A couple of weeks ago, I competed in the Tuscobia Winter Ultramarathon.  I rode in the 80 mile bike race in northern Wisconsin.  The temperature hovered around zero Fahrenheit during the day, but as the sun went down, it dropped quickly to about -20.  I didn’t have a thermometer, but I could feel the change, especially in my fingers and toes.

Discomfort in winterDoubt crept in as people around me talked about dropping or got picked up by friends at road crossings.  I added layers, focused on eating and drinking, and took other small steps to ensure my safety and success. I realized something during the race.  I realized I am confident and comfortable in temperatures well below zero.  I was able to put fear aside, focus on action and keep going safely.

I was able to keep moving forward because I have worked to gain experience being outdoors in the winter.  I’ve competed in longer, and colder, winter ultras.  I’ve been very cold while skiing, dogsledding, running, biking and camping in the winter.  I know what I need to do to get warmer, and I also know what is just discomfort versus what is dangerous.  As someone who grew up in Missouri, this is quite a major change.

Fear and Discomfort

Luvvie Ajayi said something in her 2017 TED talk that really resonates, “Fear has a very concrete power of keeping us from doing and saying the things that are our purpose.”  She talked about how important it is to get into situations that make us uncomfortable in an effort to get used to that feeling.  Not just for the sake of feeling it, but so that when we are confronted with that feeling in a meaningful situation, we can deal with it and act with purpose.

We may not want to call our discomfort fear, but often that is exactly what it is.  Fear of failure, fear of ridicule, fear of a loss of power or respect.  That fear can drive our actions, whether it is at work, in our personal lives or in volunteer or civic roles.

I’ve coached a variety of sports over the years. I love interacting with athletes before an important competition.  I sometimes ask them to describe how they are feeling.  They’ll often say they are nervous, anxious, excited, that they have butterflies.  The athletes feel these things because to them, the outcome matters.    Those competitors who can embrace those feelings and emotions are often much more successful over the long run than those who can’t.  They become comfortable with that discomfort.

When we face challenging situations, no matter the setting, we feel those same emotions. Our ability to acknowledge them, deal with them and still take action that makes the difference between being successful or not.  The only way to do that is to practice. Practice experiencing discomfort, working through it and gaining the confidence it takes to embrace it when it matters.

Jerritt Johnston is the Owner of True North Consultants, which promotes organizational, individual and team growth through challenging, fun and relevant activities and processes.  True North is an Authorized Partner for Everything DiSC®and The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team™.