Webinar Q&A – Getting Fit with a Disability: How to Advocate for Yourself at the Gym

Thank you to everyone that joined us on February 28, 2018 for the webinar Getting Fit with a Disability:  How to Advocate for Yourself at the Gym.  In the webinar, participants learned how to create a successful self-advocacy plan, effectively communicate with health and fitness professionals, and develop creative solutions that are a win-win for everyone.

If you weren’t able to join us for the live presentation, you can watch the webinar at any time.  Just click the button below to view a recording of the live webinar.

View Webinar Button - View a recording of the live webinar

Also, I want to share answers to the questions we received during and after the webinar.


Q:  Is the approach I take to self-advocacy going to be different if I am just evaluating a new gym that if I am already a member under contract with a gym?

A:  [Jennifer Hobbs] If you are evaluating a gym, you are in complete control. If you feel that you are not being heard or that the organization is not willing to accommodate you, you can choose not to join and find another facility. If you are interested in learning more about what look for when you are searching for a fitness facility, I encourage you to go to our website and watch our webinar How to Choose Your Gym: 5 Questions You NEED to Ask When You Have a Disability. You will get some great tips on how to plan your gym search as well as identify “red flags” to look for when touring a gym.

If you already belong to a gym, and specifically if you are in a contract, you don’t have the flexibility to just leave. Therefore, self-advocacy becomes more important. Remember, you have the same right to fully participate as any other member of the gym. That is when developing a more formal self-advocacy plan, like the one we discussed today, becomes more important.

Q:  If I don’t get the results that I need from my self-advocacy efforts, what do I do next?

A: [Jennifer Hobbs]  If you do not get the results that you expect, you have several options.

  1. You may want to investigate more official channels.  This may include filing a formal compliant in writing to the organization’s management. You may also want to enlist the support of a disability advocacy organization to pursue a more formal advocacy process.
  2. If you feel that your legal rights are violated, contact an attorney and consider filing a legal action.
  3. Reassess your strategy and goals. Perhaps take another approach or pursue another issue that is easier to resolve.
  4. End your relationship with the facility. If you are under contract, determine the terms of the contract and terminate your membership when the contract expires.
  5. Finally, you may choose to accept the situation, at least for now,  You may decide that continuing to pursue the issue is not worth your time and effort right now.

What are your questions and comments?  Let’s continue the conversation – share your thoughts in the Comments section.

Jennifer's Signature Jennifer Hobbs

Free Webinar – Getting Fit with a Disability: How to Advocate for Yourself at the Gym

One of the best ways to get active is by joining a gym or fitness facility. However, navigating the gym can be challenging when you have a disability. Fortunately, you can overcome these barriers and enjoy safe and effective workouts at the gym. The key is successfully advocating for yourself and knowing how to ask for what you need.

What is Self-Advocacy?

Self-advocacy is taking action by speaking up and asking for what you need.  Successful self-advocacy involves knowing your rights, understanding your needs, and effectively communicating those needs to others.

Why is it Important?

If you have a disability, self-advocacy can be a critical skill if you choose to exercise at a gym or fitness facility.  Many facilities are not designed with the needs of individuals with disabilities in mind.  Also, many health and fitness professionals are not aware of the needs of individuals with disabilities in these settings.  Therefore, you need become your own best advocate by taking action to ensure that your needs are met.

Self-advocacy helps you:

  • Get what you need (e.g. information, equipment, resources, instruction) to exercise safely and effectively.
  • Make sure your rights are respected.
  • Develop assertiveness and self-determination.
  • Learn to say no without guilt.
  • Express disagreement while respecting the needs of others.

How Do I Advocate for Myself?

The thought of having to speak up for your own interests can be scary.  Fortunately, self-advocacy doesn’t have to be a daunting task.  It is a learned skill that you can master through proper planning and practice.  The key to success is having a solid strategy that gives you the confidence you need take action.

If you are interested in learning how to become your own best advocate at the gym, I invite you to join me FREE 30-minute webinar.  In this webinar, you will learn:

  • A simple 3-step plan for successful self-advocacy in health and fitness settings.
  • Tips for effectively communicating with health and fitness professionals.
  • Problem-solving strategies for developing creative solutions that are a win-win for everyone!

Here is everything you need to know to join me for this exciting event!

Event Details

Webinar: Getting Fit with a Disability:  How to Advocate for Yourself at the Gym 
Date:  Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Time:  7:00 – 7:30 pm EST
Duration:  30 minutes
Presented By:  Jennifer Hobbs, MS, MBA
President & Founder, IncluFit

Can’t attend the live event? No problem! A recording will be made available to all registered attendees after the live event concludes. We’ll deliver it directly to your inbox for easy access and viewing.

I look forward to seeing you on February 28th!

Jennifer's Signature Jennifer Hobbs

Webinar Q&A – New Year, New You: Tips for Getting Fit with a Disability

Thank you to everyone that joined us on January 3, 2018 for the webinar New Year, New You:  Tips for Getting Fit with a Disability.  Throughout the month of December 2017, we asked the IncluFit online community to answer the question “What is the #1 barrier individuals with disabilities face in getting fit?”.  We received tons of great responses!  Here is a sample…

  • “Thinking they can’t do it.”
  • “Courage to do it!!”
  • “Motivation.”
  • “No help.”
  • “Lack of accessible places and understanding, inclusive-minded staff.”
  • “Assumption you will hurt yourself.”

…and many, many more!

It was difficult, but we compiled your responses and determined the top 3 barriers faced by individuals with disabilities in getting fit.  In the webinar, we discussed each of these barriers and identified strategies for overcoming those barriers in the new year.

If you weren’t able to join us for the live presentation, you can watch the webinar at any time.  Just click the button below to view a recording of the live webinar.

View Webinar Button - View a recording of the live webinar

Also, we had some great questions during the Q&A that I wanted to share with everyone.  Here is a recap of the Q&A session.


Q:  You talked a lot about advocating for yourself at the gym and asking for what you need, but how do I know if what I’m asking for is reasonable?

A:  [Jennifer Hobbs] That’s a very good question. First, I want to start by saying advocating for yourself can be incredibly challenging especially if you’re someone who doesn’t like to make waves or is afraid of asking for what you need. So, that can be very challenging in and of itself, just to get up the courage to ask for what you need.  Then having the fear of “Is what I’m asking for reasonable or are my expectations skewed? Am I asking for something that’s really not reasonable?” Now, that’s going to depend on what you’re asking for, in what situation you’re in, but I am definitely of the opinion – ask for what you need! However, be willing to have an open conversation with the people. For example, if you’re in the gym and there’s a piece of equipment that would really benefit you that the facility doesn’t have, approach the manager. Have a conversation, but be willing to have a good back and forth. Educate them on why it is beneficial. Help them understand the benefits that it will bring to you and, not just you, but their other clients as well. But, expect that it might not be something that they could do right away. So, always ask. Don’t expect immediate results, but you can, at a minimum, try to work out a plan to see if maybe they could do that in the future. Maybe there’s another option that they could implement right now. So, in my opinion, no request is unreasonable but the important thing is the conversation that you have that you have afterwards.

Q:  How can I tell the difference between pain and just discomfort associated with exercise?

A:  [Jennifer Hobbs]  That’s a tough one. That can be a really challenging one, especially if you live your life with chronic pain. It can be very hard to distinguish what is pain from an injury or condition and what is just general discomfort from using your muscles in a different way or being physically active. In general, anything that causes a sharp, acute, sudden pain that makes you wince or makes you immediately feel like you have to stop, that’s probably an indicator that you should stop. That is, something is exacerbating your injury or condition or potentially causing a new injury. Stop, assess, take a break, come back. The sensations associated with physical activity and exercise feel something like a warmth or a kind of a muscle burn or kind of a gradual buildup of fatigue. That’s indicative of a normal response of your body to exercise, particularly exercise that it may not be used to. So, pain associated with injury is usually more sudden, acute, sharp, extremely painful. Pain associated, pain or discomfort, I don’t want to say pain, but discomfort associated with physical activity is generally a little more gradual, not as sharp, and develops over time. But the best way to really determine that is to set small goals and work up slowly. The more slowly that you work up, adding in exercises to your routine, adding intensity and time you’re going to start to develop the sense of what is pain and what is just regular exercise discomfort.


What are your questions and comments?  Let’s continue the conversation – share your thoughts in the Comments section.

Jennifer's Signature Jennifer Hobbs

Free Webinar – New Year, New You: Tips for Getting Fit with a Disability

The new year is quickly approaching which means it’s the perfect time to start thinking about setting your fitness goals for 2018!

Getting more exercise is one of the most common new year’s resolutions, and for good reason! Exercise is one of the best ways to improve both mental and physical health.

Although we all know that exercise is good for us, getting fit and staying active is easier said than done. Maintaining a regular exercise program can be particularly challenging for individuals with disabilities.  Research shows that 47% of adults with a disability get no physical activity.  

Fortunately, you don’t need to let your disability stop you from being active. I invite you to join me for a FREE 30-minute webinar, where I will show you how to overcome the challenges of exercising with a disability and get fit in 2018. 

Here is everything you need to know to join me for this exciting event!

Event Details

Webinar: New Year, New You: Tips for Getting Fit with a Disability
Date:  Wednesday, January 3, 2018
Time:  1:00 – 1:30 pm EST
Duration:  30 minutes
Presented By:  Jennifer Hobbs, MS, MBA
President & Founder, IncluFit

In this webinar, you will learn:

  • The top 3 barriers to getting fit faced by individuals with disabilities.
  • Strategies for identifying and overcoming these barriers.
  • Practical tips to help you stay on track and make 2018 your healthiest year ever!

Can’t attend the live event? No problem! A recording will be made available to all registered attendees after the live event concludes. We’ll deliver it directly to your inbox for easy access and viewing.

I hope to see you on January 3rd!

Jennifer's Signature Jennifer Hobbs

Webinar Q&A – How to Choose Your Gym: 5 Questions You NEED to Ask When You Have a Disability

Thank you to everyone that joined us on November 15, 2017 for the webinar How to Choose Your Gym: 5 Questions You NEED to Ask When You Have a Disability.  Attendees came away with valuable tips on how to take the stress out of finding the right gym when you have a disability.

If you weren’t able to join us on the 15th – no problem!  You can watch the webinar at any time.  Just click the button below to view a recording of the live webinar.

View Webinar Button - View a recording of the live webinar

Also, we had some great questions during the Q&A that I wanted to share with everyone.  Here is a recap of the Q&A session.


Q:  I have already signed a contract with a gym, and I do like it, but now that I’ve taken this webinar I am realizing that there are some things that should have been red flags. I’ve always just accepted these limitations in the place meeting my needs, but now that I know better what can I do to address the concerns at my current gym?  In other words, how do I advocate for my needs in a gym that I already belong to?

A:  [Jennifer Hobbs]  That’s a great question.  So, I think you’re right, there’s one thing about having the information and knowing the questions to ask and actually being able to advocate for yourself in the gym.  As I had actually just touched on, don’t be afraid to ask questions and if you’re not getting the responses you want one thing I would say first take a look at who are you talking to.  Maybe you’re not talking to the right person.  Maybe you need to talk to a manager.  If you’re still not getting the information or getting the response that you want, I always recommend taking an approach of educating the staff.  Give them your thoughts. Tell them a little bit about inclusive fitness, how they might be able to improve their accessibility and inclusion at their facilities.  If you’d like, volunteer to help them and be your own advocate to help them get that knowledge.

Q:  I can’t seem to find a gym in my area that’s really inclusive. Am I really just looking for a needle in a haystack?

A:  [Jennifer Hobbs]  It can probably feel like that sometimes.  What I have found is a lot of it does depend on where you are. I think here in the United States, what I’d like to term “the inclusion revolution” in the health and fitness industry, is just starting to build momentum.  Inclusion and accessibility is not something that most gyms have high on
their priority list.  I think that certain places, like Great Britain and Australia, have made a lot of progress and are way ahead of the United States in terms of offering things like training to fitness professionals and raising awareness about the importance of inclusive
fitness. So, I can see where you’d think it would kind of be a needle in the haystack and that’s really where the advocacy has to come in.  More than likely, if you are in the United States, if you’re going to a gym, that’s probably not going to be something that is in the forefront of their business model. So, as long as they are willing to work with you, then advocate for yourself and you can probably make a difference. Hopefully, with more training like this and starting to get the word out more about the inclusive fitness movement here in the United States, we are going to start to see a change.  We’re going to see more facilities being more accessible and being more inclusive of individuals with disabilities.


What are your questions and comments?  Let’s continue the conversation – share your thoughts in the Comments section.

Jennifer's Signature Jennifer Hobbs

Free Webinar – How to Choose Your Gym: 5 Questions You NEED to Ask When You Have a Disability

It is no secret that most of us struggle to maintain a regular exercise program.  This can be particularly challenging when you have a disability.  Work, school, health issues, and just life in general can make it difficult to carve out even a few hours a week to spend on our own wellbeing.  So how can you get motivated to move more and make exercise a part of your normal routine – join a gym!

A recent study Iowa State University showed that gym members logged a whopping 484 minutes of exercise on average per week compared to only 137 minutes per week for non-members.  Additionally, the odds of meeting weekly physical activity guidelines were 14 times higher for gym members than for non-gym members.  As if that wasn’t enough evidence of the value of a gym membership, researchers also found that gym members were less likely to be obese, had lower blood pressure, higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness, and smaller waist circumferences than non-members.

Sounds great!  Sign me up, right?  Unfortunately, the thought of finding the right gym and committing to signing on that dotted line can easily become overwhelming, especially when you have a disability.

Good news!  Choosing a gym doesn’t have to be a stressful experience.  I invite you to join me for a FREE 30-minute webinar, where I will to show you how you can take the anxiety out of choosing a gym when you have a disability.  All it takes is a little planning ahead and asking a few simple questions to help you find your perfect fit.

Here is everything you need to know to join me for this exciting event!

Event Details

Webinar:  How to Choose Your Gym: 5 Questions You NEED to Ask When You Have a Disability
Date:  Wednesday, November 15, 2017
Time:  2:00 – 2:30 pm EST
Duration:  30 minutes
Presented By:  Jennifer Hobbs, MS, MBA,
President & Founder, IncluFit

In this webinar, you will learn:

  • Tips on how to plan ahead to make the most of your gym search.
  • “Red flags” to watch for when touring a gym.
  • The top 5 questions to ask gym staff during the first visit.

I hope to see you on November 15th!

Jennifer's Signature Jennifer Hobbs

Lesson 4: The Power of Reflection

It has been several weeks since the half-marathon.  Like anything else, as my life moves forward the experience gets pushed into the background as other things crop up and take its place.  It is so easy to let day to day life consume our thoughts and actions and not take time to reflect upon what was.

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Søren Kierkegaard

I am guilty of always thinking towards the future, always trying to be two to three steps ahead.  I have trouble focusing on the present and hardly ever taking the time to reflect on the past.  Being future-focused has a lot of positives.  I tend not to dwell on past.  Research shows that living in the past is associated with greater feelings of pessimism and can be a trigger for depression.   Being focused on the future also means that I am a planner and I am rarely unprepared.  However, this obsession with always staying ahead of the game robs me of one of the most valuable tools for happiness and personal growth – reflection.

Transforming Pain into Gain

No one can argue that physical activity is awesome.  Study after study validates the myriad of benefits of physical activity, including improved as physical health, mental health, and social connections.  However, if we do not take the time to look back and reflect upon the experience, we will miss valuable lessons.

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” John Dewey

When I finished the half-marathon, I was physically exhausted.  My anxiety level was through the roof.  I was disappointed with my performance and was just relieved it was over.  Now, my default state was to push the experience aside (essentially checking it off my mental to-do list) and move on to the next thing.

I mentioned in my previous posts that this was my 5th half-marathon.  However, it was the first that that I took the time to stop to reflect upon the experience as a whole.  I forced myself to look back and evaluate every aspect of the experience. I won’t lie, it has been a difficult process.  However, it was only by taking the time to look back and reflect that I was able see the power of discomfort, gratitude, and acceptance.

When we take the time to stop and reflect upon our experiences with consciousness and intent, the process can be transformative.  In my case, by stepping back and reflecting upon the race, I took an experience that I associated with frustration, anxiety, pain, and disappointment and transformed it into one that I now look upon with fondness and appreciation.

Benefits of Reflection

Reflection is an incredibly powerful tool that is available to each and every of us.  The only thing we need to do is allow ourselves to slow down and take the time to actually do it.  The next time that life is moving fast and you are tempted to just push forward, I invite you consider the following ways that reflection can help you live a better life.

Reflection can help you…

  1. identify negative thoughts and feelings.
  2. understand your strengths and weaknesses.
  3. view life with more gratitude.
  4. stay focused on the bigger picture.
  5. acknowledge and accept things that are out of your control.
  6. reduce anxiety, allowing you to overcome your fears.
  7. become a more capable, confident, and caring person.

The Final Word

Sometimes the most challenging events in our lives can provide the best opportunities for self-discovery and personal growth.  For me it took a very long 13.1 miles to teach me the power of discomfort, gratitude, acceptance, and reflection.  I hope that the next time you face a challenge, you will remember the power of these tools, use them, and emerge a stronger, happier, and healthier person.

Jennifer's Signature

 

Lesson 3: The Power of Acceptance

I am my own worst critic.  I set my expectations and berate myself if things don’t work out the way I wanted.  If I don’t meet my goals, my automatic response is to blame myself for the failure.  If I had only (fill in the blank) tried harder, prepared better, etc.… things would’ve worked out.

I have always viewed failure as a personal weakness.  I never stop to consider that there may be forces in play that I cannot control and overcome.  The missing piece is acceptance.

Acceptance – The Missing Piece

Failure can be a very powerful tool.  We can learn a lot from our failures, gaining valuable insights and learning lessons that we can use to become better, stronger, more effective.  However, when you look at failure from the single perspective of being solely controlled by the self, you miss the valuable lessons it can teach.  Instead of logically analyzing the failure and gaining constructive feedback, you spiral into a pattern of negative self-talk and blame.

Acceptance in human psychology is a person’s assent to the reality of a situation, recognizing a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it or protest it. – Wikipedia

You must look at failure with both responsibility and acceptance.  It is a two-pronged approach – taking responsibility for the things within your control and accepting the things that are not in your control.   Let’s look at some examples from the half-marathon, examining each first from the perspective of blame and next from the perspective of acceptance.

Example #1:  I set a goal time for finishing the race and missed it by several minutes.

Blame:  I was weak and didn’t try hard enough.  I could’ve pulled through if I was mentally and physically stronger.

Acceptance:  My body has limits.  I had the stomach flu a week before and I had cracked the top of my foot on a bookshelf.  Both contributed to my body not being in peak condition for the race.

Example #2:  I wanted to get through without having a panic attack.

Blame:  I had practiced managing my anxiety during my training runs.  I was confident that it would not be an issue in the race, but it was.  Again, I was weak.  If I was stronger, I could’ve pushed the feelings aside and kept going.

Acceptance:  I can’t control everything.  Sometimes my anxiety and panic disorder gets the best of me.  I can do my best to prepare, strategize, and cope but sometimes it is not enough.  The best I can do is deal with it when it happens and move on.

When I reevaluated the race from the perspective of acceptance not blame, it completely reframed the experience.  It led me away from my destructive thinking and down a path of   opportunity for personal growth.

Acceptance vs. Excuses – What’s the Difference?

Now you might ask, “Aren’t you just making an excuse and rationalizing the failure?”.  I too, struggle with the same question.

I hate excuses.  I am 100% for personal responsibility.  I firmly believe that we are responsible for our own actions – right or wrong, good or bad.  For the longest time, I viewed acceptance as an excuse. However, there is a distinct difference between making and excuse for an action or outcome and accepting it and moving on.

He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else. – Benjamin Franklin

Excuses are based on short-term thinking.  Excuses are all about instant gratification without concern for bigger goal.  Acceptance, on the other hand, is based in self-caring and nurturing.  It is focused on long-term.

For example, let’s say I have a 5-mile training run planned for today.  My body feels good, I feel healthy, but I’m just not motivated to get up and get out the door.  So, I decide to I skip my run today and stay home and watch TV.  Now, I classify this as a big ‘ol excuse.  I am choosing the path of least resistance.  This is the option that leads to instant gratification but does not help me achieve my long-term goal.

Now let’s look at the same scenario under a different set of circumstances.  I have a 5-mile training run planned for today but my foot is very painful and running is exacerbating the injury.  So, I decide to skip my run today and take a day off to rest and ice my foot.  In this scenario, I am practicing acceptance.  I am consciously deciding to accept the reality of something I can’t control (my injury) and choosing the option that is best for my current well-being and for my long-term goal (being healthy to run the race).

Finding the Balance

When you experience failure, finding a balance between taking responsibility for the failure and choosing acceptance can be extremely difficult.  When things don’t turn out the way you planned, it so is easy to fall into the trap of self-blame and guilt. When I start to slide down that slippery slope, I ask myself the following questions

  • Were my expectations too high?
  • Were there external forces beyond my control?
  • Does the outcome really make a difference in the long run?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, it is a trigger that I need to stop and reevaluate my feelings.  My guilt and blame is probably misplaced and destructive.  The healthy choice is to acknowledge the failure, accept the outcome, and move on.

Although it’s not easy, pushing aside the blame and choosing acceptance truly is the path to becoming a better, stronger, and happier person.  I think the following words from actor Michael J. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 25 years ago, sums it up perfectly.

My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations. – Michael J. Fox

Next time you face failure, I challenge you to take a step back.  Look upon the failure with a new lens – one of responsibility and acceptance.  Then sit back and watch your happiness grow.

Jennifer Hobbs Signature

Up next…

Lesson  4:  The Power of Reflection

 

Lesson 2: The Power of Gratitude

I always try to run with thoughts of gratitude, but I choose to run the half marathon as my “race of gratitude”.   Pondering all of the things that I have to be thankful for carries me forward and I ride the wave of gratitude to the finish line.

Anyone that runs knows that breathing plays a big role.  As I run, I try to imagine inhaling a thought of gratitude and exhaling the word “thank you”.  It probably sounds silly, but it works!  It takes my focus off the external mechanics of running and refocuses my energy internally, creating a more profound mind-body connection.  I enjoy my run more and it becomes a more fulfilling experience.

So during the half marathon, I chose to run with gratitude.  I ran with gratitude for…

The opportunity to participate in the race.  I am blessed to have the time, support, and resources to train and race.

My health.  Although I am not perfect, I am strong and healthy.  I am thankful for this body that carries me through 13.1 miles.

The world around me.  I drink in the fresh air, embrace the wind on my face, and admire in awe the beauty of fall in the Northeast.

My community.  All around me are examples of my community coming together for common cause.  From the race personnel and course volunteers working hard to keep me safe and hydrated, to the thousands of spectators on route cheering and waving signs, I am grateful for each and every one.

My running partners.  As I run, I acknowledge that I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my running partners (both human and canine).  They were with me through months of training.  From early morning runs before the sun came up, to finishing the last few miles of a long run in the dark, they were with me every step of the way.  They pushed me forward, encouraged me onward, and kept me laughing the whole time.

My family and friends.  Most of all I am profoundly grateful for my family and friends.  Their support means the world to me.

“Gratitude also opens your eyes to the limitless potential of the universe, while dissatisfaction closes your eyes to it.” 

– Stephen Richards

This attitude of gratitude powered me through the first 9 miles, but when I hit “the wall” and the overwhelming fatigue set in, it became harder and harder to focus on being grateful. By mile 10, all I could think about was the pain in my foot, the leaden sensation in my legs, and my escalating anxiety and self-doubt.  My physical and emotional discomfort distracted me until the only thing that I was grateful for was that it would be over soon.

When finally crossed the finish line, my feelings of gratitude had evaporated.  I was exhausted, frustrated, and disappointed.

This race taught me that I had more to be grateful for than I imagined.  I made it.  I struggled through the pain, the fatigue, and the panic.  It was awful, but I made it.  I finished safely and at the finish line, despite my feelings of failure, I was rewarded with nothing but love and support.

Finally finished, surrounded by family and friends, I took a long, deep breath.  I inhaled in the power of gratitude.

Jennifer Hobbs Signature

Up next…

Lesson  3:  The Power of Acceptance

Lesson 1: The Power of Discomfort

I was never a runner. I have always been active, always in motion but was never a runner. As I look back on my childhood, every memory I have of running ends poorly.

I remember running the obligatory 1 mile in gym class as a child. By ¼ mile in, I inevitably had to stop, heaving and gasping for breath. The remaining ¾ miles was an embarrassing combination of running/walking/stumbling until I finally finished, usually minutes after the rest of my peers.

I also remember playing soccer. I loved soccer. I loved the dribbling, the kicking, the scoring. I hated the running. They tried me first at midfield, position that involved the most running. Let’s just say, that didn’t last long. I moved on next to play forward (a little less running) and finally back to a position on defense (the least running, except for goalie which was already taken) and still was panting and miserable before we hit halftime. By high school, I threw in the towel, quit soccer forever, and moved on to volleyball. At that point, I was convinced I was not meant to run – ever.

“If you want to choose the pleasure of growth, prepare yourself for some pain.”

– Ritu Ghatourey

Fast forward 30 years later and here I am, a runner. I have now run 5 half-marathons and more 5k and 10k races than I can remember and you know what? It still sucks. It’s uncomfortable, it hurts, and it never gets easy. My experience this past weekend only served to carve that truth even that deeper in stone. Yet, I still run. Of course the obvious question, and one that I get asked over and over by friends, family, and strangers alike is “WHY?”

Why in the world would I choose to do something that is so downright painful? Well, the reality is that one of the reasons I run is because it is uncomfortable.

People often talk about the value of going “outside your comfort zone”. That sounds like tipping your toe in the water. I would argue that for true growth, you not only need to venture outside of your comfort zone, but reach out and embrace discomfort.

3 Types of Discomfort: Physical, Social, and Emotional

For me, there are 3 types of discomfort when I am in a race: physical, social, and emotional. Now, this perspective on discomfort is based solely on my experiences. I am sure if you read the scientific literature, it is a gross oversimplification of the concept. However, for me, I can neatly divide up my discomfort into each of these 3 buckets.

Physical

The first type of discomfort is what I call “true” physical discomfort. As a runner, you get to experience plenty of this type of discomfort. Your muscles hurt, your lungs burn, you feel overwhelming fatigue, and on and on.  Some days it feels like with every mile you log, you also log a new ache or pain.

Social

The second type of discomfort is social. This is the discomfort felt when you have to engage and interact with other people. Now for some, this doesn’t qualify as a source of discomfort at all. Actually, for many people, social interactions are a source of great pleasure. For me, however, this is definitely an area where I struggle.

Running, by nature, is an individual activity and can be a great fit for individuals like myself that battle with social anxiety. However, on race day, running definitely becomes a community event. Hundreds of people packed in at the start line, hundreds of spectators lining the course, and hundreds more race volunteers and staff. Just thinking about that many people raises my anxiety level into the red zone.

Emotional

The third type of discomfort is emotional. As an individual with anxiety and panic disorder, I find that most of my emotional discomfort has its roots in fear. Irrational fears play on a continuous loop in my head as I run. Will I disappoint my friends and family if I miss my goal time? How will I cope with the embarrassment if I don’t finish? What if I have a panic attack in front of all of these people? These fears of judgment, inadequacy, and embarrassment all vie to overwhelm me as I race.

Discomfort: Perception vs. Reality

I experienced all 3 three types of discomfort during the half marathon. Looking back on the race, I can start to put my feelings of discomfort in better perspective. Let’s explore my perception of discomfort, or fear, versus the reality.

Fear: This is really going to hurt.

Reality: It really did hurt, but only for the last 5 miles.

In the half marathon this past weekend, I experienced plenty of physical pain. By mile 8, my right foot was throbbing due to a very unfortunate crack it took to bookshelf a few weeks before. Good news, the bookshelf was fine. Bad news, my foot… not so much.

As the miles past, the pain layered on, but I kept putting one foot in front of the other until I reached the finish.

Fear: I am not going to be able to deal with all of the people.

Reality: It wasn’t as bad as I thought.

I always struggle at the start line when everyone is packed together. In a race, runners line up according to their predicted pace, the fastest in the front of the pack and the slowest in the back. I am neither particularly fast nor slow, so I usually line up right in the middle. Perfect for me from a racing perspective, horrible for me from an anxiety perspective. So this time, I tried a new strategy, I started in the back. No crowd in the back of the line. I felt good and relaxed at the start. I probably added a minute or so to my time starting behind the slower runners, but it was worth it.

Fear: I am not going to hit my goal time and I will disappoint my friends and family.

Reality: I didn’t hit my goal time and nobody cared.

I am very fortunate to have wonderful and supportive friends and family. As I crossed the finish line, I had a 10-person cheering section getting me through those final few steps. I was greeted in the finish area with hugs and high-fives. The rest of the day was peppered with texts from friends congratulating me on the race. If anyone cared in the least that I didn’t hit my goal, they certainly didn’t show it.

Fear: I am going to have a panic attack and embarrass myself in front of all of these people.

Reality: I had to stop running for several minutes at mile 10 because I felt a panic attack coming on, but I got through it. I don’t think anyone even noticed.

When I “hit the wall” around mile 9, my anxiety began to skyrocket. I knew my hopes for a personal best were gone and I worried I would not be able to finish the race. My anxiety started to build upon itself as my fears played through my head. By mile 10, I felt the telltale signs of a panic attack coming on – dizziness, nausea, and cold sweats. I knew I needed to stop the escalation of my anxiety. I stopped running, breathed deeply, and thought positive thoughts. Two minutes later, I was feeling better and started back with a slow jog, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other.

Why Discomfort is a Powerful Tool

I don’t think anyone would argue that experiencing discomfort is not a pleasant experience. At the time, it feels downright awful. But when it’s over it is truly liberating. So, what happens when you allow yourself to be uncomfortable?

You Learn Patience

Discomfort is a temporary state.

You Gain Perspective

Discomfort allows you to reframe catastrophic thinking. Whatever your fear, things usually it isn’t as bad as you think.

You Learn to Cope

Discomfort is unpleasant. As human beings, we are designed to want feel pleasure to minimize unpleasant sensations. When we are uncomfortable, we develop new strategies to deal with the discomfort.

You Grow as a Person

Embracing discomfort gives us freedom to try new things, meet new people, and expand our horizons.

Next time you feel uncomfortable, don’t run from the feeling – reach out and grab it. I promise, you will be happy you did!

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Next Up…

Lesson 2: The Power of Gratitude