Why Discomfort Is Good for You

Think you have big goals? Think again. Several years ago, I read an article in Wired magazine about a long-distance runner named Dean Karnazes.

A Man Running in the Desert - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/skodonnell, Image #7572215

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/skodonnell

Get this:

  • He ran fifty marathons in fifty states on fifty consecutive days.
  • He once ran 350 miles in three days—without stopping and with no sleep.

  • He’s run the Badwater Ultramarathon seven times. It starts in Death Valley, 250 feet below sea level and concludes, 135 miles later, halfway up Mt. Whitney, at 8,360 feet. He won the race in 2004 on his fifth attempt.
  • He runs 100 to 170 miles a week.
  • He couldn’t find time to run 4–6 hours a day, so he began sleeping less. He currently only sleeps four hours a night.
  • His resting heart rate is 39 beats per minute!

I was so inspired by the article, I bought his book, Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All Night Runner and devoured it. I then made a commitment to run my first ever half marathon. I have run one per year ever since.

In another interview in Outside magazine, Dean makes an important point that many of us have forgotten:

Western culture has things a little backwards right now. We think that if we had every comfort available to us, we’d be happy. We equate comfort with happiness. And now we’re so comfortable we’re miserable. There’s no struggle in our lives. No sense of adventure. We get in a car, we get in an elevator, it all comes easy. What I’ve found is that I’m never more alive than when I’m pushing and I’m in pain, and I’m struggling for high achievement, and in that struggle I think there’s a magic.

This rings true for me. I think there are three reasons why you and I should embrace discomfort, whether we deliberately choose it, or it simply happens to us.

  1. Comfort is overrated. It doesn’t lead to happiness. It makes us lazy—and forgetful. It often leads to self-absorption, boredom, and discontent.
  2. Discomfort is a catalyst for growth. It makes us yearn for something more. It forces us to change, stretch, and adapt.
  3. Discomfort is a sign we’re making progress. You’ve heard the expression, “no pain, no gain.” It’s true! When you push yourself to grow, you will experience discomfort.

A few weeks ago, I started participating in a Pilates class with Gail. It sounded easy enough. Boy, was I wrong. It has proven to be incredibly challenging. I hurt when I am doing it, and I am sore afterwards.

But that’s the very reason I love it. I feel like I am making progress and becoming stronger with each class.

The bottom line is this: you can either be comfortable and stagnate or stretch yourself—become uncomfortable—and grow. You may think that comfort leads to happiness. It doesn’t. Happiness comes from growth and feeling like you are making progress.

Question: Where are you uncomfortable in your life right now? In what way could this be a sign you are growing? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • Carl

    Great and an action provoking post.  However, it would be impossible for Dean to run 170 hours weekly since there are only 168 hours in a week.    Nevertheless, if even he runs 100-120, it is a great example to the rest of us. 

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Actually, the post said 170 miles a week not hours. Thanks.

  • Andysibirsk

    I agree, we usually don’t change until discomfort starts, and discomfort is always a sign of either positive or negative change. Karnazes is nuts and amazing, I have read his book, enjoyed it, found it inspiring and also glad it isn’t my life. I have run marathons and the training and hard work/discomfort is the best part. 

    I find that I have to keep on stretching in life until I have at least one if not two key areas of discomfort in my life. The push does make life sweeter and keeps me in the healthy balance of growing and seeing myself realistically. 

    Great post and a great reminder.  

  • Bmwbear129

    Boy, hitting home again with me!  I was too comfortable at one time with how God interacted in my life, then I went to revival!  He has awakened so many things in my life I barely have time to sit still!  I am just rebuilding after a marriage of 18 years to a drug addict.  As I am still married and it has been almost 3 years, God has me writing a book and a blog and public speaking about my situation.  I could just be sitting around waiting for my husband to come back to life, however where would I be then?  I can tell you I would not be trying to get better at being who God created and calls me to be!  From one Christian to many others out there, it’s true..if you are comfortable right now, something has to change in order for you to grow in the things of God!

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    Just got a glimple of this marathon runner Dean Karnazes in Discovery Channel two weeks back. He has made strong  my love for running. His life and story  also reminded me about the book  “Out of My Comfort Zone” by Steve Waugh (former Australian Cricket team captain). It also talks about the importance of raising the bar everytime in our life. 

  • http://tuesday2.wordpress.com/ Shelley

    Thank you for the inspiration!

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  • MAT

    Good Morning, Two years ago my husband of 45 years died of cancer which has changed my life in a lot of the obvious ways that a loss of a spouse can produce. However, as I re-read this article I decided to leave a comment about being “uncomfortable.” When God was talking to Moses about His promise of a son God asked Moses to step out of the tent and look up at the sky and see if he could count the stars. Which as I know you know Moses was not able to do but it did remind Moses of how wide and unlimited our God really is. I have been aware of being outside the tent in a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable place but  recently have come to see this unfamiliar and uncomfortable place as a place of greater growth and relationship with Christ. His promise is true He will never leave us or forsake us.
    Thanks for your blog and encouragement.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      I’m so grateful you shared this. Even the worst of circumstances can bring us to a place of sweet communion. It’s beautiful to see how you’ve experienced just that. I am so sorry for your loss. Thanks for letting us carry a little of the burden with you.

  • Joann Roxas

    discomforts in parenthood is common.. but i know it’s my responsibility and that I grow as my kids grow ü i am living my purpose..

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  • Dazdyer

    I am uncomfortable as I push myself to do more in my career and find my “platform” as your awesome book talks about! You have inspired me over the past six months- I hope soon you see me in this “Noisy World!”

  • Miss Ilene

    Hello – thanks for this blog post… it was a confirmation for me. I have been going through a season of discomfort in several areas of my life. Several days ago, the Lord revealed to me that everyone wants comfort… it’s okay to want it, but better yet to embrace discomfort and choose to change, choose to grow.

  • Yashvardhan Verma

    Thanks for confirming what has been my motivation factor to change myself. I had always been an introvert, always trying to be in my comfort zone, never really taking any challenges. I used to convince myself that I should do what I’m good at, what i really love to do. But then I started to find out that there are so many things that I would love eventually if I had the courage to pursue them initially. 
    But now I try to put myself in any uncomfortable situation I can find. You can say i have found confidence to try new things that I shied away from.
    Thank you for affirming my belief!

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  • Юрий Константинов

    You have a point. Masochistic workaholics are the most human of us all.

  • http://www.MorrisMatters.com/ Dwayne Morris

    I preach that the area outside your comfort zone is called the GROWTH ZONE. It’s not a fun place to be, but I believe (from personal experience) we always learn something when we allow ourselves to venture over to the “dark side.” I recently stepped into this “abyss” and was very uncomfortable. Would I do it again? Very unlikely. Do I appreciate the experience? Yes! It revealed some things about me that I may have never known. It was a very genuine learning opportunity that I’ve already used to encourage others to do the same.

  • A.Craig

    Really Nice! ♡This.

  • Bob Tamasy

    Good stuff, Michael! Another benefit of discomfort – especially in times of illness or other needs – we receive comfort from someone, and later we can help other people facing similar circumstances. We comfort others with the comfort by which we ourselves have been comforted.

  • http://www.gregorywoodard.com/ Gregory Woodard

    Michael, I whole heartedly agree with your post. Five years ago I was in my early 40s and was feeling stuck. I was approached about becoming a military chaplain. After a lot of thought, prayer & conversation with my wife & family, I decided to go for broke & made an uncomfortable decision to become a Navy Chaplain serving U. S. Marines. It was the best decision I could have made. I’ve been pretty uncomfortable at different times, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

  • http://www.thescarletpaisley.com/ Amanda

    Wowza! Dean is a machine! And I’d agree. Every time one of God’s dreams for me (that turns into my own dream) comes to fruition or begins to unfold, discomfort is always present. Be it mothering a large family, adoption, or writing; all have been ushered in with me sitting outside my comfort zone. While it’s uncomfortable, there’s truly no place I’d rather be than smack-dab in the middle of His will for me.

  • Gene M. Kelly Jr.

    Great post. In business, money is never made in the comfort zone. At the same time, I doubt the pilgrims were comfortable getting on boats and leaving England for America.

  • Carter Kenyon

    Hi Michael, I really needed to read this today. I’ve been feeling a ton of discomfort as we enter the new year. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I’m going to embrace it and thinking about it being a growth vehicle instead of throwing a pity party for myself. Blessings to you!!!

  • Mark DeJesus

    Such a needed topic to give to our modern culture. We have not been trained on how to deal with resistance and pain that comes in the journey. We need constant reminders that pain and hardship teach us to access the heart and come from the heart. Its the only way to live!

  • Movies by Depuhl

    It’s not just being uncomfortable. Discomfort – like you say – is something our culture actively avoids! Staying in our comfort zone keeps us from achieving anything great. We should not just dip our toe into the vast ocean of possibilities, but dive in head first – preferably off the tallest cliff we can find. I mean do you believe most of us even remember our new years resolutions that we made not even 60 days ago? I don’t think we do – ’cause we don’t go for the really big – uncomfortably big – goals, but only then when we get far, far out of our comfort zone do we take a chance to create something truly great and inspiring. I set an absolutely unachievable goal in 2012 – to film a documentary in Afghanistan – see why stepping 8,000 miles out of my comfort zone has paid off in a big way: http://blog.depuhl.com/big-idea-be-unrealistic-asmp-strictly-business/