Encouraged by a friend, last month I signed up for next week’s Madison Half Marathon. I’m still new to running, having become a casual three-miler only a couple of years ago. I have never considered trying for the longer distances, but this came along and seemed like the right thing to do. It fits in with my principle of being involved in something difficult — something I have not mastered — all of the time. And I was blue this fall, and thought this might help.
The thing about training, is that if you want to get better, you have to keep raising the bar. If you want to progress, you must ensure that you stay uncomfortable. In running, this is concrete. If I want to run further and faster, I have to do just that, every time, which means that I will be more out of breath, have more muscle soreness, and more fatigue as I go. As three miles becomes six, six becomes eight, and so on, it is my job to keep myself in the struggle zone.
This idea carries over into life. If I want to become more honest, more authentic, more the architect of my own happiness, I have to keep doing the difficult thing. I have to tell the truth when I don’t want to, heed feelings I would rather ignore, and turn up the volume on practices I know will take me further, even though they hurt and make me uncomfortable.
Am I talking about the Yuck again? In a way I am. But I am also talking about the fact that there is no time in life when we achieve smooth sailing and get to stay there. We certainly have periods of smooth sailing — that mile that flies by with easy breath and a quiet mind — but guaranteed, something will shift, and struggle will reign again. It is so important not to fight this, not to think it means something is wrong, but to understand that it is part of the great rhythm of life, growth and change.
Getting into the discomfort zone and staying there looks different for each person. My half marathon might be your resolve to get out of bed and speak to another human, or it might be your decision to repair a difficult relationship, or it might be your solo flight over the ocean. The thing about being uncomfortable is that it feels awful — my feet hurt, I worry about my left knee, my breath is ragged and faster than I’d like — but if you stay there, if you doggedly put one foot in front of the other over and over, this wonderful thing happens. Somehow, at some point, you discover ease again. The stride lengthens, the heart lifts, and you’ve reached a new level of capacity.
So the race is next week. I don’t know how it will go, and it really doesn’t matter. What matters is I can run farther and faster than I could two months ago, I have learned to love something I used to dislike intensely, and I have had all those miles to think about how I want to translate this practice into other aspects of my life. It reminds me of a principle I have long known to be true: Doing the harder thing generally offers more benefits. Let us get out of comfort and into growth. And yes, it helped with the mood thing too!
Dr. Sandra Eugster, Ph.D.