I’ve been in some uncomfortable situations, lately. From dealing with new personalities and roles at work, to changes at jiu jitsu, to being on the phone (with the IRS, no less) — it’s no wonder that I have felt drained at the end of the day.
Even the most mild personalities in jiu jitsu preach the importance of being comfortable with the uncomfortable. Learning how to survive in bad pinning positions; testing your jiu jitsu in a public competition (and sometimes failing miserably); or even just trying out a new class or sparring partner are all typical ways that people can put themselves in a position of discomfort, but hopefully, also in a position of opportunity to learn and grow.
I’m not here to extol the virtues of being uncomfortable, or what you can gain from it. What I’m here to do is share some of the nuance behind this advice and certain pitfalls to avoid by following this principle.
It has become quite clear to me that there are certain forms of discomfort that I simply won’t stand for. I’m done with the days of going against my gut when I think someone is a little spazzy or dangerous, especially because of the injuries that I’ve incurred. It used to be that I had to go against the most brutal and biggest people in the room, because well, that was uncomfortable (and scary) for me.
Nowadays, I don’t feel that I must roll with the most challenging person in the room, or the most dangerous beginner, just because I feel the need to prove to myself that I can manage that discomfort. Making the choice to feel uncomfortable should not involve feeling like you need to pursue every type of discomfort, because the result of engaging in that situation may result in at best, nothing new, but at worst, injuries or wasted time.
It’s one thing to place yourself in an uncomfortable position in training for the purpose of developing skill, but I don’t think that pursuing discomfort in all instances has been helpful for me. Even well into the latter half of last year, I sought to use training rounds to test myself in awkward situations — what would happen, for instance, if I did “let” the person get an underhook on me in half guard, or tried a more complicated submission instead of holding mount? However, I don’t think this helped my skill development all that much for two reasons. First, those positions would have been better suited for intentional practice in specific training, not as a spur of the moment decision to see what I could do. Second, I think that I limited my jiu jitsu in live situations. Because I was seeking discomfort, I was sabotaging and limiting my jiu jitsu.
There is a fine line between seeking discomfort and putting yourself in a situation where you’re just setting yourself up for failure, or at least, inefficient training. I was starting to disregard my instinct when it came to what was the best response within my knowledge and ability at that point, all in the name of “being uncomfortable.” I was implicitly telling myself, “You shouldn’t win, or feel comfortable, because then you’re not learning anything.”
Being uncomfortable does not mean that you need to start from a losing position, and see how you can fight out of it. Sometimes, it is in doing what you think is the best possible thing — and then facing failure — that is a more meaningful (and productive) source of vulnerability. It is a fine line to walk, for sure.
In my experience, successful people shoot for the stars, put their hearts on the line in every battle, and ultimately discover that the lessons learned from the pursuit of excellence mean much more than the immediate trophies and glory.
― Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence