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Choosing discomfort

The other day I did something crazy. I willingly paid money to stand inside a body chamber set to -230 degrees Fahrenheit.

I don't know what the weather is like where you live, but around these parts it's pretty nippy. The day I stepped in the chamber it was around 30 degrees outside. So I wasn't doing it to cool off. In fact I felt like I should be trying to stay as warm as possible.

The treatment is called cryotherapy, and it's a noninvasive way of lowering body temperature in order to reduce inflammation. I have a torn rotator cuff that causes persistent pain, and cryotherapy is supposed to help heal it.

To get maximum benefit, you need to stand inside the chamber with minimal clothing on. In fact, any injured areas should be completely exposed. For me this looked like a tee shirt, shorts, two pairs of gloves and two pairs of socks. My fingers and toes are unusually sensitive to cold, hence the extra layers.

Before I entered the chamber my brain went ballistic. It came up with every possible reason this was a terrible idea.

"If it gets unbearable, or you start to panic, I'll shut it off," the technician told me. That didn't help. It hadn't occurred to me I might also feel claustrophobic. Now my mind really put the brakes on.

But I did it anyway. I stood inside the chamber and watched the thermostat fall lower and lower. I felt gusts of cold air blast into the grey cylinder, and at first it was just chilly. Within a minute it turned frigid, and during the last 30 seconds the cold was so intense it began to feel like the prickly heat of frostbite.

I chose to be uncomfortable on purpose.

It reminded me of what it feels like to allow an urge. An urge is a strong desire for something that's not part of your plan. Like when you're really craving a chocolate chip, even though it's not part of what you decided to eat to lose weight.

Allowing an urge is not the same thing as resisting an urge. When you allow an urge you recognize the desire for the cookie without trying to push it away. Without distracting yourself, or using willpower to white knuckle your way through the temptation. When you let the urge just be there, and notice how you feel in the moment, you choose discomfort over the cookie.

You choose not to react with eating as a way to answer that desire.

What's the point? Well the pay off is huge.

When you learn to allow urges, and get comfortable with discomfort, you can decondition negative responses that may not be getting you the results you want. The more you practice not reacting to an urge, the easier it gets, and the less likely you are to even desire the cookie again.

Isn't that amazing? You can actually train your brain to not desire a glass of wine at 5 o'clock. If you work at, and it's your intention, you can also learn how to take the desire for alcohol away completely.

So there I was in cryotherapy, choosing discomfort on purpose. And guess what? After 24 hours the pain in my shoulder had reduced by about 50%. You can bet I'll be going back. And I already know the next time I step into the chamber it won't be nearly as hard.


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