This episode goes well with episode 5, in which we talked about the comfort zone and the importance of a growth mindset. In order to grow you will most likely have to go through a valley of pain. This pain is different for everyone and yet, there are different types of pain. One is life-threatening the other one is keeping yourself from growing, especially your physical body. I want to emphasize further down this article how and why distinguishing between those two pains. In the end pain, in the broadest sense, is what will for your body and mind to step-up and grow.
What Is Pain?
What is pain exactly? If you surf the Internet or read through dictionaries and text books, you’ll notice that there are many different definitions and meanings for pain. I suggest to class them into two categories, where one describes the
- negative bodily or
- negative mental or emotional sensations.
This is a very broad and abstract view and reflects the unwanted and negative aspects of the sensation. The word itself comes from the Latin word poena meaning a penalty or a fine. Both of them are negative for body and mind.
The Difference Between Pain And Feeling Discomfort
While this broad definition has it’s purpose, pain, in this case, ultimately ranges from sensations of little discomfort to raging agony. That’s a a big scale, both on the physical and emotional side. The physical pain is the result from nerve stimulation and has the potential to be located in a discrete (as in you can point to it) area. Emotional pain is different and usually cannot be located. Therefore emotional pain is non-discrete. Interestingly enough, our bodies have dedicated nerve fibers that signal our brain with impulses that we are in pain. Our brain can then take note and use this information in many ways, with different effects.
For our daily life’s it’s important to be able to understand on which side of the pain scale you stand. The ability to distinguish between a slight discomfort and agony is what will help you indirectly grow and move forward in life.
Discomfort is often a minor issue. A little paper cut, a bruise from bumping into a door or even muscle soreness from a workout. I like to refer to this as discrete general pain, versus much more dangerous discrete sharp pain. It’s not always easy to distinguish between the two, as joint pain can be somewhat general or very sharp.
Either way, what people often do is to stop their growth process, let’s stick to the fitness workout, the moment they feel or are in pain. If this would only be related to sharp pain, i. e. dangerous to their health, this would be fine. The moment sharp pain occurs, stop what you’re doing and seek professional advice. More often than not, this is simply not the case. They confuse soreness with pain and by not working out until all is well (which can take a couple of days after a heavy workout or for beginners), they hinder any form of potential growth. In this mode, progress is barely possible.
Being alive today, especially if you live in the Western world, means that most of the times you actually have no idea what pain or real discomfort is or means. The second you struggle a little bit, you feel uncomfortable and think that this is it. The world ends. That’s understandable as you are referencing your real experience to your historic baseline. While I focus on the physical level, this is also true for our emotional pain.
While many people don’t know how to handle discomfort because they never felt it, homeostasis and its effects, are another reason why your brain will suggest to stop doing what you do the second it gets uncomfortable. In general, the mechanism of homeostasis in the human body aims to keep everything (processes, temperature, pH values, macro- and micronutrients) in perfect balance for optimal health. Energy homeostasis will try to conserve as much energy as possible and also try to store energy (in form of fat). This will secure survival in case of need. It also means that if you workout, your body (muscle and cardiovascular system) gets challenged in a way that exceeds what it needs for maintenance. Going beyond the maintenance points triggers your brain to react, suggesting you to stop.
The reason is that adaptation costs a lot of energy. In order to recover you need a lot of energy. But not only do you need and want to recover, you want to grow stronger (in the broadest sense). This means, your body needs to adapt and optimize. This will shift your maintenance level to a better, i. e. stronger and more efficient, maintenance baseline. Yet, this is only possible if there is enough energy, in form of food to consume, around. Today this isn’t a problem for most people, 10.000 years ago this might have been different.
In other words, the moment you cause your body to feel discomfort it will want to stop it, because holding up the status quo is easier (out of an energy perspective) than to build up muscle or cardiovascular strength.
How To Handle Pain or Discomfort
Now we know what happens. The question of how to handle pain or discomfort remains unanswered. The first important step in handling the situation is, as outlined above, to distinguish pain from discomfort. The moment you have real pain you stop and analyze the situation. Did you do a movement wrong? Is there a structural problem? Did you hurt yourself (tore a muscle, fell down etc)? Depending on the situation, get professional help (a coach for proper movement or a medical expert).
Let’s be positive and say it’s not pain but discomfort. What you need to do is create awareness and an understanding of your body. Understand why you feel discomfort, i. e. what lead to it, and what reaction it caused on your body and your mind. Raising awareness helps you to handle any tricky situation better because you are much more level-headed than you would be otherwise. In other words, practice mindfulness and seek to understand.
Next, establish a form of positive self-talk around the problem. Now that you know that you feel discomfort, why and what kind of physiological mind games your brain is playing with you, self-talk can help handle those situations even further. Tell yourself that you only feel discomfort, that it is not serious for the reasons X, Y or Z. The idea is to lead yourself to continued action. Keep up with your training routine.
Get To Know Yourself
In the end, as we are triggered by challenges, make this a playful event. Challenge yourself to exceed your inner bodily expectations. Prove to yourself that you can go jogging with sore legs. Maybe you need to adjust the intensity, maybe not. But it’s much more likely that you can jog than the chances are that your legs “hurt so much that you need a longer time off”. Keep in mind that progress happens in small steps and not overnight.
While all of this is helpful in making you understand what is happening inside your body and how you can address this problematic; none of above techniques will solve the ultimate source of motivation: your why. All the knowledge, tips and tricks in the world will be rendered useless if you don’t feel compelled to follow through. Your why is your motivation. There can be external causes for your why, but the best motivation comes from within. This means, if you have intrinsic motivation, it will be that much easier to use what I suggested. Therefore, in case you struggle with achieving your goal, ask yourself: why am I doing this? Follow up the next 7 answers with another why-question and get to know yourself. This self-knowledge and awareness are central for growth.
Importance Of Invoking Discomfort
By know, you know what happens and hopefully, you know what makes you do it. Discomfort has its benefits and I recommend to invoke discomfort on a regular basis. Here are a few highlights:
- increasing your overall skills in form of knowledge, information, tool-sets or know-how
- more ease while performing activities
- enables you to harness your creativity
- establishing new limits (baseline shift)
In other words, invoking discomfort of any sort means to step outside your comfort zone. Understand that change takes time. Your body will adapt if you stress it. Readjusting your baseline is the key and doing so consistently will help you grow.
Pushing past your known limits can be a very rewarding feeling. The fact that most of the limits we perceive in our lives are based and constructed on our beliefs, will make the process of crushing past those limits incredible. It will shift your perception of what is possible.
This is a lot to take in and applying it in your daily life takes time. Make sure to work on it on a daily basis. Every day you will encounter pain or discomfort (physical and emotional) and your approach to it will make the difference. Practice patience, awareness and mindfulness. This will help you grow through pain and discomfort.
I created an online email-based seminar that will help you to tap into your peak performance. In that seminar, you’ll learn how to create and establish routines that will convert into lasting habits. Simply sign up and get started.
I speak from my heart and have the goal to help you with these podcasts and articles. If this was of any value for you, please share it. It would mean a lot if you could rate the podcast on iTunes or stitcher. This helps me to grow and reach more people.