Learn to Love Pain

change discomfort pain self-improvement warrior spirit

“Uh oh,” you’re thinking. “Khaled is going to get all masochistic on us today.” Just bear with me.

There are two kinds of pain in the world. There is the pain that says you are doing something wrong and if you don’t stop you will injure yourself, and then there is the pain that says you’re working hard, taking risks, and pushing yourself to your limits in a good way. Why the latter should hurt at all is beyond me, but that’s the way life is.

Today, I am talking about that latter pain. Physically, you feel it when you’re running a race as hard as you can and you feel your gut tightening up as if you’re about to hurl. Your lungs are burning and your whole body feels tired and achy, but there is no acute, severe point of pain that might indicate an injury. Emotionally, it can feel like fear or anxiety about taking on a new challenge.

In both cases, the pain is unpleasant but doesn’t indicate any sort of potential harm.

So here is the catch. If you are doing anything interesting or Warrior-worthy, there will be pain/discomfort/anxiety involved. The whole point of being a Warrior is doing the things nobody else has the guts or courage to do, and the main reason most people don’t have what it takes is because of the unpleasant aspects of the task at hand.

So how do you get through it?

Easy. Accept that the pain is normal, and good in fact.

If you are out for a hard race, you should know that you’re gonna feel that burning sensation in your lungs. That’s normal. It’s good, in fact. It means you’re pushing hard, running fast, and applying sufficient effort.

If you are trying to change jobs in order to get more freedom, you should expect a moment (or week, month, year) of anxiety and emotional turmoil in which you can question your ability to support yourself and your family. If you didn’t feel that, you’re either really certain of your strategy, ignorant of the risks you’re taking, or aren’t actually doing anything risky at all, in which case you won’t get that freedom you crave.

What to Do with Pain and Fear

Once you’ve gotten to the pain and the fear, it is time to get cozy. Think of them as friends. Embrace them and use them to give you the strength to push on.

This past weekend, I went out for a long run on some trails I’d never been on before. While I was out there, I kept worrying that I might injure myself, that I might get lost, or that I wouldn’t make it back before the park gate was locked. I was pretty sore and tired from all the running too, so I laughed, embraced the fact that I was beat up and scared, and used the edge to finish my run.

When I quit my first steady job, I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to make any money and that I'd wasted the only good opportunity I'd have. Because of that fear, I decided to work extra hard to prove my fears unfounded. The anxiety of failure drove me to work hard enough to succeed.

Think of it this way. When faced with discomfort, most people slow down or give up. Imagine the edge you can get by being encouraged by the pain and discomfort. After all, pain is just a subjective experience. What you do with it is entirely up to you. There is no rule that says you should see it as a bad thing (unless it’s the prelude to injury. You need to learn to listen to your body and mind and distinguish the difference).

Pain Doesn't Matter

The truth is, most people are pretty soft. They get revved up about a new adventure or idea, and then as soon as they hit the slightest speed bump, they retreat in fear. I know so many people that get really excited to travel, but as soon as they see the cost of a plane ticket, or start thinking about the difficulties of visas and navigating a foreign country, they back down. Suddenly they realize that it would be smarter to wait for one reason or another.

True Warriors don’t back down just because something is uncomfortable. They have a mission or a goal in mind, and they see it through to its final conclusion. They understand that they are supposed to be challenged. That’s what makes the goal worth the effort in the first place.

If you’re reading this blog, you’ve got goals and aspirations that are bigger than the average person. Maybe you’ve already taken the first steps and are seeing some of those first flickers of fear and pain. Perhaps you’re hesitating from going on, or starting at all, knowing what kind of discomfort lies in wait.

If this is you, remind yourself that pain is normal when you try to do exceptional things, if only because change makes us uncomfortable. Accept that it won’t kill you. Give yourself the rest and recovery you need, and then dive right back into the fray.

The difference between a Warrior - someone who makes a difference in his or her life and the lives of others - and a regular joe is that the Warrior isn’t afraid of a bit of discomfort. In fact, he or she revels in it and uses it to become stronger.

On the other side of pain is adaptation and strength. What was once difficult becomes easy. After your first 5k, the next one is easier, and if you keep running farther and faster, eventually 5k is a warmup. Realize that what is hard now will become easier and less uncomfortable with time.

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Fight on, Brave Warriors!

- (**