I’m saying that unfortunately the expression “step outside of your comfort zone” is sound advice; actually, not only sound, but wise. It’s something we should all be striving to do all of the time, damn the luck! But most of us face the prospect of being uncomfortable with the same level of enthusiasm we have for getting out of a warm bed on a cold day. That is to say, low-to-none.We may think that “stepping outside of our comfort zones” involves some kind of physical or financial risk—trying a daredevil activity or “spending money to make money”. While these are legit ways to stretch your parameters if they are available to you, the really important work of being uncomfortable is much more personal and intimate. And much braver, too—the truth is often not only inconvenient, but horribly uncomfortable.
We all understand theoretically that the ultimate goal of stepping into discomfort is an expanded consciousness about what is comfortable. We have so many arenas in life where fear is running the show; yes, we often have fears about money and personal safety, but we also have fears about emotional intimacy and self-advocacy. In fact, standing up for ourselves is the thing that probably makes the majority of us the most uncomfortable of all; asking for help is another “uncomfortable” position for many, many people.Emotional intimacy has always been a huge can of worms; now it has been made so much worse by the false intimacy the internet presents. To feel secure in vulnerability in your closest relationships is a challenge; we all fear being mocked, misunderstood or betrayed by the people we have opened ourselves up to. Now, in this era of what I will call “safe oversharing”, we see people all alone with their devices dumping their anger, frustration and loneliness onto their unsuspecting followers/”friends” for attention; if the sort of attention they receive is not to their liking? Block/Mute/Unfollow/Unfriend! This is false intimacy because it is actually just an exercise in control.
We cannot conduct healthy, thriving relationships from “a safe distance”; the screens that seem to bring us closer together are actually shutting us off from the deeper treasures of real bonding. We are using them as shields to deflect this gnawing anxiety we have about both being alone and being together. The paradox of the 21st century.The University of Virginia did a study a few years back that concluded, in part, that most people would rather receive an electrical shock than be alone with their thoughts. Yes, you read that right. So this obviously begs the question: what are we thinking about that is making us so damned uncomfortable? It seems to me that that if we would rather face a painful shock than our inner selves, there is a serious problem afoot.
Now, I have a confession that I believe that many of my fellow artists and writers will relate to: I am more comfortable being alone with my thoughts than perhaps anywhere else in the world. Being alone with my thoughts is my “happy place”. My thoughts are my friends; it’s the damned outside world that is interfering with my comfort zone.That is why I started putting my thoughts out into the world. Scariest thing I have done in my life, too. The fear of rejection; but for me, more importantly, the fear of ridicule. The fear of being told my thoughts are “wrong”. And yes, it happened. Everything I feared.
You know what? It was terrible at first, bordering on excruciating. And I won’t pretend there are never occasions anymore when it is not. But ultimately, do you know what challenging my comfort zone brought me? More bravery. A lot, lot, lot more, in truth. And more comfort! An expanded sense of what is comfortable.Look, like most people, I frequently find life exhausting. I often find people I love challenging. Sometimes everything, including “fun” and “love”, feels like “too much effort”. Does that sound even a bit familiar to you?
Now we face our chicken-and-egg: the reason we are so exhausted is because we hate the idea of being uncomfortable SO MUCH that virtually anything is preferable. And how are we “avoiding” discomfort? Yes, we soothe ourselves with that false intimacy of the internet, but way too many of us are walking on eggshells and in other ways being inauthentic with the people in our lives because we believe it will be “easier” than being honest and open.So how’s that working?
We need to pull our heads out of our smartphones and get real with ourselves about happiness. Frequently (usually) there is some barrier between us and what we think will make us happy, but we aren’t willing to challenge that barrier because we’re a) exhausted, b) it would be difficult and c) too much effort; RIGHT? So we settle in our comfort zones and call that happiness.But there is a greater happiness on the other side of the barrier—somewhere over the rainbow—a greater happiness in expanding our comfort zones so much that we actually welcome discomfort as a messenger and friend. Our discomfort tells us that there is more here than meets the eye and we should dig in. When we are willing to be uncomfortable, we are willing to GROW.
We are like houseplants, most of us, in a pot we have outgrown; but the stress, hassle and FEAR of repotting stops us in our tracks. You need room to breathe and expand and ironically that room can be found inside yourself. Step away from your devices every day and check in with how you are feeling. Don’t sedate discomfort with another game, another text or another glass of wine; ask it what it is trying to tell you and be willing to learn.Oh, the places you’ll go!