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7,000 hours of Discomfort

7,000 hours.

That’s how much time I have spent in the pool as a competitive swimmer over the course of my lifetime.

And in those 7,000 hours I have come to realize one thing:

It is really frickin’ hard to become an elite athlete.

Sorry, I misspoke. I have come to realize two things:

  1. It is really frickin’ hard to become an elite athlete.

  2. The only way to get better as a competitive athlete is to get comfortable with getting extremely uncomfortable.

Why We Need Discomfort

My coach often makes fun of athletes, saying that we are just plain crazy to do what we do.

He speaks the truth though.

As humans, sports are extremely counterintuitive.

We are hardwired to try to conserve energy to make our lives more comfortable, so what purpose would we have to put our bodies through physical and mental hell day after day? It just doesn’t make sense.

But, then again, it makes complete sense.

We can only get better — stronger, faster, more intelligent — if we step into discomfort.

People do it in the gym: working out causes microtears in your muscle fibers and rest allows the tears to heal, creating stronger muscle fibers. And when they study: when you study, your brain creates memory pathways that allow you to remember the materials you studied later on. And in countless other areas of life too.

But even though this idea that growth comes from discomfort is pretty universally agreed upon, I know for myself, the idea of doing something profoundly (or even slightly) uncomfortable can be very intimidating.

Even after 7,000 hours in the pool, the painful race-pace training sets that I do with my team are daunting to this day.

Discomfort In Other Areas of My Life

But growth from discomfort doesn’t just happen in my athletic life.

As I prepared for the month-long video marketing project that I was undertaking, I had to step into one constant area of discomfort in my life: talking to strangers. I am a very friendly, bubbly person by nature and I converse with people easily. But oddly enough, when it comes to talking to strangers about my professional interests, I become extremely nervous.

The conversations I have with strangers are rarely awkward as I am able to handle myself in most situations, but I often avoid talking to strangers because of the discomfort I feel. But for this project, I had to talk with several people I had never met before to learn about how I could improve my project plan.

And so, in order to grow and get better at cold communication (cold calls, cold emailing, etc.), I stepped into the discomfort of the situation and talked to strangers.

Sticking With Discomfort

In sports, getting outside of your comfort zone is a constant battle. Once one type of training becomes easy for me to handle, I have to find another type so that I can continue to grow. The cycle never ends.

And in a sense, the same is true for the other areas of my life that I am trying to improve upon. Once I become comfortable talking to strangers, if I am still interested in broadening my skills in communication, I will have to get uncomfortable in other ways in order to grow.

I encourage you today to create a list of things you want to improve upon and the areas where you will have to step outside of your comfort zone in order to grow. And in the 7,000 hours that I have spent in the pool throughout my swimming career, the third thing I have come to realize is that, while the discomfort is often temporary, the growth that comes from it will last a lifetime.

This post is part of the marketing videography project that I undertook in October. If you are interested in learning more about my project, click here.


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