Practice Difficult, Scary Things Often

Josh and I with 3 of our BUILD members, Cathy, Leah, April after completing Murph.

A few weeks ago I had an epiphany. Well… epiphany may be a strong word. Let’s call it an almost universal confirmation of a long-standing suspicion.

This confirmation came during a “town hall” meeting with the participants of BUILD: Functional Fitness for Cancer Survivors. In this meeting I wanted to reconcile something that continues to perplex me about the program: Every participant has seen dramatic improvements in strength, health, and overall feelings of well-being. The near unanimous feeling is that BUILD is the “best support group I’ve ever had.” I’m trying to reconcile these facts with our difficulty in growing the program proportionate to the number of people in Kansas City affected by cancer. The program is affordable (sometimes free with scholarships), safe, effective, fun, supportive, and positive. Why aren’t hundreds of Kansas Citians involved? 

And then I asked the question.

“By show of hands, who was nervous or afraid to come in for the first time?”

Every. Single. Hand.

  • I thought I’d be the oldest one there
  • I didn’t think I’d be able to do the workouts
  • I figured everyone would look like a greek god
  • I haven’t worked out for a REALLY long time (or at all)

No mention of a cancer diagnosis or treatment. Nothing.

And then, this.

In addition to the unanimous I didn’t think I’d be able to do it responses, there was also a near-unanimous this is the longest I’ve ever maintained an exercise routine. This was my lightbulb moment.

The experience of this Town Hall struck a deep chord that finally illuminated the essence of why this stuff works; the heart of our mission.

We walk toward difficult, scary things together.

This lightbulb moment came when I finally realized that these survivors’ feelings of nervousness are the exact same feelings that everyone who has ever stepped foot in the door has felt. 

Multiple Golden Glove Winners. Professional football players. Olympic athletes. Great-grandmothers. 23 year-old college grads. 44 year-old accountants. People walking around with an extra 100 pounds. People needing to gain weight to save their lives. 67 year-old cancer survivors. Literally everyone we have ever trained. 

And that’s the magic.

Anything you do for the first time will feel scary. Anything worth doing will be difficult. Change is the most difficult thing a human can do. It’s buried deep in our DNA; avoid discomfort and new things because discomfort=danger. And, up until about 60 years ago, our DNA was correct. Difficulty and newness did mean death and danger.

But it’s a new era.

Thanks in large part to advanced medicine, technology, and a decreased manufacturing presence, difficult and uncomfortable things are crucial to survival. In 2018, those who expose themselves to uncomfortable and scary things will adapt and overcome life’s obstacles at an exponentially higher rate than those who avoid it. It feels weird because our biology resists this notion at every turn.

In our not-so-distant biological past, embracing discomfort almost assuredly meant death. In the form of disease, food poisoning, and attack from outsiders, the new and unknown often posed a significant risk to self and family. Today, the new and uncomfortable are the keys to a full life.

No one has ever been proud of an accomplishment that came without doubt, fear, difficulty, and hesitation.

I recently spoke with a friend about some doubts and fears I have regarding some ambitious changes in our business and personal lives. In response she said: “If you’re thinking rationally and consulting trusted advisors, self-doubt is the indicator that you’re embarking into unchartered territory. It’s a normal survival mechanism. It’s also an indicator that you need to go toward that thing.”

Whatever your “I could never do that because ________” happens to be, embrace it. Walk toward the thing that makes you feel afraid or inadequate. On the other side of those feelings are satisfaction and accomplishment.