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The Real Reason We Don't Exercise

... and why you should get your body out of its comfort zone.

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A friend of mine came back from one of those crazy obstacle races and commented, “I’m finally used to walking around with my shoes, socks, and feet soaking wet and cold.” He said that when he first started exercising outside he had no tolerance for cold, wet shoes and socks but now that he’s had to run through swamps and mud puddles, it’s no big deal: He hardly notices.

This got me to wondering if the real reason we don't exercise is our desire to avoid any experience of discomfort. People often say they don’t exercise because they have no time, but in the same breath talk about how much they want to get healthy, and how much they believe exercise is the path to better health. It's a puzzling contradiction—or is it?

Theories of human behavior have long shown that immediate experience often outweighs future rewards. What this means is that it is hard to do something uncomfortable even if it earns us something good later.

Exercise is uncomfortable—uncomfortable relative to our typical reality, that is. We live in a society where we keep the indoor temperature adjusted to perfection all year round, wrap ourselves in soft clothing, wear thick-soled shoes to protect our feet from harm, lay on cushy beds draped in poofy covers, and shower and scrub with warm water and soap every single day. Is all of this First-World pampering making us intolerant to even mild physical discomfort? Maybe exercise isn't too uncomfortable—maybe our everyday lives are a little too comfortable.

Here are many of the discomforts I have heard people (myself included!) blame on exercise:

  • I hate sweating.
  • I hate being too hot.
  • I hate being too cold.
  • I hate being out of breath.
  • I hate when my hair gets messed up.
  • I hate sore muscles.
  • I hate blisters and calluses.
  • I hate getting wet in the rain.
  • I hate getting out of bed when it’s dark and cold.
  • I hate going out at night when it’s dark and cold.
  • I hate getting dirty.
  • I hate working out in front of people at the gym.

Yes, all of these things are uncomfortable. But as my friend realized, what is uncomfortable today may hardly be noticeable later. after you've experienced that discomfort over and over again. I challenge you to challenge yourself to confront a discomfort that's prevented you from exercising.

  • Go for a walk in the rain—with no umbrella!
  • Get sweaty.
  • Get snowed on.
  • Get out of breath.
  • Get a blister.
  • Get dirty.

When you are all done powering through the discomfort, waiting for you should be a huge sense of accomplishment, and a huge step forward on the path to good health (plus a hot shower, warm clothes, a warm home, and a snuggly bed).

Our comforts will always be there, but step outside of them once in a while and maybe you'll find it's not so bad after all.