“The best things in life are often waiting for you at the exit ramp of your comfort zone”. – Karen Salmansohn
It’s only human to like to be comfortable. Snacking on comfort food on a comfortable couch having comfortable conversations with people we are comfortable with sounds like a great way to spend an evening. It is. We should all have lots of those comfortable times. They are peaceful. They are restful. They are soothing. But those are not the times that will help us grow.
The Downside of Comfort
Our comfort zone is well-practiced and, well, comfortable. We don’t have to think about it. We just settle back into it, intellectually, emotionally and physically. It’s like a psychological recliner. But if our comfort zone isn’t about being our best self, our less than best self will remain our general state of being just because it’s comfortable; just because we have always been that way.
Even if it is uncomfortable, we can get comfortable with our discomfort because we are used to it. Think of an old chair that has a spring that digs into your back if you don’t sit in it just right. Whenever it’s the only chair available, you sit in it in such a way that you avoid the pointy spring. It just seems easier to contort your body than to expend the time and effort to take the chair apart to fix it. People, habits, environments, even physical aches and pains can be like that chair. It seems easier to accommodate them than to fix them.
Being a little uncomfortable is often important: When we get out of that psychological recliner, we have the opportunity to grow and be engaged in life.
Why you should get out of that comfort zone:
- Discomfort helps us grow: If we want to continue to grow, to teach for our true potential, we have to get out of that comfort zone and take some risks. Growing pains, feeling less than comfortable, tells us that we are working on our own development. Taking on new challenges and persisting in mastering them can show us what we are made of.
- It makes life more interesting: Other words for “comfortable” are routine, predictable and boring. At some point, what makes us so comfortable can also make us stagnant. Getting outside our comfort zone adds adventure and exploration to our life.
- It increases happiness: Researchers have found that experiencing new and novel things triggers the brain to release dopamine, an organic chemical that helps regulate the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Sometimes called the “feel good chemical”, it increases our awareness of rewards and motivates us to get busy and do more of what makes us feel good.
- It broadens our social world: We will not meet new friends or find love by staying on our comfortable psychological couch. Getting out into the world and doing things that are new and exciting is the best way to find new and exciting people.
- It’s deeply satisfying: Well, not at first. At first, it may be frightening. But when we stretch and discover that we accomplished something we doubted we could do, it is extremely satisfying.
Being uncomfortable, even in the service of all that good stuff, can be challenging, even scary. But there are ways to manage it.
- Identify the source: Put some thought into just what it is that is making you uncomfortable when you find yourself shying away from doing something new. For example: Do you need to feel absolutely competent to feel good enough? Are you afraid of being judged by others? Are you afraid of making mistakes? Once you understand the root of your discomfort, you can deal with it directly instead of avoiding all things that make you sit still.
- Positive self-talk: We do get what we expect. If we tell ourselves we can’t manage something, we probably can’t. Instead of repeating all the I can’ts, start giving yourself positive pep talks. Remind yourself that you have conquered other challenges, that being scared only means that you are doing something important, and that you do have what it takes to do whatever it is, one step at a time.
- Find a buddy: Sometimes it’s helpful to feel accountable to someone else to make good intentions into reality. People often enlist a running buddy to ensure that they will do go for that morning run. Others join a book club to make sure they read regularly. The same can be true for working on any goal. A buddy gives us someone to cheer us on when we’re discouraged and to celebrate with when we accomplish a goal.
- Embrace set-backs: There are lots of stories of famous inventors and thinkers who had multiple “failures” before they were successful. Edison didn’t make a light bulb on his first try. Even Einstein made mistakes. Often those mistakes and/or feedback from others lead us to the very thing we were looking for. Commit to learning from set-backs, not using them as a reason to give up.
- Be your best fan: It takes courage to take on something new. It takes finding the bravery to get out there even when scared. Take a moment to celebrate your willingness to tolerate being uncomfortable, It is an important part of healthy self-motivation. Celebrate every moment of growth, every positive change, every step toward your goals.
The good news is that once you practice doing something important even though it is uncomfortable, you will reach a new comfort zone.