The painful paradox of comfort

I was out on the bike on one of the tougher trails on the shore. I have skills, but some parts of this trail even intimidate me.

But I was fit and strong, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I walked a couple of consequential features. That’s the smart play. 

Then I go to the coaster. 

That’s a big ladder bridge with some spicy moves. 

At the beginning, you go up a steep hump that’s about 6 feet off the ground. Then the ladder swoops down and to the left and so on. 

The wood slats on the ladder are tight together, but they are only about 2 feet wide. 

I’d never done this stunt before, and that attempt didn’t go well. 

I got to the apex and lost momentum. 

I was leaning a little to the left and positioned close to the left edge of the ladder. And it was six feet to the ground below laden with roots and rocks.

And I was clipped into my pedals as I started to fall. 

The comfort trap

Nothing of value comes without some discomfort, yet our culture seems almost obsessed with comfort. 

The extra cushy lazy boy is the dream. The car with the soft suspension. 

Those shoes with extra padding that disconnect you from the ground you’re walking on. 

That comfort seems to have spread like a virus to all manner of other areas of life. 

We have to be comfortable with the arguments that we hear. 

Comfortable with the words that other people use. 

Comfortable with every situation. 

I’m not saying comfort doesn’t have a place, but applying to everything has a price. 

When you’re too comfortable on the bike, you stop paying attention to your surroundings. 

If the couch is too comfortable, you get lazy and stop moving. 

And if the words, arguments are too comfortable, you end up with groupthink, censorship and stagnation. 

If you look back at your greatest accomplishments, none of them was achieved with comfort as the foundation. 

Winning before the race begins

I’m not a gym guy, but I’ve learned to appreciate its value. You see, as a kid, all my training took place in the rifle room. It was in a basement of an old building we called the Old Gym. 

The walls in the range were painted black with an orange depiction of a rowing crew on one side. At least that’s what I remember.

The floors were a grey-green colour with numerous small dents and indentations. 

Old water heaters near the roof disappeared into a gap up to the giant windows on the main floor. 

But we trained in the afternoons during the winter, so it was almost always dark. 

The room was hot. The kind of heat you can only feel from those old water heaters.

And our crew trained and suffered together down there for four months of the year to get ready to race. There is nothing comfortable about rowing training seven days a week in a hot stinky basement room. 

Our coach said races were won in the weight room. Now I understand why. 

That crazy idea is uncomfortable. And crazy can be good

Crazy ideas are often hard to fully articulate. Sometimes the vision is so big, others can’t accept it. The idea is criticized and dismissed. It’s too big. Too crazy.

But what it really is, is uncomfortable. 

One of the reasons for this is that people accept their current ideas as a part of their identity. New ideas that challenge that paradigm are deeply uncomfortable. 

Other times, people have accepted existing products and services as fixed. New products and services, innovations and opportunities are too difficult to imagine or accept. 

Because it’s always been done that way. 

And in some cases, the always been done that way reflects a series of innovations and iterations. 

Think about cryptocurrency. 

It’s new. But it’s based on a hundred years of iteration, experimentation and application. 

It took a long time and lots of experiments to bring all these technologies together into a workable product. 

But it isn’t “backed by anything.”

It isn’t “real.” 

It’s “a scam.”

What they’re saying is that this new concept is uncomfortable. 

While you are comfortable, you are none of these

The drive towards comfort eliminates cutting edge thinking. It undermines the ability to explore and progress. It’s the status quo, and we all understand why the status quo can be a problem. 

Sitting on the couch long enough creates a series of problems. 

You feel more tired even though you’re technically resting. 

Your muscles start to atrophy. 

Consumption goes from a knife, fork, and a plate to greasy fingers and a napkin tucked into the collar of your shirt. 

Pretty soon, you’re like another cushion on the couch. 

Think about how ambitious you are in this state.

How optimistic you are. 

How open to new ideas you are. 

How motivated you feel. 

How creative you are. 

You are probably none of these things in this state. 

This is comfort. 

Embrace discomfort

I was six feet in the air on the apex of this ladder bridge. I lost momentum and unclicked my left foot from the pedal, and started to fall.

My left leg was out as it led me to the ground. In a split second, I decided to let my leg bend, so I didn’t blow out my knee. That meant taking the brunt of the fall with my hip on a stubborn root. Thankfully I had a little padding there. 

Man, that hurt. 

After taking a moment, I got back on the bike, rode down and then climbed back up to the other trails I wanted to do. 

I was hurting, but not enough to stop me from finishing. 

The hour and fifteen minutes of climbing up the fire road to the trail is uncomfortable. 

The winding rough stunt laden trails are uncomfortable. 

The training year-round in the weight room and on the road are uncomfortable. 

But the results are an incomparable feeling of achievement. 

It’s the same thing with ideas. 

Great ideas should be uncomfortable. 

What’s yours? 


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