leaving your comfort zone. Technology abounds, and much of it is aimed at, often with well-meaning intentions, reducing the amount of human effort required to achieve tasks, or making our environments ever more accommodating. There is nothing specifically wrong with easing our burdens, it is after all how we as a race have achieved as much as we have, but on an individual level, we would do well to reconnect with some of the discomforts that our ancestors of as little as 2-3 generations past had to endure daily.

What is a discomfort you have embraced in pursuit of a better you? Has it paid off? Why and how did you stick with it? Let me know in the comments below.


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