I have a longstanding love-hate relationship with running. In the early mornings as I’m leaving my neighborhood, my brain screaming for coffee, the local roadrunners pedal their svelte legs and it looks so effortless. The ones who run in small groups especially catch my eye, chatting casually as their toned legs turn over in graceful arcs.

I stare, flooded with a mix of envy, admiration and shallow optimism. Maybe one day running might look that beautiful on me. But the reality is, when I find the courage to pull on my running shoes (because believe me, it takes courage to face this kind of pain), I look and feel nothing like them. My lungs burn and my body becomes obstinate, heavy and aching. And as my body rages it attacks my mind. My mind wills my body to move forward.  My body wills my mind to stop.

The very essence of human motivation is to avoid pain and seek pleasure.  Babies are born with an instinctual reflex to withdraw from noxious stimuli, like pain. When you touch a hot stove, your hand retreats before you have the conscious thought to move it. Pain is an incredibly important signal that alerts us to danger and keeps us alive.

So if running is painful, and pain is a signal to stop, what am I doing this for?

There is something beautiful about bearing witness to internal struggle and learning to tolerate discomfort. To lean into it.
There is something beautiful about bearing witness to internal struggle and learning to tolerate discomfort. To lean into it. To feel your body agonize and protest against the determination of the mind. To prove that you can overcome the part that is begging to stop and complete the task, no matter how difficult the path.

This battleground between pain and willpower is fodder for growth – mind, body and spirit. Learning to tolerate discomfort, pressure, and tension grants us the opportunity to accomplish things we might otherwise believe to be impossible.

Learning to tolerate discomfort, pressure, and tension grants us the opportunity to accomplish things we might otherwise believe to be impossible. 
Emotional pain like grief and anxiety is no different. Just as I am teaching my body to endure discomfort to achieve a goal, our hearts, minds, and spirits are equally important. Studies have found that the areas of the brain that become active when experiencing physical pain are also active during emotional pain like rejection or heartbreak. Pain is pain.

And that is why I run. It might not look pretty. But learning to tolerate discomfort builds resilience, confidence, and stamina. I run to prove myself wrong.

Whatever discomfort you are enduring, lean into it. Study it like a curious child. Challenge the negative thoughts. Persist in the face of adversity. Succeed anyway.

P.S. – I recently ran down one of those beautiful, ethereal runners (figuratively, of course). He laughed at me heartily, explaining if he didn’t feel challenged he wouldn’t still be running. He endures pain just like the rest of us mere mortals, but perhaps he has been leaning into the discomfort so long that it just feels more natural now.

2 thoughts on “

  1. Is it good to lean into the discomfort until it feels natural? I know you were talking about his running but if you are talking about your emotions-is that good to do? By lean into do you also mean to figure it out/explore/find the answers/learn to cope?

    1. You’ve got the right idea! Just like exercise builds physical stamina and endurance, leaning into emotional discomfort (rather than avoiding it) can build distress tolerance and help you understand what your struggling with better. For example, the best “medicine” for those who struggle with social anxiety is to accept the anxiety is there and work on “doing it anyway.” Obviously you wouldn’t go all out (e.g., sing karaoke in front of a crowded room). You’d work your way up to it, same as building endurance for any physical activity!

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