Outdoor Diary: Is Being Uncomfortable Outside Actually Worth It?

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When things outside are absolutely miserable and you’re in the thick of it, what do you do? Do you stick it out? Is it worth it? Why even bother?

In this episode Amy talks about a recent miserable outside experience and why she’s been thinking about being uncomfortable outside, why being uncomfortable is OK and why it’s worth it.

Some of the good stuff:

[:27] Unexpectedly uncomfortable

[2:20] Amy’s interview with Michael Easter

[3:58] The benefits of discomfort

[5:20] Preparing yourself for discomfort

[5:45] Where to find Humans Outside

Connect with this episode:

Here’s an edited transcript of this installment of Amy’s Outdoor Diary. Listen to the episode on iTunes, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

I stepped outside my door this Saturday for my long run — 20 miles. You might be thinking I am absolutely bonkers for running 20 miles, and maybe I am, but it’s my thing so just leave it there. I’m getting ready for this marathon I do every year, and a marathon is 26 miles. So it makes sense to run 20 miles as you get ready for it.

Anyway. I stepped outside my door this Saturday for my 20 mile run, and it was snowing. This was not the weather vibe I was looking for. We’ve had temperatures in the low 40s and mid-30s recently, and I was dressed for moving for a long time in cold weather. But the forecast had promised me the snow would be done by 10 a.m., and I was not ready for that to be a lie. I was not ready for what you would think of as a magical snow globe world if only you weren’t trying to go for a run. That’s because the magic isn’t really a thing when you’re faced with wet, cold slidy running for hours on end.

Oh, and here’s the biggest problem. I wasn’t really dressed for it. That’s my own fault. And I realized my mistake about two miles in, but of course I was too stubborn to turn around, put on better tights and keep going then. No no. I just kept running, knowing I was running straight into cold misery.

OK so fine — being uncomfortable during this run was my own fault, even beyond the fact that I was doing something uncomfortable — running 20 miles.

But what it did do was give me plenty of time to think about how uncomfortable I was and why being uncomfortable is OK, even beneficial.

If you like to go outside like me, you’ve probably been faced with discomfort at some point. You were cold. You were hot. You were tired. Something hurt. There was a serious and unacceptable lack of snacks. Discomfort, in short, is a part of going outside. You don’t have to be a runner to know what I’m talking about here.

Getting OK with being uncomfortable has been on my mind quite a bit this week because I just aired on Humans Outside my conversation with author Michael Easter. Michael had come up here to Alaska and did a long hunting trip up in the middle of nowhere. He was out there just over a month, and while it wasn’t winter, it also wasn’t anywhere near warm and comfortable. They did a lot of heavy hiking, they moved heavy meat after they shot the caribou, and they spent a lot of time being uncomfortable. The experience sent him into research on the benefits of being uncomfortable and all the ways Americans studiously avoid doing so.

I really enjoyed the book — I listened to it while training for my 100-miler this summer and spending lots and lots and LOTS of time being uncomfortable.

As you can see, I have a habit of doing things that will absolutely result in me being uncomfortable. I remember the first time I decided to do a marathon. I was doing a training run that was maybe 10 or 12 miles long — so nowhere near the race distances — and the seasoned runner friend I was with said “you know running a marathon hurts, right?”

I did not in fact know that. But, boy, do I know it now.

And yet I keep doing that stuff. I keep walking or running right into the face of discomfort, whining a little and then hanging out there anyway. Why is that? What is it doing for me? And what is it that getting out there does for you?

Of course that’s the subject of Michael’s book, which you can read. And you can listen to our podcast episode with him, which focuses on that and the benefits of getting and staying bored, which by the way is also uncomfortable.

But I can tell you what I find in it. And it’s pretty simple.

I find that doing this hard stuff outside, that getting and staying really uncomfortable, gives me the ability to do hard things during the rest of my life. It’s not exactly something I think about. I don’t encounter a tough or uncomfortable decision at work and think, “ok I know I can stomach this because boy was my butt cold on Saturday and we endured.”

But I have noticed that the more time I spend outside, the more I can see in retrospect that inside hard things are OK. I don’t run away from them. I don’t make someone else do them. I do them, because I can tackle uncomfortable things. Maybe call it exposure therapy.

It also has helped me do bigger things outside. I’ve had so many great adventures that I’ve been open to tackling and I only considered because I knew I had done something vaguely similar before and not yet died, and even had fun.

It also gives me an extra measure of patience. I am categorically not a patient person. But since I started doing hard things outside on purpose I’ve become more patient, which has given me a higher tolerance for things that were previously likely to drive me insane during my daily life. And that’s because the only way to get through something uncomfortable when you can’t or won’t quit is to move through it for as long as it takes.

As we head into colder times of year, many of us will be faced with more opportunities to be uncomfortable and by “many of us,” I definitely mean me. Now is a great time to gird your loins, as the OId Testament says, and get ready for what you’ll do when things aren’t meeting the comfort benchmark you were looking for. Are you going to stick it out? Are you going to head outside anyway to find what awesomeness waits for you?

I hope so. And as you do you can see photos of my outdoor time for a little extra inspiration if it helps. I post a photo every single day on Instagram and Facebook at Humans Outside and with #humansoutside365. I’d love to see your outside time, too, so I hope you share it.

And until next time? We’ll see you out there.

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