The Importance of Being Uncomfortable

If you can be with the pleasant without chasing after it, with the unpleasant without resisting it, and with the neutral without ignoring it – that is an incredible freedom. (Rick Hanson, Ph.D.)

I dislike being uncomfortable. I like routine. I like stability. I like when things don’t change too much. I like security. I like days in pyjamas.

We’re here on this planet to be happy right? And to be happy implies having a pleasant and comfortable existence right?

It’s reassuring to come to this conclusion, it gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. And yet, I am being pulled (kicking and screaming) toward an understanding that being happy has diddly-squat to do with comfort, and everything to do with discomfort.

For instance:

🚗 Why park at the end of the supermarket carpark when you can park in front of the door?

👣 Why walk over lumpy bumpy ground in a forest with a 3mm shoe sole?

🚿 Why turn the shower temperature to the cold setting or go skinny dipping in a river on a winter morning?

🧘 Why do 10-day silent meditation retreats sitting from 4 am to 9 pm at night?

🛋️ Why ditch my furniture for a year as an experiment?

🏕 Why live in a cramped camper van with my partner, two children and large dog?

💖 Why look inward when someone has just pissed me off?

✍️ Why start a new blog with zero writing experience?

Hmm… because I’m a masochist?!

Haha, yes, I know that’s what you’re thinking! 

Brené Brown has a great quote that elucidates all above whys.

“We need to cultivate the courage to be uncomfortable and to teach the people around us how to accept discomfort as a part of growth.” (Brené Brown)

Reflect back to when you were a child. You had to learn how to walk, to ride a bike, to talk, even to eat! These things were all accomplished by incredible daring, embracing discomfort, getting up again when we fell, pushing ourselves over and over. Yet, as adults we shun difficult processes, choosing Netflix and pizza instead (nothing wrong with Netflix, or pizza by the way). I have consciously chosen to participate in these practices and processes as I knew/know they could/will have a positive influence on my physical, emotional and spiritual self.

🚗 Why park at the end of the supermarket carpark when you can park in front of the door?

We live on autopilot. We enter the supermarket carpark and advance straight for the store entrance sign as if we plan to enter with our vehicle. On realising cars aren’t allowed, we park more or less on top of the store entrance. And we don’t examine why we do it. If we break it down, there’s a time saving of approximately 2 minutes there and back. I still catch myself doing it, and sometimes my partner catches me when I sneakily suggest parking by the store entrance!

On the other hand, you could say this only offers a meager 2 minutes of additional movement to your day, so what’s the point? Additional movement isn’t my only reason for parking far away from the entrance. Yes, it feels nice to have the car right there for you when you exit with your shopping, like an old friend there with open arms! We are creatures of habit and will always look for the path of least resistance. Whilst it may seem insignificant, changing any small habit can activate new neural pathways in the brain in a very short period of time. So it’s expanding your ability to go outside your comfort zones, just a little bit. I know it’s a lazy habit, but also it’s a very achievable habit to change, so a good starter. One for those of you, like me, who have done this as far back as you can remember!

Psychologist Deann Ware Ph.D., explains how habits form: “when brain cells communicate frequently, the connection between them strengthens and the messages that travel the same pathway in the brain over and over begin to transmit faster and faster.” With enough repetition, these behaviours become automatic.

How to do it?

Positive Emotion: the more emotion engaged in thinking and feeling, the more neurons you fire to form well-worn pathways. So look at the intention behind parking further away and attach a positive emotion to it. Feel this positive emotion as you enter the car park. Visualise yourself getting more confident, healthy, and vivacious just by changing this little habit in your life.

Repetition: Keep it up. Be consistent. When the excuses come, and they will come (my old favourite is that I actually don’t have time today for this nonsense).

👣 Why walk over lumpy bumpy ground in a forest with a 3mm shoe sole?

Nowadays, people predominantly walk on flat, level, and hard surfaces (man-made, concrete, indoor flooring, city pavements, etc) in our day to day lives. We then read about the benefits of barefoot footwear, and invest in a pair, innocently thinking that this is all we need to increase the health of our feet. We then wonder why our feet ache at the end of a day of wearing barefoot shoes, walking around a shopping mall. What is the dilemma here? Firstly, your feet have probably spend most of their life barely moving, and now they have all these freedom but are still locked up.

Secondly, most surfaces are lacking in something Katy Bowman has coined “vitamin texture”.

“It’s not only what you put on your feet, it’s what you put your feet on.” (Katy Bowman)

We have 33 joints and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments in each foot that need to be moved, and bumpy lumpy ground is perfect for foot mobilisation. Stones, rocks, hills, snow, pebbles, branches, grass, soil and sand poke and prod our tissues causing small deformations, which is actually a great thing when it comes to overall foot health. We cannot imagine heading out to a forest with bricks on our feet right? Well, that’s kind of what we do when we wear conventional footwear. 

  1. Most are so inflexible that we don’t feel anything under us. A forest is generally a texture-rich environment, and so is perfect for foot sensory feedback.
  2. Most are heavily padded, so that we may as well be on a pavement in the middle of a city. 
  3. Most are heavy and drag our feet down.
  4. Most crush our toes into a tight toebox, so we cannot utilise our forefoot for balance on uneven surfaces (a function of our toes is balance!).

Sure, it can be uncomfortable at the beginning and I’m not advocating you go from highly cushioned Sketchers to Vivos in a week, (the advice is to definitely go slow here), but when your feet start to become less like hard bricks and more like soft putty, a walk in the forest will feel like a gorgeous massage! 

I went through a 6 month period of transitioning to barefoot, where my feet that had been squished into shoe shaped and not foot-shaped shoes were screaming at me “hey, too much sensory feedback down here!” I am over the discomfort now, and there’s nothing I love more than a good forest foot massage!

(Please see this study by Katrina M. Brown for some other benefits of textured terrain in exercise in general)

How to do it?

Barefoot Shoes: I will discuss in more detail in other posts the characteristics of a barefoot shoe, but have given some pointers here for kids which apply to adults.

I will caution here that the transition to barefoot needs to be slow and gradual.

Restorative Exercises: You can’t expect to turn your brick feet into putty feet in a wink. Start massaging your feet while watching tv, roll on some small squishy balls. I’ll cover this in more depth in later posts, but for now, here’s one stretch to get you started. 

Textured Ground: Find a forest or beach. If this is not possible, find a park with grassy or rocky areas. If this is not possible, make your own textured surfaces to spend some time on at home. Some ideas here are stones, pieces of wood, tennis balls, squishy balls, cushions, Lego (ouchie)… the possibilities are endless. 

Beautiful texture outside our current abode

Breathing: When you’re starting out, the smallest pebbles underfoot may feel like boulders. Breathe… deep breaths in and out of your body. You are wakening up your body, you are becoming alive… freedom from the ground up… remember growth comes from discomfort!

🚿Why turn the shower temperature to the cold setting or go skinny dipping in a river on a winter morning?

Two words… Wim Hof! This guy is worth checking out. He has inspired me to begin to see the cold as my warm friend!

Cold water increases circulation, improves the immune system, decreases inflammation, and increases metabolism. When I plunge into cold water, I feel intensely connected to my inner world as well as the natural world if it’s a natural setting of a river for instance. Plus, I also feel incredibly spirited and alive. When you are coping with being submerged in cold water, you are certainly not distracted by mundane thoughts about what to cook for dinner, or how stressful your job is! Let’s face it, there is nothing pleasant about cold water, nonetheless, it increases my tolerance for cold and I generally suffer less now in Winter than I used to.

How to do it?

  1. Take a shower.
  2. Before you get out of the shower, change the temperature to cold. Make the water as cold as you can stand it.
  3. Stand under the cold water for a full thirty seconds, then get out.
The badass Wim Hof

🧘 Why do 10-day silent meditation retreats sitting from 4 am to 9 pm at night?

I think… a lot. I’m even guilty of having what Dr Amy Johnson calls “thoughtmares” sometimes. In her wonderful book entitled “Being Human”, she discusses how we seem to create thoughts that become nightmares in our mind, despite being fully awake. By catastrophising and spiralling one thought into another, each one more becomes more exorbitant than the one before, and like nightmares, have no basis in reality! I’ve worked a lot on understanding the nature of my thoughts, however, I still need breathing practices to quiet them. Vipassana retreats focus on connecting breath and body and involve sitting in meditation for about 14 hours per day. They are silent and the last meal is at noon. I actually enjoy the silence immensely, however, the sitting focusing on my breath and body can be intense and downright painful at times. Nevertheless, the shifts and insights that come in those 10-day retreats are profound for me. They clear out all sorts of resentment, feelings of anger and bitterness, bodily stress, and bring to the surface old memories and fears that I haven’t looked at in my day to day life.

How to do it?

  1. Start a meditation practice that interests you. There are no rules here. Anything that brings you to your own bodily sensations is good. Anything that allows your thoughts to slow down to a point that you can feel fully present is good.
  2. If you feel drawn to it, then book yourself in for a retreat of some kind. There are wonderful organisations all over the world lasting from 1 day to months at a time. The 10 day ones I did were with

Here’s a quick breath practice I’m loving right now. If you want to feel more alive in just over 10 minutes, this is excellent. ( Then take a cold shower. I promise you the discomfort will be worth it!)

🛋️ Why ditch my furniture for a year as an experiment?

Ha, this was an interesting one. I was in the middle of my 2-year training with Nutritious Movement and was experimenting with ways to bring more movement into my family life.

No one objected, so we got rid of the sofa and chairs in my living room, and replaced them with cushions. Sitting on the floor demands your body to expend more energy, increases muscle mass, and tissue length, shuttles more blood around whilst absorbing more oxygen. One year later I can say that my partner and i definitely became more flexible, could squat better, sit in a myriad of ways, and embraced stretching whilst relaxing.

My kids are young so they rarely used the furniture anyway. When you are a Lego master you need to be on the floor anyhow! My friends weren’t surprised as I always have some whacky project on the go, and family just thought it was a bit weird! Looking back, it was a considerable learning experience. Nonetheless, I do believe in the importance of rest and relaxation, and lying on a sofa with a good book is as restful as it gets, so I know feel a balance is awesome!

How to do it?

Before you read any further, I invite you to sit on the floor. Feel the resistance of your mind and body. See how often you shift position. This is OK! It’s a new experience right! I’m not asking you to ditch your 3 seater, but the next time you are watching a movie, take your booty to the floor and feel the sensory information coming at you from the different angles of your body parts in space.

🏕 Why live in a cramped camper van with my partner, two children and large dog?

To be frank, we wanted out of the rat race for a while. We wanted to experience new things, to live simply and frugally, to enjoy our children and each other. And when the sun is shining and everyone was in an amicable mood, we’ve had some magnificently blissful moments. And then it would rain, and we would all get sick, and the dirty water tank would overflow, and the roof would leak. The irritability amongst us in that van has been palpable at times! And this is the discomfort piece again, isn’t it! This is all part of the experience, and it has been really essential for the kids and for us to recognise and absorb that all these elements are fundamental to a big FULL FREE life.

How to do it?

It’s a long story. I’ll do a post, I promise!

💖 Why look inward when someone has just pissed me off?

This is inner discomfort at its best. I believe every person we meet is a mirror of what we are. When someone has royally pissed us off, we analyse the character defects in them, we criticize them. “I’m right and they’re wrong”, we say. As the years roll by, I realise that I’m only irritated by these blemishes because the very same issues are unresolved within me. If they weren’t issues for me, they would roll off my back. I see people getting so annoyed by the things others have said to them. But in these uncomfortable moments, there is a great learning to be had. Look inward and ask yourself, why this is triggering you so much? And remember it’s also a choice what you allow yourself to be affected by.

I vaguely remember a story Goenka told at one of the 10-day retreats I attended. 

“One day the Buddha was walking through a village. A very angry and rude young man came up and began insulting him. “You have no right teaching others,” he shouted. “You are as stupid as everyone else. You are nothing but a fake!” The Buddha was not upset by these insults. Instead, he asked the young man, “Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?” The young man was surprised to be asked such a strange question and answered, “It would belong to me because I bought the gift.” The Buddha smiled and said, “That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.”

We build and legitimise stories around why we don’t need to look inward or face the inconvenient truths about our lives. We tell ourselves we don’t need to:

🙍‍♀️ Make amends with the friend we fell out with years ago

🚪Take the stairs instead of the elevator

🚶‍♀️Go for a walk even though its raining

😭 Leave the job we hate

🙀 Do something that scares us

🙏 Take on advice which upsets our ego

👫 Break up with our partner

🧒🏽 Accept that maybe our child has something profound to teach us 

When in fact, these things, uncomfortable as they are, could bring a whole world of joy and fulfillment, if only we were prepared to accept the challenge of dealing with them.

How to do it?

  1. Allow yourself to calm down, but remember this: it’s a scientific fact that an emotion creates a physiological response lasting only 90 seconds from start to finish. If your reaction lasts longer than this, it means you have generated more negative thoughts around the event leading to continued negative emotions arising and passing.
  2. Ask yourself some questions. Get curious.

What part of me has been triggered and why? What am I afraid of (because usually there’s a fear element tangled up somewhere)? If this feeling had a useful role to play in my experience of being me, what would it be? Am I 100% right here?

✍️ Why start a new blog with zero writing experience?

Why not! Life is short… and unpredictable… and to be enjoyed. I enjoyed writing as a little girl, so I’m having a go at awakening those creative forces I perceive to be hidden inside somewhere. Sure, it’s awkward and intimidating and uncomfortable right now as I write this and I feel like my vocabulary range is that of my 4-year-old, but I’m putting it out there anyway. I think if my ideas can benefit someone, they’re worth putting out there.

How to do it?

  1. Open an account on Substack (it is totally free y’ know)
  2. Spill your blood and guts on paper
  3. Share spilled blood and guts with everyone you know

So, to end this loooooong post, please share my spilled blood and guts with everyone you know. I would really appreciate it.

Now go have a cold shower (brrrrr!) 


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