With the conclusion of the Commonwealth Games recently, it is easy to watch these worldclass athletes and wonder how they can push themselves to such limits as they do. And the answer, is they are comfortable with being comfortable. Whilst it may not feel it at the time – such as Sophie Pascoe waking up at 5:30am every morning to push herself during training – it is this discomfort that can go a long way. No one, not even these athletes, like discomfort, however, what these athletes recognise is the importance of such discomfort for improving and reaching one’s goals.
So why should we strive for discomfort?
1. Our brain grows with discomfort
In our brain, the neural pathways are the paths in which signals travel along. For example, when we touch a hot stove, a signal is sent from our hands up to our brain, where this signal is then interpreted, and we pull our hand away. The same goes for each new experience we have.
When we experience something new, we are using a particular neural pathway. The more we activate this path, the stronger it becomes as it accumulates more myelin insulation, making it easier for the signal to be transmitted. Therefore, the more we repeatedly activate this pathway, we become quicker, efficient and more comfortable.
However, when we experience something new and escape our comfort zone, this creates a new path, and it is this new branch that rewires the brain and causes discomfort. Only after repetition is comfort achieved. Whilst it may feel uncomfortable at the time, forming new paths grows connections in the brain, making us more adaptable.
2. Discomfort can help us manage stress
Life is full of new experiences and surprises, so being comfortable with uncomfortable situations allows us to be more adaptable to change. Those who fail to step outside their comfort zone and are not used to discomfort, often associate new experiences with anxiety and worry.
However, by consistently pushing ourselves into new experiences, we become better equipped to handle the stressful and uncomfortable situations life may throw at us.
3. We are more likely to succeed
One of the things most noticeable when watching these athletes compete at the recent Commonwealth Games, was their ability to not be shaken by their mistakes. Other people may use this discomfort linked to their failure as a reason for not trying again. However, it is clear that the most successful individuals understand that by stepping outside of their comfort zone helps to determine what does work and what does not, allowing them to succeed in everything they do.
Breaking free from comfort is linked to making mistakes, however, we must learn to use these mistakes to attempt something new. It seems that these athletes are onto something when it comes to pushing our comfort zones and becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable – finding happiness and success in life, may just require stepping outside of one’s comfort zone.
However, as these athletes have shown, it is this overcoming of comfort that might make all the difference, in the arena and in life in general.