Let’s try a little experiment. If I asked you to go out and run, swim or cycle right now with no further instruction, what pace would you go at?
Chances are that you would go out and run, ride or swim at what we refer to as a “comfortably uncomfortable” pace. A pace that makes you feel like you are getting some benefit from it but also a pace that feels achievable and sustainable.
There is a good reason that we humans default to working just on the verge of discomfort. In fact, psychologists even have a name for it: Manageable Difficulty or (more whimsically) The Goldilocks Rule.
The Goldilocks Rule says: humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Or, comfortably uncomfortable.
Let’s go back to that run I asked you to go at the beginning…
If I told you to go out and run really slowly, you would feel like you were wasting your time and would lose interest and motivation.
If I told you to go out and run as hard as you possibly can, you would also lose interest and motivation, not because you were bored, but because you were putting in an unsustainable effort that was making you feel like an out of shape failure.
There is a lesson there, not only for us athletes but for anyone who is trying to achieve a new goal. Make sure that when you put your plan in place to reach that new goal that you don’t set your effort level either too high or too low.
Let’s say you are trying to lose body fat. If you are hungry all the time, you have set your effort level too high. Being hungry all the time is unsustainable and thus you are doomed to run out of willpower at some point and eat everything in sight (and not because you are weak). Conversely, if you cut your calories by too few and never allow yourself to feel even remotely hungry, you will also fail and give up due to lack of progress.
This is a philosophy that is at the core of what we teach in the Weighless Program. Most diets ask you to lose weight too quickly and that opens a myriad of whoop-ass on your biology and your psyche.
Comfortably uncomfortable is the key to success
whether you are training for a race, a new job, a new hobby, or a life long goal.
Obviously there is room for some nuance, depending on how ambitious you are feeling that day. And sure, you can certainly endure the odd overly challenging day too. But when the scale tips too far toward unachievable, you are in trouble. At that point, back off and allow your ego to feel good about itself again before you test the waters and push yourself beyond comfortably uncomfortable again.
You need to have enough success to keep you motivated and enough challenges to keep you working hard. That is the sweet spot.