How to Use Pain and Discomfort to Your Advantage

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How to Use Pain and Discomfort to Your Advantage

There is a vital difference between discomfort and pain, yet time and again, they are lumped into the same grueling category. One is temporary (discomfort); the other is eternal (pain). One can cause you to stumble (discomfort); the other knocks you to your knees (pain). One you can run from (discomfort); the other is inescapable (pain).

There is a wisdom within you that elevates you above both; but getting there means not only separating the two, but also becoming friends with your deepest afflictions.

YOU CAN CONTROL DISCOMFORT

You are in control of all of the discomfort you feel. Let that sink in: your anxiety, your stress, the burn in your muscles during a workout — all of it; you are in control. That’s why discomfort can, and should, be used as a tool to prepare you for pain.

Pain and discomfort both hurt, and they can be hard to endure. But while discomfort is within your control, pain teaches you the hard lessons — and how you use pain to learn those lessons is the key to building wisdom.

For me, yoga can get uncomfortable, but it’s my greatest passion. I don’t look at yoga as a workout. I look at yoga as a tool to work in, therefore I embrace the discomfort knowing that if I live in it, I’ll get better. The physical side is simply a byproduct. Running, on the other hand, has always been my favorite workout. Not because of what it does for my body, per se, but because of the mental release I feel. It’s a true runner’s high. When I’m 1/2 a mile from my finish line, with 5 1/2 miles behind me, I have two choices: I can slow down and be uncomfortable, or I can speed up and also be uncomfortable. Either way, it’s going to hurt. But I know that if I stay in this moment, when my legs are heavy and my lungs are burning, I am not only 100% in control of my discomfort, I am free. I am standing at the edge, but I am safe.

Pushing yourself — whether it’s preparing for a marathon or working to get a promotion — is what I consider discomfort. And isn’t that a beautiful thing? You feel something so strongly, so deep and so intense, yet you are in control.

YOU CANNOT RUN FROM PAIN

You cannot beat pain, but you can accept it as a necessary component of life — and then use it to learn.


“Time doesn’t offer healing. Time offers wisdom.”


Pain is a larger concept. We have all lost a loved one, or had our hearts broken, or had circumstances completely out of our control cause us deep burdens that we will spend the rest of our lives juggling. Time doesn’t offer healing. Time offers wisdom. It provides an opportunity for those who are willing to turn their greatest pain into their greatest glory. That’s pain. It doesn’t offer you a chance to control it, because it is bigger than you or me. Pain can give you wisdom to grow if you are in a position to accept it. But, step 1 of that acceptance comes from using your discomforts as mini scenarios to prepare you for the big show: your biggest pains.

USE WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL TO LEARN FROM WHAT YOU CAN’T

Without pain, we wouldn’t have the beautiful mystery that is love. Without darkness, we wouldn’t understand light. Joseph Emet, author and founder of the Mindfulness Meditation Centre, says, “the purpose is not to win battles, but to transform what feels like a battlefield into a garden of peace.” Think of the battle Emet is referring to as pain. You’re not trying to lasso what has been, and always will be, out of your control. You’re using what you have within your control (your being) to transform what was once a fear into a friend. Befriend your pain, and you are free.


READ MORE > FINDING YOUR EDGE


Befriend my pain? I can already hear you laughing and see you rolling your eyes. Befriending your pain starts by pinpointing what it is. Remember, just like finding your edge on the mat, one crucial piece is pinpointing the pain’s source. The second step is acceptance. Acceptance can take a few days, months, even years. It’s a process, and there is no timer that will go off when you’ve finished because acceptance is a lifelong commitment.

I promise you this: If you commit to challenging yourself to be uncomfortable in ways you can control (yoga, running, work, etc.), you will learn your tolerance and your triggers. That way, when the universe deals you a joker, you’ll have confidence in your hand because you’ve taken the time to accept and learn — and know how to play it.


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  • Sarah Wheeler

    This article feels like the beginning of a very deep journey. I think I understand more why I’m so compelled towards personal fitness – the more control I exercise over my own discomfort, the more equipped I am to make peace with pain as it comes in life.

  • Gabriella Smith

    Best advice for me ever! This goes deep with me.

  • sfatula

    Pain can be physical too, have a bad disease that causes immense pain (a rare form of dystonia), but, have learned to befriend it. As dumb as that might sound. The biggest reason I was able to do so is exactly what the article says – I have always pushed myself, just because something hurt, I did not allow it to defeat me and stop me. And that did prepare me for my later life and pain. Even now, pushing through the pain, which is more than discomfort, actually helps me to hurt less in a given day. This article is spot on. I now consider my pain more discomfort though it is enduring.

    • Jena B

      Love it. Keep marching on!

  • Klayton S

    You have an extraordinary way of writing. I personally find fitness to be my common ground, my anchor point. It’s always the same discomfort followed by satisfaction. Even when i move to a city i don’t want to be in, i still have fitness. Thanks for the read! Great article and insta!

  • Leon

    Very good article, except for the bit about anxiety and stress being something we can control.

  • Marc-Eddy J.A.P. Lajoie

    I am amazed that so many of you people are sensitive to the article , as written. I do not know about you, guys. However, all I can say at the very moment is that I am in PAIN and PHYSICALLY speaking. Nothing seems to alleviate the pain away, and I would have been the first to APPLAUD you if at least ONE amongst the many suggestions were to work on my personal behalf. However, I keep my fingers crossed that someone will recommend me one of your miracle remedies to help me focus on a higher command, such as, Meditation by practicing YOGA or else. Thanks for everyone effort, eventually.

  • Eloise

    Not only is this editorial BS, it is dangerous. People injure themselves irreperably every day by ignoring the discomfort and pain they experience while working out. Also, for the millions of us living in pain every day who have no control over its coming or going despite every wish or action by healthcare professionals. True physical pain is unbearable and not something one “befriends.” Yes it can manifest from psychological triggers, but that isn’t necessary. Not everyone’s bodies do what your pictures would have us believe- no matter how much we would love to push past our pain – to get out of bed in the morning let alone get some physical activity in as part of a healthy lifestyle. I hope that both FitnessPal and Daina Lynn seriously reconsider whether she has the training or education to dispense advice to others. This trash is harmful.

  • Barrie Anderson

    Befriend your pain??? What kinda crap is that? This entire article was full of shit. Consider it flushed.

    • Chris

      Obviously they are not posting about medical conditions.

      They are writing about overcoming mental obstacles set forth by ones own mind.

      Anyone with a chronic illness / injury should still be able to read an article and come to their own conclusions about the applicability of this advice for their unique situation.

      If you have an injured hamstring you should know better than to try doing yoga. Anyone who recommends yoga to help an injury heal is dead wrong. But that isn’t what this article was about.

  • Jackie Olson

    Wow. As someone with Lupus and Hashimotos – this is terrible advice for anyone with an inflammatory disease. This advice is dangerous. Please take down this post.

    • Chris

      Obviously they are not posting about medical conditions.

      They are writing about overcoming mental obstacles set forth by ones own mind.

      Anyone with a chronic illness should still be able to read an article and come to their own conclusions about the applicability of this advice for their unique situation.

      • Jackie Olson

        The headline is misdirecting and the content is poorly structured. I thought this post would be a resource on managing injuries/diseases while at the gym, and tips for finding work-arounds to get your best personal fitness results. More than three paragraphs in, it barely starts to become obvious this is about mental health. The post is DANGEROUS because it in no way references that gym-goers with anxiety, depression or a hard time dealing with something/pain should seek professional help. “Befriend your pain” and pushing through discomfort without a proper trainer/instruction? Everything about this gives me bad vibes.

  • Denise Collins

    I battle (not suffer from) Fibromyalgia and every day I am in excruciating pain! BUT, I REFUSE to allow it to dictate how I live my life in a negative manner! I walk a 5k every other day and go to the gym 3 days a week because if I’m going to be in pain, I’m going to have something to SHOW for it! The pain medication helps and I use it to my advantage. At the end of the day, I’m crawling into bed but I’ve accomplished something that I can be proud of!

    • Spazzz

      Have you had your testosterone levels tested as well as estrogen etc? My wife is on testosterone replacement therapy (natural testosterone) and it has helped her pain to subside…

    • Jena B

      Go Denise! Keep up the fight 🙂

  • Hospital Veteran

    Wow. I totally agree that discomfort is passing and that we can choose how we respond to physical & emotional stresses/anxieties/discomforts, and we can choose whether/how we allow them to impact our lives and behaviors. But true, chronic physical pain has absolutely nothing to do with “confidence” or any other psycho-babble bullshit. This article demonstrates exactly why so many fitness “experts” are incapable of being credible among those who because of injury, infection, or simply years of neglect feel the limitations of daily pain.

  • lwright311

    This article sounds cheesey but it puts into words what we see in in mentally well balanced people. It is NOT promoting exercising even if you have valid physical pain or a medical condition. It made me think of childbirth, which is very uncomfortable (painful), but absolutely worth it for the reward of a baby at the end.

  • Jena B

    Sorry for the long comment, but I’m shocked at all of the negativity to this article.

    As someone with chronic pain and inflammation as well as major depression and anxiety disorders, I think this article is spot-on. Pain – the thing you can’t control. You can only control your reaction to it and how you deal with it. Learning to cope with small discomforts can prime you for the larger pain that life throws at you, much like desensitization to allergens. After dealing with chronic pain for the last few years, I have to say that putting up with smaller discomforts of exercise (under supervision of course) has made my pain easier to tolerate. The pain is not better but my attitude toward it is better, making my quality of life better.

    Yes, you can control your anxiety and depression. It’s not something that I believe a few years ago, but with CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), I’ve learned that it is true. I can choose my thoughts and how to respond to them. Now, when I have a negative thought causing anxiety or stress, I choose to deliberately turn it into a positive thought. Over time, my thought patterns have changed, causing far less stress and anxiety and almost no panic attacks. Quite a step up from taking an hour to get out of my car to go into a grocery store! I believed that it was BS, but I kept doing it anyway because I had to do something or I would end up dead or institutionalized. It didn’t matter that I didn’t believe it. It worked anyway and proved itself to me.