By Coach Mel
We talk a lot about movement and nutrition and sleep and wellness. What we don’t talk a lot about is the mental side of all those things. We live in a culture of convenience and comfort. Most of us reading this blog are privileged enough to not have to be physically uncomfortable if we don’t want to be. Food, a warm house, community, a car, delivery services are all at our fingertips literally anytime we want them. I’ve written about how our movement has been stolen through what our society deems “progress,” and through these same conveniences our grit and perspective is being stolen as well.
We have become accustomed to - and there are industries dedicated to - relieving our pain as soon as it comes on. Now, I’m not suggesting that people should ignore a broken leg in order to get tougher. Please, get that thing casted and have at a painkiller if you need it. What I am saying is that every time we are uncomfortable we don’t need to rush for the bandaid for it. Sometimes, it is beneficial to sit with mental or physical pain and become stronger from it.
I believe and put into practice the idea that we can become mentally and physically stronger by allowing ourselves to intentionally experience discomfort. I mean this with the best intentions: what we need to train even more than our muscles is our perspective.
For me, I like to have a bank of experiences I can think back on during moments of discomfort that remind me I am pretty comfortable day to day. I assume the winner will always be when I peed all over myself, not as a child, but a few years ago. I was in the final week of a 3-week climb. Wearing one of two set of pants for the trip. We were at high camp situated around 20,000ft. When you have to pee in the middle of the night it is annoying. When you have to pee in the middle of the night at 20,000ft in -30 degree weather, it is more than annoying albeit exciting that you’re hydrated. To do this, one stays in the tent. If anyone wants to know the logistics of how one does this, particularly as a female, you can PM me but I’ll spare you the details here. Long story short, I missed my shot and went all over my pants and sleeping bag. Trying to imagine it was only a dream I sat still willing it not so, but in the end, having no choice but to deal, I settled in and went back to sleep waking up in my frozen pee. Needless to say, I wasn’t making any new friends over the next few days. Peeuw.
What’s the point of that story? The point of this story is that now whenever I have to get up to pee in the middle of the night (particularly when camping) it’s not a big deal because I won’t freeze to death or wet the bed. That’s the small takeaway. The big takeaway is that if we never have uncomfortable moments we won’t have memories like that which enable us to put the not-so-bad experiences into perspective.
Now, if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, I own a gym, please come to it. But, the gym is also a place that can become an easy way out. How often do you push yourself AS HARD AS YOU CAN? “All out” doesn’t have to happen every day but it should happen once in awhile. One hour of movement/day is not too much movement, in fact I would argue it’s not enough if you are sitting the rest of day. And I’m not talking about “working out” for more hours, I’m talking about movement… walking, taking the stairs, parking in the farthest spot, etc. At a gym, if you get hurt, you can get in your car and leave; you can never have to get wet from rain; you can have water and rest whenever you want. The gym is where I believe you build strength but outside is where you build your grit. Outside is where you have to get yourself back to the car no matter how far away, tired, thirsty, or out of food you are.
But where do you start with this? Am I suggesting you go to the desert in a parka without water to try and gain some perspective? No. But think about small things you can start to work into your routine. I’ll bet they make your current routine feel a little easier.
1. Do outdoor activities even when the weather sucks. The suckier the better. It will make that activity feel easier on all other days. Your friends might cancel, but you go anyway. And you will feel like a BOSS when you’re finished.
2. Push yourself beyond the limit you think you have. If you can hike in 8 miles in the rain then 12 miles in the sun won’t seem so bad. If you can spend 2 nights in freezing conditions, then a week out in the backcountry sun will be a breeze. Do something you think you aren’t capable of and I’d be willing to bet you finish it. But if you’ve never experienced bad conditions then suddenly that week seems like a long time. See what I mean?
3. Take a week-long trip where you can’t shower until you get home. You will feel more human than you might after an herbal essences bath. Truly my favorite feeling is after a weekend of camping or doing something without an accessible shower. There is the dirty you feel after sitting in an office all day sweatin’ that deadline and there is a dirty you feel after being outside all day sweating from exertion. Take a week off and smell the difference!
4. Don’t rush for the bottle or the ice cream the second you get home from a bad day. I know, I know, whaaat?? This is not the nutritionist in me saying “it’s bad for you” it’s me saying that usually the reason we head for those things first is because we want to be soothed in some way or we need comfort. Think right now about your go-to thing and try to recall the type of emotions it brings up for you. How can you replicate that in some other way? Try and sit with what has happened and find a coping mechanism within you that you can use most of the time so that only some of time we call in the ice cream troops.
5. I think everyone should work in the service industry at some point in their lives. If you haven't then I probably can't convince you to quit your job and get hired at a restaurant. Which, by the way, in Portland is not an easy job to come by so #respect. But maybe you can volunteer somewhere, maybe with your kids if you have them or with a friend? It’s not just about physical toughness, we also need perspective on our current lives. Pick a cause you’re passionate about, and see what you can do to help.
So get out there! Go for a run in the winter in a t-shirt and shorts, sit in the bath with your bad day and figure out the root of it, go for a hike you might feel is beyond your capabilities, pee all over yourself. Then come back and tell me all about it. Whatever you do, do it with intention. It is so easy to sit inside and tell yourself you’ll do it tomorrow. When we accomplish things that are tough, we feel better about ourselves and we respect ourselves and other people’s experiences a little bit more. That has a lot of power.
Comment any favorite experiences you have that helped you have a little perspective!