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Discomfort Harvesting

When my wife and I first married, we splurged on an incredibly comfortable, open-cell, organic, bamboo memory foam mattress. It is the nicest bed I have ever slept in. And though it seemed incredibly expensive for us at the time, it has proven to be worth every penny. In an effort to cultivate gratitude, I sometimes think about some of the most powerful men who ever lived—kings, emperors, tzars, chiefs, pharaohs, and presidents--and how they all probably slept on straw, feathers, or something else that us modern folks would deem wildly uncomfortable. Despite all their influence and authority, Alexander the Great and Ghengis Khan never slept in a cozier bed than me.

When you zoom out a bit, that sentiment is true across all aspects of modern life. We are drowning in comfort and convenience, the likes of which our ancestors couldn't imagine. The kings of old had minstrels; we have mind-boggling films in Dolby Cinema 3D. A high-ranking general might travel by horse for months to reach their destination; we can enjoy a short and comfortable flight while streaming our favorite podcast. Unlike you, George Washington never enjoyed the ease of indoor plumbing--keep that in mind the next time you need to use the john at 2:00 am in the middle of February. It's hard to quantify how much easier, less stressful, and safer our lives are compared to people who lived just a few generations ago. For eight dollars, you can go to Chipotle and get a delicious, calorie-rich meal that would make your great-great-grandfather weep. This list could go on and on.

In his book, "Death by Comfort: How Modern Life is Killing Us and What We Can Do About It," neuroscientist, nutritionist, and exercise physiologist Paul Taylor argues that despite all of this convenience, we're not happier, healthier, or heartier. In fact, the exact opposite seems to be true; Taylor says, "Modern humans are the most overweight, depressed, medicated, and addicted cohort of adults that has ever lived, yet life has never been so good!" What is the reason for this seeming contradiction? Taylor's answer is simple: our lives are far too comfortable. Citing an enormous amount of scientific research, Taylor demonstrates that doing difficult things within appropriate boundaries is incredibly good for you. Essentially, anything you can physically do to yourself to make your body uncomfortable--exercise, fasting, exposure to extreme heat and cold, stretching, meditating, etc.--not only improves your quality of life, it actually up-regulates your biological systems on a molecular level.

Other advocates for embracing difficult activities to improve your overall health call this "increasing your discomfort tolerance." Taylor has coined a different term that I prefer. He calls engaging in these challenging activities "discomfort harvesting" because you reap such a massive benefit from partaking in them. When I think about my time at F3, this term accurately describes my experiences. The workouts are hard, both mentally and physically. It's hard to get up so early. It's hard to be out in the elements. It's hard to stay consistent. It's hard to return after illness or vacation has pulled you out of your routine. It's hard to keep everyone on the same page. Anyone who has ever posted knows these difficulties firsthand.

These challenges aren't merely anecdotal; you can see them in our yearly attendance data. So far, in 2023, F3 Ashland has welcomed 72 FNGs. 26 (36%) of those guys only came one time. That means over a third of the men we headlock into coming decide it's too hard after one workout. Of those 72 FNGs, only 9 (12.5%) have posted consistently. That is a considerable drop-off. Our statistics show that only slightly more than one out of every ten bros we recruit will be able to hang with us for an extended amount of time. This is not a judgment on those who do not stick; I understand that F3 isn't for everyone. This is simply a recognition that what we are inviting one another to do is very difficult.

However, the benefits of accepting the difficulties of F3 cannot be overstated. Truly, everything in my life is better when I submit myself to this kind of distress. I sleep better. I eat healthier. I have more energy. I get sick less often. I feel less stressed. I drink more water. I have less pain. I have more confidence, more friends, more resilience, and more joy in my life because F3 regularly invites me to harvest those things by embracing discomfort. Virtually everyone I know who frequently posts at F3 would say the same thing. F3 does not simply provide men discomfort for sadistic bragging rights; it provides an invitation to cultivate the best version of yourself by not shying away from hard things that make you stronger, healthier, and happier.

I wish more men would discover the incredible benefits of discomfort harvesting. I wish more men would resist the siren song of comfort that is slowly lulling us into atrophy and despair. I wish more men could find a wholesome community that would encourage and challenge them to get out of their historically cozy beds and step into the dark, cold, brutal beatdowns during the winter at F3. You gain so much good from shaking hands with that kind of hard. If you're reading this, I hope you consider joining us in the gloom. As my favorite Rabbi once said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few." -Moonshine

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