A month ago, I made a move to Boston to start a PhD program in exercise and health sciences.
Recently my brother came out to visit. We took the 30-minute trip to Hudson, Massachusetts to lift with our friend Nancy at Cressey Sports Performance.
At some point Nancy comes over as we’re finishing up with some curls. Because Nancy is an awesome coach she starts a funny motivational speech in a thick Boston accent.
She props her leg up on a bench and says:
“Do you know what happens to a lobster when it grows?”
“The lobster starts to get uncomfortable because it’s growing. If it wants to get bigger it’s gotta lose that shell.
Yea, the lobster could stay in its tiny shell. But then it would never grow, the lobster accepts being uncomfortable.”
As the curls continue she asks us if we want to grow like a lobster.
“Yes we want to grow like a lobster!” we yell out.
“Well then get used to being uncomfortable!”
You Don’t Grow in Your Comfort Zone…Period
There is a concept in training, a concept that is the sole principle to which all good training methods are based on.
This principle is called progressive overload.
Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress put on the body during exercise.
This can be done in a number of ways but if it’s not done the person will likely fail to progress after a certain point.
Putting your body under physical stress, more than it is accustomed too is uncomfortable. Most people don’t perceive this discomfort as pleasurable.
But the same sensation can be perceived in different ways by different people. Muscular fatigue experienced by a beginner can feel like death.
Muscular fatigue or a ‘muscle pump’, what some people consider discomfort, is chased by athletes who push their body.
And what’s the end result? Discomfort leads to improvement.
Discomfort, Growth and Your Stupid Brain
In my mind, progressive overload is omnipresent life concept. It doesn’t just apply to exercise. To grow you need to put your body under stress it’s not used it.
You want to get a better job and decide to move somewhere else
You want to get a raise and have a talk with your boss
You want to talk to a girl/guy you like but are nervous to
You want to have a tough talk with the person you are dating that will improve the relationship in the long run but in the short run could lead to a fight.
All of these situations necessitate putting yourself in an uncomfortable position to get what you want.
For how smart your brain is, it’s also really stupid. It hates discomfort and at times will actively try to get you out of being better.
Your brain will put thoughts in your head that will encourage you to stay comfortable.
“I guess my job isn’t so bad, plus moving is a huge risk.”
“I’m lucky to have my job, what if my boss gets mad at me for asking. Or what if he says no? Can my ego handle the rejection?”
“There’s no point in talking to her, I’ll sound like an idiot”
“This will blow over, he’ll change all by himself. A fight isn’t worth it.”
Sure, in the short run we win, we’re comfortable, but in the long run what do we lose? A job that makes us happy and fulfilled, money, our dream partner, a healthy relationship?
Is it really worth it when you’re 45 years old, broke, hating your job and despising your partner? Was being comfortable in the moment worth it?
How to Not Listen to Your Brain
My brain talks to me all the time. Sometimes it thinks really smart things, sometimes it thinks about incredibly funny things, and other times it’s a total jerk.
For example, since I’ve started my doctoral program my brain has done a good job telling me the following:
“Wait till they find out you don’t know anything. Wait until they find out you’re a fraud”
When we run into situations that cause distress or make us uncomfortable the ‘smartest’ organ in our body tries to shut it down.
In the last year, one of the most mind-blowing realities I’ve learned about thoughts is that we have the ability to reject them as truth.
Here’s the concept
I started endurance training events in 2015. I learned something from running at least a year before I actually learned it in books.
When I would get a couple miles into a run my brain would tell me to stop and it wouldn’t stop telling me to stop.
I had the ability though, to consistently reject those thoughts. It wasn’t necessary to carry them out. Just because my brain told me to stop I didn’t need to accept that as truth.
Cognitive defusion is a nice scientific way of telling your brain to shut up. It is a psychological technique that helps people become disentangled from their thoughts.
Before I knew I had the ability to reject thoughts as truth, the thought of being a fraud might have been accepted as truth. I might have gotten so caught up in it that is paralyzed me.
I have met and know people who have been so paralyzed by their ‘thoughts’ of potential failure that they stall to or never take action.
But here’s the thing: THEY’RE JUST THOUGHTS!
Cognitive fusion is the converse of defusion; it is the process of believing our thoughts are literally the truth.
So instead of getting wrapped up in thoughts when in uncomfortable situations just say to yourself.
“Wow, thanks for that thought brain”
Reject the truth of the thought and go about your day being awesome.
Progressively Overload Your Life
In order to get a better physique, a better job, a better relationship you’re going to have to be uncomfortable at times. You’re going to have to accept failure and rejection too.
But people don’t grow in their comfort zone so inevitably they have to accept discomfort. Like the lobster they need to shed their shell.
While discomfort needs to be accepted, the thoughts that prevent you from feeling uncomfortable, the thoughts your brain so desperately wants you to believe are truth, can be rejected.