Growth through discomfort


It’s very easy to confuse discomfort and pain. Understanding the difference, though, is important if you want to grow. Pain carries with it an inherent stop sign. Something is wrong. You need to stop and check it out. Proceeding without doing so may result in damage. Discomfort is more of a tap on the brakes – slow down to see what’s going on and whether an adjustment is necessary or whether you may indeed need to stop. Whether you’re experiencing pain or discomfort, though, the key is to not make the condition permanent but to focus on how best to move forward.

The body is an obvious example of pain and discomfort. Saturday I tried out a new 30 minute workout that was difficult but doable. It will surprise no one that when I woke up this morning that myriad muscles were, um, making their existence known. It was sooooo tempting to just make it a lazy Sunday. But I knew that tomorrow would be even worse (as the second day usually is), so I would be even more tempted to be lazy then. But I have fitness goals defined for each week and have registered for a 5K next month, so two days off isn’t really in the cards. I realized that while my upper body and hamstrings were sore, my quadriceps and calves were fine, meaning I could run, even though my Couch to 5K program says today is supposed to be a rest day. So out I headed. It was a surprisingly good run and I sat down to have a coffee to celebrate afterwards. And then could hardly get up (those hamstrings….). But I pressed on and did two hours of yardwork in our woods, picking up fallen branches and gathering them in piles, stretching those tired hamstrings and my upper body and nearly shuffling towards the end, but I didn’t give up. (See photo of one of the piles and gratuitous daffodils.)

My point is not that I am a glutton for punishment (I’m not). It’s that I was examining whether I was really in pain or just discomfort and whether I should just stop or keep going but in a slightly different direction. Having defined goals helped keep me focused and moving forward. I know that I will be dragging tomorrow and a calm walk on the treadmill may be all that I’m capable of doing. But I moved the needle forward on multiple goals today.

The same type of analysis applies to other facets of life. You’re out of your comfort zone with a task that is on your To Do list. If you think of it as painful, you’ll probably choose to stop and procrastinate, but it won’t move you forward. By recognizing that it is merely uncomfortable, you can embrace it and realize that you will grow and advance by at least taking a shot at it, even if the outcome isn’t perfect.

You’ve lost an opportunity. Is it really painful or is it just not comfortable? Do you really need to stop or do you just need to slow down and take in what happened, see what you can learn from the experience, and move forward in a slightly different direction to not lose the next opportunity?

An important relationship has just ended. It hurts – there’s no getting around that. But it doesn’t change who you are or what you have to offer to someone else. By all means, stop and take some time to see what happened, but don’t dwell on your pain. Think of how and when you’ll move from pain to discomfort to being open to a new relationship.

Life is full of pain and discomfort. Deciding how to move forward determines the impact we allow those experiences to have on our lives. Having a clear sense of our vision and the goals to get there help pull us through in difficult times.


It’s very easy to confuse discomfort and pain. Understanding the difference, though, is important if you want to grow. Pain carries with it an inherent stop sign. Something is wrong. You need to stop and check it out. Proceeding without doing so may result in damage. Discomfort is more of a tap on the brakes – slow down to see what’s going on and whether an adjustment is necessary or whether you may need to stop. Whether you’re experiencing pain or discomfort, though, the key is to not make the condition permanent but to focus on how best to move forward.

The body is a helpful example. Saturday I tried out a new 30 minute workout that was difficult but doable. It will surprise no one that I woke up and myriad muscles were, um, making their existence known. It was sooooo tempting to just make it a lazy Sunday. But I knew that tomorrow would be even worse (as the second day usually is), so I would be even more tempted to be lazy tomorrow. But I have fitness goals defined for each week and have registered for a 5K next month, so two days off isn’t really in the cards. I realized that while my upper body and hamstrings were sore, my quadriceps and calves were fine, meaning I could run, even though my Couch to 5K program says today is supposed to be a rest day. So out I headed. It was surprisingly good run. I sat down to have a coffee to celebrate. And then could hardly get up (those hamstrings….). But I pressed on and did two hours of yardwork in our woods, picking up fallen branches and gathering them in piles, stretching those tired hamstrings and my upper body and nearly shuffling towards the end, but I didn’t give up.
My point is not that I am a glutton for punishment (I’m not). It’s that I was examining whether I was really in pain or just discomfort and whether I should just stop or keep going but in a slightly different direction. Having defined goals helped keep me focused and moving forward. I know that I will be dragging tomorrow and a calm day of walking on the treadmill may be all that I’m capable of doing. But I moved the needle forward on multiple goals today.

The same type of analysis applies to other facets of life. You’re out of your comfort zone with a task that is on your To Do list. If you think of it as painful, you’ll probably choose to stop and procrastinate, but it won’t move you forward. By recognizing that it is merely uncomfortable, you can embrace it and realize that you will grow and advance by at least taking a shot at it, even if the outcome isn’t perfect.

You’ve lost an opportunity. Is it really painful or is it just not comfortable? Do you really need to stop or do you just need to slow down and take in what happened, what you learned from it, and move forward in a slightly different direction?

An important relationship has just ended. It hurts – there’s not getting around that. But it doesn’t change who you are or what you have to offer to someone else. By all means, stop and take some time to see what happened, but don’t dwell on your pain. Think of how and when you’ll move from pain to discomfort to being open to a new relationship.

Life is full of pain and discomfort. Deciding how to move forward determines the impact we allow those experiences to have on our lives. Having a clear sense of our vision and the goals to get there help pull us through in difficult times.

2 thoughts on “Growth through discomfort”

  1. I can totally relate to this — pain or discomfort — for me distinguishing between the two has not always been easy and so I tend to stop more often that I should. Reading this is really inspiring and motivating especially since I will be running the same 5k in 1 month. Great blog!

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