I’m in the process of training for an ultra run right now. I’ll be running around a 10k trail loop as many times as possible in 9 hours. It will be very tiring and mentally stressful. I’ll be pushed to my limits. This is an example of extreme discomfort.
It’s easy to put yourself through extreme discomfort once. The thing about extreme discomfort is that it's very visible. It’s obvious when you’re dripping sweat at the end of a conditioning workout or as you pump out your last set of pull ups until failure. We love the stories of Blake Griffin running up sand dunes in the offseason or a player going out of his way to raise millions of dollars for charity. Don’t get me wrong, those are both great things. But, as a society, we idolize these moments. We overvalue those moments of extreme discomfort and undervalue the smaller, less glamorous moments.
What gets overlooked are the thousands of tiny moments that are slightly uncomfortable. I call these moments of “mundane discomfort.” These are smaller moments that happen dozens of times each day. They’re tiny, boring moments where you have to do something small that you don’t want to do. When you face that moment, do you move toward the discomfort or avoid it?
- You walk out the door for practice and forget your post-workout shake. Do you go back inside and get it, or keep going?
- You’re doing your dynamic warm-up before practice. Do you go all the way to the line or stop 18 inches short? Do you take a few steps in between lunges so that you’re only doing 4 instead of 6?
- You’re about to go train and don’t have a plan. Do you take 5 minutes and write down your workout before you leave or figure it out as you go?
- You toss an energy bar wrapper at the trashcan but miss. It falls in the corner between the wall and the trashcan. Do you walk over, reach behind the smelly trash can and throw it away or leave it as it is?
- You pass by the locker room and a freshman who doesn’t play is the last one there. He has a long walk across campus but he’s in the opposite direction from where you’re going. He doesn’t see you and you have homework to do. Do you stop and give him a ride or keep walking by?
- You’re shooting free throws at the end of practice with your teammates. No coaches are watching and you only have 2 left. Are you joking with your teammates or are you locked in on making those free throws?
The thing about these moments is that nobody will notice your choice. Nobody will post it on Instagram or give you a pat on the back if you do the right thing. Nobody will reprimand you for taking the easy way out. These moments of mundane discomfort are largely invisible. Nobody will know what you do…except you. You’ll know.
What’s the big deal?
Our brains are justification machines, we can rationalize just about anything to ourselves. It won’t seem like a big deal at the time to take the easy way out. You probably won't even give it a second thought. But these daily choices are important because the moments of mundane discomfort add up to far more than the moments of extreme discomfort. Little streams make big rivers.
It takes dedication, discipline and strength of character to consistently endure mundane discomfort. You have to decide to be the type of person or the type of player that does the boring, invisible things right. Nobody will applaud you for them, you have to do them yourself. You must be internally motivated to endure mundane discomfort day in and day out. If you’re motivated to work because someone is watching, you won’t do the little things necessary to reach your potential.
It’s hard to lean into the moments of mundane discomfort every day. The secret to doing it consistently is to make it a part of your identity. You can’t consistently face these choices to endure mundane discomfort over and over again. You’ll get decision fatigue, you’ll get worn down from overriding your natural inclination to take the easy way out.
But, if your core identity is that of someone who ruthlessly searches out every competitive edge and every moment of mundane discomfort, these moments won’t become forced choices, they’ll become habits. You won’t have to choose to give your teammate a ride, you’ll automatically do it. You won’t have to force yourself to be precise in your dynamic warm-up, you’ll naturally do it.
Sure, there will be plenty of moments when you don’t feel like doing the thing that you know is right. But more often than not, when your identity is telling you to do the hard thing, you’ll do it.
By shifting your identity, you're changing your default option. If your default option is to avoid discomfort at all costs, it takes a huge amount of energy to decide to do otherwise. But if your default option is to lean into discomfort in the name of growth, you’ll automatically begin to perform the little actions that pile up over time and lead to success.