Loving to Work Hard is Hard Work – Finding Comfort in Discomfort

“Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” You may have heard this quote before, possibly on some cheesy daily quote page or from an Instagram self help guru. In theory, it sounds pretty great – you put yourself through uncomfortable situations so much that you eventually get used to the feeling and no longer notice it. Then, the generally accepted outcome of this seems to be becoming some super hard worker who seamlessly breaks down obstacles to reach their goals. However, it’s all too easy to look at the idealistic outcome and ignore a bulk of the effort: being uncomfortable. Maybe this is just my opinion, but being uncomfortable isn’t exactly fun. Going for long runs? No thanks. Starting conversations with strangers? I’ll pass. Doing homework my senior year? Nah. 

Sure, having cardiovascular endurance or being sociable are great things, but the big qualm I have with this philosophy is that there doesn’t seem to be any point of redemption for one’s efforts, grueling as they might be. Let’s say that you set the goal to achieve comfort in discomfort. Great! But how do you know when you’ve reached it? For something like running, you could set the concrete goal of a certain mile time, work towards it and eventually feel accomplished after I complete it. However, discomfort is completely relative so it’s hard to objectively measure progress. After all, you could always be more uncomfortable. I’d even argue that many people are already comfortable in discomfort right now. 

Let’s use my friend Jerry as a holistic example. Jerry thinks that an “ideal” life is one where he wakes up before sunrise, reads, works out, eats healthy, gets 8 hours of sleep per night, balances a healthy social life, etc. Of course, getting there would take a ton of diligent effort (and sacrifice of comfort), but it’s probably possible. Let’s call this the “Level 3 Jerry.” Right now, however, Jerry wakes up at around 9 am, dabbles in a good book from time to time, works out every now and then, eats whatever his mom makes for dinner, and has the occasional sleep deprived night after staying up talking to a friend. That seems like a pretty fine life if you ask me. This is “Level 2 Jerry.” Now, what about “Level 1 Jerry?” Maybe he wakes up and sleeps late, doesn’t work out much, eats whatever… you get the idea. In this case, Jerry might want to change and live a life more similar to Level 2 Jerry, but frankly, it’s a lot of work. The same could be said about Level 2 Jerry wanting to become like Level 3. 

And what about Level 3 Jerry? Does he too seek to become some enhanced mega-Jerry that’s even more comfortable with seemingly uncomfortable things, a Jerry 4.0?  Or is he just happy where he is? If the former is true, then there really is no finish line to discomfort, and there’s always more one could do. If the latter is true, then the only difference between Jerry 2 and 3 would be their lifestyle, as their levels of contentment with life could be about the same. I think this means that the only reason to get comfortable with discomfort is for tangible personal betterment, and not necessarily overall happiness.

Anyways, in theory all three versions of Jerry are “comfortable with their discomfort,” just to different degrees. Jerry 1.0 is comfortable with waking up at noon and missing out on breakfast (I’m assuming it’s uncomfortable to miss a meal, perhaps naively) while Jerry 3 is comfortable with things like not getting to eat his favorite junk foods. My point is, most people already are living comfortably with their discomforts, even if we don’t realize it. And I wouldn’t say that any version of Jerry is better than another, per se. That’s really up to Jerry and what he values most, who are we to say what’s right and wrong in someone else’s life? 

Society’s standards can play a prominent role in our perceptions of  what’s  a “good” or “bad” lifestyle. While things like eating healthy and exercise and waking up early are indeed healthy and should be supported, it’s also important to consider what actually makes one happy. Maybe staying up late playing video games brings Level 1 Jerry a level of hedonia that can’t be matched elsewhere. Should that be sacrificed for “general healthiness?” Of course, taking care of one’s physical and mental health involves living a somewhat balanced life, but leaving one’s comfort zone and sacrificing happiness is a reflective process. One needs to decide if it’s truly something you do to benefit yourself. If not, it’ll probably be hard to stick to those early mornings anyways, so it could be better to find other ways to live your best life.

Having said all of this, I want to be clear that I’m not advocating to stop trying and never work hard. That’s still important to do. I always feel hesitant when my writing advocates practices like rest and moderation, because in the back of my head I worry I’m subconsciously rationalizing not working hard. Complacency can be intimidating, and maybe I am, but I think that staying in one’s “equilibrium point” of discomfort isn’t a bad thing, and actively seeking discomfort for the sake of being uncomfortable  isn’t necessary. I wouldn’t start waking up four hours earlier just for the sake of being a grittier person. I’d only put myself in that uncomfortable situation if there was a tangible benefit to it, like having time to draw or read more. Eventually, tolerance to discomfort will build up, and depending on my ambitions and drives, I might start doing more and moving towards a “Level 3 Pranay.” If I don’t, and just stay where I am now (probably a Level 1 Pranay), then that’s totally cool too. Our lives will always be changing, and our motivations to alter how we live will constantly fluctuate. If you don’t think you’re actively finding enough comfort in discomfort, that’s something that can be changed over time. 

All of this is my perspective of course, and you’re more than welcome to disagree with it. Honestly, whatever mindset works best for you to live your best life is the best mindset. My intention in writing this article wasn’t necessarily to get a reader to agree with me, but instead to inspire some thoughts and ideas in others to the means of them finding a happier and mentally optimal life. Whatever level of yourself that you may be and however you seek to grow as a person is great, regardless of what those around you may imply. The structure of a human live has been changing for literally thousands of years, and there has never been a “right” way to live, and there likely never will be. Regardless of what “Level” of yourself you think you are on now, there’s always a higher and lower version as well. You’re the only judge of yourself, and if you ask me, you should do what makes you happy. 

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