Why can’t it ever be easy? Let's talk about hard work and why we need to voluntarily go to those uncomfortable places.
This week, after two particularly difficult training days, I thought about what a coach in Scotland said to me in the middle of an intense engine workout: “Tired? Good, that’s where the work begins.”
It made me reflect on the subject. Why does it have to be so hard? Why are we doing that to ourselves?
Technically, showing up for each training session is doing the work, right? So can I work out until I’ve had enough and then go home, pretty please?
If the aim is just keeping yourself active, you can do just that. But if you want to change, to get better at anything, you’re gonna have to do the hard work.
The hard work is still giving your best when you’re “not feeling it today”. It’s the way you behave when it’s too hot, when you’re too tired, when it’s a WoD (workout of the day) you don’t like or when something goes wrong. That’s where you show yourself what you’re made of. You can avoid what feels difficult and stagnate, or stretch yourself and evolve.
The transformative work happens as you find a way to get through and passed those bad places. The physical and the mental ones.
This week, I missed a lift in the first round of a workout because I had put too much on the bar. I had to take weight off before I could continue. It was a workout I was dreading anyway and it unnerved me.
From there it could have gone two ways:
- I could stay stuck on the fact I missed a lift and overestimated what I could do, feeding the “not good enough” voice. “I screwed up”, “That’s gonna be a shit workout”, “What’s wrong with you today?”, “You’re late now, you’re gonna be last and everybody will be watching”
- Or I could put my head down and do the bloody work
The truth is both happened.
Missing a lift damaged my confidence. Even with a bit of weight off, it still felt very heavy. I was dripping with sweat. I was extremely uncomfortable physically and mentally and nagging comments started to fill my mind: “F*ck that. It’s too hot anyway. See? It’s difficult, you’re struggling. Looks like your technique is gone, you’re probably gonna miss another lift.”
Then I realised that whether it pleased me or not, there was work to be done. I tried to summon what was left of my technique, one lift at a time, no matter the clock ticking and the burpees at the start of every minute.
It was disgusting, but the inner voices did stop when I finally entirely focused on getting the work done.
It is exactly when you want to give up that the hard work begins. It is about building your ability to carry on when you think “I can’t”. It is in those moments that you are slowly developing resilience and taking your work to the next level.
It’s very tempting to cruise in the comfort zone. It’s so easy to find excuses to back off when facing discomfort and obstacles. Your brain will provide dozens of it. We all do it.
But no progress happens in that safe and convenient place.
Stating the obvious:
- If you stop when it gets hard, nothing can improve.
- If you only practice what you’re good at you are never gonna get better at anything else.
I’m not saying not to do what you’re good at or that cruising is always bad. We all need “feel good” days to keep going, feeling pumped and ready for another day.
But more often than not, you need to consciously make an effort to get yourself out of your comfort zone. To unlock the potential of what you could do, you’ll have to go further than what you can currently do.
It doesn't have to be a big leap, a step will do.
It’s showing up even if that WoD is made of things you s*ck at.
It’s putting a little bit more on the bar in a heavy lifting WoD than you’re comfortable with.
It’s holding that rhythm when you’re starting to get tired.
It’s doing one more rep when you’re about the break your set.
It’s trying a gymnastic movement for the first time or signing up for your first competition.
I started my journey through fitness by just going ‘the extra mile’ on little things. Taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking a little bit faster up slopes, doing ONE more press-up when I wanted to stop. Getting out of my comfort zone soon became an exciting challenge and I regularly jumped on new things, trying various gym classes, CrossFit, sword fighting, obstacle courses… I didn’t feel “fit enough” or “ready” before I started any of it. It was scary. But it was worth it.
Eventually, all those little steps added up and before I realised it I was miles away from where I started.
I’m talking about fitness here but the parallel with life experiences is very relevant.
“All too often, I encounter people who’ve lost all confidence in themselves because each time they’ve had the choice to do the brave thing over the easy thing, they’ve opted for the latter. In the process, they’ve inadvertently deprived themselves of opportunities to learn new skills, cultivate their talents, hone their strengths, expand their capacity, reinforce their value and build their “muscles for life.”
To reach places you didn't know you were capable of getting to, you need to step out first.
Backing off from life experiences as soon as they start to be uncomfortable won’t get you anywhere else than where you currently are.
Whether it’s because it’s hard or because it’s new, any transformation will be uncomfortable to start with. Eventually it will become your new normal and soon enough, it will be time to sail away from your safe place again.
So let’s learn to embrace discomfort; that’s where growth begins.