Fit Life Essentials for Real Life

Stop Trying to be Comfortable – How a Little Mental Yoga Can Make Us Stronger and Happier

Does the desire to be comfortable hold us back?  

Life is inherently uncomfortable, so if we get too attached to comfort, some serious avoidance strategies are sure to result.  Overeating is a biggie.

In fact, when I think of struggles I’ve had, the promise of comfort is usually lurking around. Overeating, anxiety, reluctance to put myself in new and unfamiliar situations – for me, all were rooted in a desire to avoid something unpleasant and keep everything comfy.

It’s not that comfort is a bad thing, of course.  Like anyone, I enjoy sunny Spring days, fluffy pillows, back rubs, agreeable company, and a good meal.

No, the problem comes in when comfort becomes THE priority. 

When that happens – which is completely natural, by the way – we may try to escape with mindless activities, like overeating or endless web surfing. We procrastinate.  We avoid saying what needs to be said, feed our addictions, or otherwise pass up opportunities that could help us grow.

All of this is designed to help us avoid life as it really is.  Interestingly, these behaviors may be so deeply habitual that we don’t even notice them or understand what they’re really about.  We might beat ourselves up for not having enough willpower, without really getting to the root of the issue.

For as long as I can remember, my #1 avoidance strategy has been to seek comfort in food.  It’s been one of my greatest struggles.  If you’ve done this too, I’m reaching out with a big virtual hug and sending buckets of compassion.  

It’s no mistake that we use the term “comfort food,” but the irony is that overeating is anything but comfortable.  It feels good for a little while, but in the end, it’s really just trading one discomfort for another.

THE GOOD NEWS

Now for the good news: we don’t have to escape.  We can experience life directly, without avoidance strategies, and be ok.  

What does it mean to experience life directly?  We’re talking about acknowledging the messy project, the surly teenager, the fear of a bad outcome, the disappointed customer, the hurt feelings, the broken whatever.  It’s accepting the situation as a reality, using strength and grace to navigate through it the best we can.

It does take practice and training.  Just as one day in the gym does not a strong body make, we cannot develop a stronger mind in one sitting.  

It might help to think of the “training” as a Mental Yoga class, where we systematically experiment with different exercises/postures to get the mind to a strong but flexible place.

MENTAL YOGA

Here’s three “Mental Yoga” exercises to try to get better at being comfy with discomfort.

  1. Look for small daily discomforts and practice accepting them.
  2. Develop a meditation practice.
  3. Use imagery to challenge our thinking.

First, small discomforts.  Temperature is great for this, at least if you live in a place like Chicago.  I’m a cold-natured person, and just hate feeling chilly. When the temperature drops and the wind picks up, my natural reaction is to stiffen, shiver, and just generally grumble my way through the cold.

One day, I challenged myself.  Why do I always try so hard to be comfortable?  What if I relaxed my body, accepted the cold, and just observed it instead of wishing I were in Texas?

Something very cool happened.  The acceptance took the edge off the chill.  It was still unpleasant, but far less so.  I felt stronger. 

Second, meditation.  Ahhh, meditation is inherently uncomfortable, so it can be a great way to get our minds to a stronger place.

The most actionable, simplest meditation strategy is to simply find something to observe and then sit with it.  Any amount of time can be useful, but it’s best to try a length of time that feels challenging.    

For example, sit quietly for any amount of time in any location.  Use all of your senses to note what’s around you – sounds, smells, light, temperature, the feeling of whatever you’re resting on (e.g., a chair, the floor), etc.  Also notice any thoughts as they zip by.

Is there a noisy siren, a bright light, a misbehaving dog, or something similarly annoying?  Excellent.  Practice noticing it without wishing it would go away.

Is there an annoying or worrying thought that keeps intruding?  That’s great too.  Practice watching it, but not judging, as it bounces around.  It’ll take off eventually.

A lot of people have told me they can’t meditate because they cannot get their minds quiet.  Meditation is NOT about making the mind quiet, positive thinking, or listening to inspirational readings.  Nothing like that.

Rather, the goal of meditation is simply to (1) observe what is around or within us; and (2) accept what we see without immediately labeling it as “good” or “bad.”  Once we have the strength to do this, we can see what’s going on in any given situation, and process it better.

Third, experiment with images of discomfort.

When I got divorced in 2015 after almost 23 years of marriage, I was terrified and unsure if I could be ok alone.  I did a lot of reading, and found incredible wisdom in The Places that Scare You, by Pema Chodron.  This book is all about living with discomfort and uncertainty, and I highly recommend it.

At one point, the book invites us to imagine crossing a wide river on a raft.  As we reach the point farthest from the shore, the raft disintegrates.  Now there is nothing to hold onto.

How does that feel?  Can we be ok?

Many of us would describe this image as frightening, to say the least.  There’s another choice, though – we can see this as liberating, as allowing us to move freely in a fluid, dynamic world.  We can be ok not knowing which way is the “right” way.

I think of this image often when I’m faced with uncertainty, which is a very common kind of discomfort. 

ACTION STEPS

Reading is awesome, but the real magic comes with doing.  A few action steps to consider:

  • Think about your #1 fitness-related or other struggle.  Is a desire for comfort involved, directly or indirectly?  Could being ok with a little discomfort help?  
  • Experiment with Mental Yoga exercises:
    • Practice being uncomfortable when the opportunity presents itself – temperature, noise, people!
    • Develop a meditation practice, starting with 2 minutes a day and building up.
    • Use the “disintegrating raft” or similar imagery to explore feelings around discomfort.

ABOUT FIT ENERGIES: Knowledge is kinda like food – we need juuuust the right amount to thrive.  Too little and we falter; too much and it’s hard to focus on anything but sitting on the couch.  Ironically, the fitness world suffers from a terrible case of infobesity.   

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