This January, I signed up for Deliberate Discomfort, a 60-day challenge created by a former Green Beret and run by veterans, performance coaches and psychologists. Aligned around six different dimensions, the program requires the following commitments:
Physical: Working out for two hours each day. A 60-minute outdoor cardio session and a 60-minute circuit/weight training.
Professional: Watching a masterclass video once a day.
Mental: Reading one book a week.
Social: Connecting via phone with a friend or family member on a daily basis.
Emotional: Writing a gratitude journal each day.
Spiritual: Listening to a 30-minute daily meditation.
With over three hours of extra commitments a day on top of running a business and a household of four kids, Deliberate Discomfort is not for the faint of heart!
I initially signed up because modeling the same behavior I ask of my clients—peak performance, high-visibility leadership and personal development—felt authentic. I trusted that as I found, forged and sharpened the edge, I’d be able to apply the learnings to myself and my coaching practice.
I’ve put together a few of the insights that I gained within each of the six dimensions. I’m confident they will continue to support me as I serve others and I hope they help you, too.
You can’t outwork nutrition.
– This learning doesn’t just apply to food but to everything we consume—news, relationships, our environment, music, conversations, and even the opinions others have about us that we adopt or the inner talk we have with ourselves.
– Intentionally nourishing ourselves with better ingredients helps us to flourish physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Time is slippery.
– Over three hours a day of extra commitments requires a ton of planning AND a flexible plan.
– With three teens and a pre-teen, our home calendar looks like a game of Tetris at the best of times. A solid yet flexible approach means that we can adapt to changing circumstances and emotional surprises with grace and calm.
We don’t rise to the occasion; we fall to our level of training.
– Highly-trained professionals depend on reliable and repeatable systems, which they can call on especially during challenging situations.
– This commonality holds true for academics, military personnel, spiritual guides, athletes and counselors.
– Instinct and creativity can yield amazing outcomes but only when backed up by good training and the diligent application of a solid process.
The score takes care of itself.
– So often, we fixate on the scoreboard instead of playing the game. We’re too busy comparing ourselves to others rather than enjoying ourselves in the moment.
– Former San Francisco 49ers coach, Bill Walsh’s approach (captured above), won him three Super Bowls. He simply encouraged his players to focus on the things under their control like behavior, technique, standards, character, teamwork and the task in front of them.
– At times in the program, people naturally focused on weight as a proxy for results and when weight loss plateaued, they became concerned or frustrated. We were encouraged to trust the process and to “let the score take care of itself.” It did.
Nature and nurture are fixed. Your narrative is not.
– Nature is genes and hereditary factors—your physical appearance and personality. Nurture is environment—how you were raised plus your early experiences, relationships and culture.
– While life’s first chapters are written for you, you always have the option to create the rest of your narrative and in doing so, write your own amazing story.
Small, daily improvements are the key to staggering long-term results.
– Life contains countless one-off insightful moments. However, unless and until we anchor them to different behaviors, our daily habits won’t change the path we think we’re on.
– It’s the spark of motivation multiplied through a mechanism of success that yields sustainable, significant and spectacular results.
Connections make all the difference.
– We had a 98% completion rate on the course. Given the full cross-section of backgrounds, experiences and current circumstances, this amazing statistic speaks to the connections made amongst our 200-person “tribe.”
– Participants stuck with the program because of the supportive and challenging community that existed from the first day to the last.
– Sometimes, it’s two parts destination, two parts journey and 200 parts the people you travel with!
The pathway from success to significance goes through service.
– In my work with C-suite and senior executives, I usually kick off with: “What is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?”
– The underlying motivation in their answers is most often other people. Moving abroad. Taking on a new role. Initiating a difficult conversation. Deciding to have children. Saving a life. Starting a foundation.
– Acts of service are necessary to elevate life from individual success towards greater local, organizational and global significance.
Do the fucking work!
– Pushing through discomfort to see what’s on the other side means doing the outer work (physical, social & professional) AND the inner work (mental, emotional & spiritual).
– The inner work includes understanding our life trajectory, decoding relationship patterns, and embracing fears as we put one foot in front of the other to move steadily—or unsteadily!—towards our goal.
Darkness is the absence of light. Fear is the absence of love.
– Fear and love are the two main forces in the universe. Fear contracts. Love expands.
– Every time we are presented with a challenge, we have two choices: To fear or to love.
– If we can replace fear with love, we can shine a pathway to our future selves.
You already have everything you need.
– Feedback from a boss. Love from a spouse/partner. A bigger job title. A larger salary. The size of our house. The success of our friends. How often do we look for the “thing” we’re convinced will make us happier?
– This, in the words of the Buddhist monk, Haemin Sunim, is like asking for directions to New York when you are already in New York.
– Everything that you’ll ever need to develop is already within you and around you.
– The time to practice is always, the place to practice is everywhere.
– Scholar Warren Bennis coined defining leadership moments as “the crucible” because within them, we are burnished under extreme conditions; broken down and reconfigured into something better.
– The Deliberate Discomfort challenge enabled us to create our own crucible. Under stress and in extremis, our layers were stripped down. Our true selves were revealed, and we chose to forge a better version of ourselves.
A Milestone, Not a Destination
After sixty continuous days of challenge, I am more disciplined and more motivated. I am more agile and flexible. I am more connected to family and friends. I am more centered and confident.
I am more alive.
I’ve lost weight and gained profound insights. I’ve found friends and abandoned some unhelpful beliefs. I’ve lowered my heart rate and summoned my warrior spirit.
And in the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
Jamie Ramsden is a certified executive leadership coach and founder of Adastra Consulting (www.adastraleadership.com). A former Chief Executive, Jamie has been coaching C-Suite and Senior executives around the world for over fifteen years.