Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Running Life

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Comfort is a state of physical ease and freedom from pain or constraint. If you want to achieve big in your running goals, comfort will be your worst enemy. In this blog post, you will understand why comfort will ruin your running life and how to ensure you don’t fall victim to it.

Why Comfort Will Ruin Your Life Ted Talk: Summary

‘What makes you comfortable can ruin you, only in a state of discomfort can you continually grow.’Bill Eckstrom

I just watched a Ted Talk that left me questioning literally all my daily habits, choices and actions. Am I pushing myself to my limits enough? Am I proactively seeking challenging situations?

The Ted Talk is titled ‘why comfort will ruin your life ‘by Bill Eckstrom. In his speech, Eckstrom gives a brilliant explanation of why comfort is a massive hindrance to growth and personal development.

He starts his talk nine years earlier when he was the CEO of a top performing company with all the perks that such positions typically command. A decent salary, hefty bonuses, employee benefits and stock options in the company. One day, he was invited to see his boss and, just like that, was fired.

Being fired from a high-flying CEO post was one of the best things that ever happened to Bill Eckstrom

Eckstrom recalls his turbulent and painful emotions of the moment. Sadness, pain, misery, betrayal and disappointment. He even recites in the video that he spent three hours in bed, presumably crying about his dismissal. Being fired truly was a horrendous experience for him.

However, he later realised that the distress and discomfort of the departure from his predictably ordered life was a blessing in disguise. Being fired allowed him to take time to evaluate and grow his skills, start his own company researching what it takes for people to grow, and has become more fulfilled in life.

Bill then says that his company founded the theory of the ‘growth rings.’ These are a set of four rings, each symbolising a different type of living environment which promote or hinder growth.

The Goldfish metaphor for your personal growth

To illustrate how an environment can lead to the size of your capabilities and skills, he uses the metaphor of a goldfish. I was blown away by this metaphor.

The goldfish symbolises you and the fishbowl it lives in symbolises the environment that you live in.

if a goldfish is placed into a small fishbowl, it will grow up to about three inches. Pretty small, right? Interestingly, when the same fish is placed into a large fishbowl it can grow to about nine inches. Unbelievably, when the same goldfish is placed into a lake it can grow up to three feet long.

The metaphor is clear. The size of our capabilities, skills, abilities, and position in life, is determined by the growth potential of the environments we put ourselves in.

The Growth Rings


Perhaps the biggest take away was the concept of the growth rings. These are four rings that can either promote or hinder personal growth.

The rings and their environmental symbolisations are as follows:

1. Stagnation

Characterised overly bureaucratic processes, rules, controls, steps, and procedures. Individual thought is discouraged and there is no opportunity for creativity. This is not the ideal environment for growth. An example would be an administrative function of the government who follow set procedures and rules with no room for creativity.

2. Order

This is probably the environment most of us consciously put ourselves in most days. Order is typically what we deem as the most desirable and it is characterised by predictable outcomes from predictable inputs, an easy to navigate environment and ultimately, comfort. Comfort is the most dangerous part of order because doing the same things prevents growth. An example would be doing the same daily route over and over again and obtaining the same results.

3. Complexity

The best environment for growth. The inputs can be controlled but the outcomes are unpredictable. It’s this unpredictability that makes us uncomfortable, thus we habitually seek to avoid complexity-based environments. An example would be pushing yourself to run a further distance than usual during a workout or trying a new type of running event like a quicksand special run.

Chaos is the opposite of stagnation and is characterised by unpredictable inputs and unpredictable outcomes. This is not an ideal environment for growth and chaotic situations are exceptionally difficult to navigate. Examples would be a natural disaster like a tsunami, a terrorist attack or a bridge suddenly breaking. Not ideal.

How can complexity help you grow and achieve your running goals?

As runners, we obviously don’t want to be stagnating or comfortable with what we’re doing.That way, we’ll stay at the same level and never push forward to break new records, smash our goals, or grow. Take for example always running fifteen miles a week on the same days, on the same terrain, at the same intensity every single week.

What’s likely to happen? You won’t become a better runner. You’ll stay at the same level, doing the same things that have got you where you are continually.

What’s the consequence of this? You won’t achieve your running goals and you most certainly won’t be expanding your limits or exploring how capable you’re far of going. In short, you’ll never know what you’re truly capable of in your running life and you’ll likely have unfulfilled potential.

“There is no heavier burden than an unfulfilled potential.”Charles Schulz.

Instead, we must seek environments that continually push ourselves beyond our limits as runners.

Any runner worth their salt will be consciously setting goals and trying to accomplish them. A goal is the object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result and should push in such a way that you become a better version of you in accomplishment of that goal.

Examples of running goals are:

  • Finishing a marathon in under four hours.
  • Running over 1000 miles in a year.
  • Finishing a 5K in under 20 minutes.
  • Run your first 10K, half-marathon or marathon.

A good goal will be one that takes considerable time and effort to accomplish and, as discussed above, the only way to accomplish goals will be to leave comfort and enter into an environment of complexity.

How can we weave complexity into our running lives?

In his presentation, Bill Eckstrom gives three ways that we can make complexity a staple of our daily lives and each of these can relate to running.  They are:

1. Forced

This is when complexity-based environments are selected for you and you have no choice but to grow. Think of this as a ‘gun to your head’ scenario where the alternative to not growing as a runner will end very badly. This isn’t an ideal trigger for complexity and doesn’t relate to running as much as the other two triggers.

An example may be that someone, let’s call him John, is told by their doctor that their physical health is bad and, if they don’t change things in a matter of months, they will likely be dead. The doctor might recommend that John takes up running (along with a healthy diet) to get into shape and prevent a premature demise.

2. Someone can help you get there.

Someone can help you get to complexity in your running life. This is anybody that helps you exit your comfort zone and embrace the unpredictable outcomes characterised by complex environments.

This can be done by a variety of ways in running.  Coaching, a friend recommending a new type of event to you and by taking on a running challenge (like the 4/4/48 challenge) with a colleague.

One of the best ways to use another person as a trigger for complexity is to participate in races. In races you are constantly responding to the external stimuli of other runners as you try your hardest to place as close to the front of the field as possible come the end of the race.

As you are uncertain of the outcomes (how you will perform and where you will place) and will likely be pushed in your ability, races make a great complexity based environment for growth as a runner.

3. Trigger complexity yourself

I think this is the best way to enter the environment of complexity for a runner. It means you are consciously choosing to exit your comfort zone and that you’re committed to growth in pursuing your running goals.

What are some practical ways you can avoid comfort and achieve you’re running goal?

There are many opportunities to put yourself in a state of discomfort so that you’re growing as a runner. Some examples are:

  • Run further than usual.
  • Vary the intensity of your workouts.
  • Participate in different running challenges.
  • Participate in different types of running events.
  • Try to constantly beat your personal bests for various distances.
  • Work both on speed and distance running.
  • Run in unpleasant conditions like rain, wind, and the cold.

Don’t seek comfort; seek complexity for running growth.

Consciously putting yourself in challenging situations like the above is an excellent means of getting uncomfortable and improving your running competence.

Ultimately, putting yourself into uncomfortable situations with unpredictable results is the only way to improve and grow as a runner. After seeking uncomfortable complexity, you’ll be on the road to smashing your running goals in no time.

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