I spent many years racing comfortably. I don’t mean that I sailed along, unaffected by the miles adding up. My stomach has always swirled with lake water; my butt, shoulders, and neck hurting; and my muscles aching. Not to mention the thirst and hunger and…the chafing. I was very good at giving off the appearance of being out of my comfort zone. But, I knew that I could stay just comfortable enough in that it wouldn’t hurt that bad

I was unwilling to fully experience serious short term discomfort for big long term growth. 

I love being comfortable. But, now I don’t let it happen by chance. I intentionally plan for times in my days and weeks that are dedicated purely to physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual comfort. I wear leggings with sneakers rather than jeans and heels. I have a warm house with a cozy bed that I relish slipping into at the end of the day. I enjoy texts, calls, walks, dinners, and coffee with familiar friends each week. I have been with my husband for almost 20 years. I could go on and on expressing my gratitude for the comfort that I am blessed to have afforded in my life.

Having comfort zones and spending dedicated time there is not bad (as many social media memes might indicate). Comfortable places are spaces that we can rest our mind and soul. We can be refilled and refueled. We need comfort

We also need discomfort. Comfort is not synonymous with happy or content. Sometimes a focus on familiarity (the comfort zone) is destructive. Your life is stifled when you refuse to leave your comfort zones. When you stop making decisions out of a desire to grow and instead let short term comfort be your guiding force. 

When you sacrifice what you say you really want for the ease of what you want right now. 

You don’t try new things.

You quit on an interval early. 

You don’t stand up for yourself or others or causes you believe in.

You give up on your nutrition goals for the ease of the moment. 

You stay in unhealthy relationships. 

You honor comfort OVER your values and goals. You sell out on yourself. You give in to make it easy for right now, suspecting that it will catch up with you someday, while secretly hoping it won’t. 

As you know, I love to learn and grow. But, I also believe it is important to discern between times of growth and times of comfort. I read self help books and mind numbing novels. I enjoy easy workouts and then am willing push the uncomfortable intervals. I work hard and schedule time to do nothing. I get stuff done without being too overly busy to enjoy leisurely time with friends and family. 

I make it sound like I have the magic answer, like I have it all together. NOT AT ALL. But, I have and continue to practice. And I still fall short. But, I am okay with taking the chance that the discomfort will overwhelm me with pain and possibly even a little suffering. 

Recently I realized there were many areas in my life that I was choosing short term comfort over honoring my top values and my goals. I was losing the separation of times of desired comfort versus times of needed growth. The lines were blurred. I felt confused, I felt flat

I wrote my values down and hung them on my bathroom mirror were I could be reminded of what I follow in order to feel as my most authentic self. And it has helped immensely. Am I perfect now? Um, no. But I will keep practicing. 

In order to be uncomfortable you have to be willing to feel. Once you are open to living in the moment and allowing all of the emotions to vibrate through your body you will realize that although often mildly unpleasant, discomfort is okay. You will survive it and then can feel accomplished and ready to thrive. You will know you can do it again. 

When I started racing uncomfortably I learned what it felt like to give my all to something, to be truly uncomfortable. I am now more aware of times I want to hold back, make excuses, allow myself to sabotage, or justify my actions from a place of fear. I learned that I can be uncomfortable (often) and still be okay. I have taken this way of thinking into the rest of my life—going for no with article pitches, trying new coaching techniques, being more honest in my relationships, showing more vulnerability to my athletes, on social media, and in my book, and making more strict nutrition choices that honor my needs. 

Recently, I had another breakthrough in the pool. As I swam intervals I told myself, “I don’t value comfort right now” on repeat. And BOOM. Faster efforts. This has now become my mantra during all of my hard efforts for all of my sports. 

Embracing comfort and discomfort has made me more willing to admit how much I have to learn about how to love humanity more and live out my faith. I fully see how fortunate I am to have all of this comfort and I see how much more uncomfortable I need to be. 

I encourage you to evaluate your life and see if you are making choices to honor short term comfort over needed learning and growth. Needed change. Make clear goals and stop blaming others and circumstances for your lack of reaching them. DECIDE to make the hard choices, to go all in on the intervals, to have the hard conversations. Let the feeling of discomfort surge in your body. Then, after you feel it fully and learn that you are still okay, go put on those comfy pants and crawl into a warm and cozy bed. 

Rest. And get ready to do it all over again. With each choice you get a little stronger. With each heartbeat a little faster.