When I first started reading self-help books in my late teens/early twenties, I noticed a common theme: the idea that, to grow, you have to step out of your comfort zone.
As the old adage goes, “If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get what you’ve always got”.
It’s simple & powerful advice, and I’ve dished it out myself many times to clients and students on workshops.
But it’s also advice that’s quite hard to internalise.
Because…you know…comfort is…well…comfortable!
It feels good to wrap ourselves up in cotton wool and stick with the familiar.
And it can sometimes range from awkward to terrifying to step outside of it.
Fast forward 16 years from reading this basic self-help advice and I’m standing in front of an extremely intimidating looking camera, stumbling and stuttering through a story that I’ve told with relative ease to live audiences close to a hundred times.
I’d been asked to record a video-based training course with a student in a studio, and the level of challenge it was presenting had taken me by surprise.
What would normally have been a simple explanation had been transformed by the camera lens into a challenge akin to running a marathon.
5 minutes on camera suddenly felt like 45 minutes as I proceeded to wade through a lecture like I was trudging through quicksand.
Out. Of. Comfort. Zone.
The 4 words that accurately described my experience.
In the background of my mind though, 4 different words could also be heard:
Exactly. What. You. Need.
In the foreground, what I was experiencing felt distinctly unpleasant, but somewhere in the distance a more important voice was presenting an alternative perspective.
It was making me aware of a simple truth:
I had been playing life way too safe, and that this, albeit challenging activity, was a well overdue learning experience.
Deep down I knew that the discomfort would be temporary, but the gains that would come from doing something different would be permanent.
And that’s the thing about comfort zones: it feels lovely to be in them, but when we don’t step out of them we miss out on all kinds of important life learnings.
Your relationship with comfort…
So how is your own relationship with comfort?
What happens when you move out of it?
Or when it disappears completely?
When you’re thrown, pulled, dragged, or voluntarily step, out of your comfort zone, even if it’s only temporary, how do you cope?
Do you thrive?
Do you feel a sense of excitement?
Or do you melt faster than a blancmange in a microwave?
Maybe you don’t even get that far.
Perhaps you’ve become so adept at organising life around the avoidance of discomfort that you rarely go out without the metaphorical safety blanket.
I think the relationship you have with “comfort” is an essential one when it comes to your personal development, your chances of success, and your on-going sense of fulfilment in life.
A common theme I’ve noticed over the years that stops people from taking the kind of action they need to take is the belief that things always need to feel good before they start.
That they need to be entirely comfortable with the situation before it can proceed.
That the conditions must to be nigh-on-perfect before they begin.
In other words: they need to feel comfortable before they do something.
When you get down to it though, most of the time, due to the organic, unpredictable nature of life, it rarely works out that way.
It’s in the wrong order.
It’s generally the experience of doing something that makes us fully ready, that creates the comfort, not the other way around.
We can certainly manage these levels of discomfort so that they don’t overwhelm us, but at some point there will inevitably be a threshold we have to cross – or, of course, be pulled over kicking, spitting and screaming.
If you’re going to do something meaningful it will bring with it a certain degree of challenge.
You will be judged, stretched, thrown into new situations, and hence, by default you’re going to be out of your depth. You’ll find yourself out of your comfort zone.
If you roll with it though, extending an olive branch to the inevitable discomfort, you can start to appreciate the meaning it offers in the long term: the worthwhile and long-lasting learning it will most likely provide.
It might not seem like it at the time, but the discomfort we feel when we step out of our natural habitat is not our enemy: it’s one of the pre-requisites of significant and meaningful learning.
It’s a sign that you’re stepping into unknown territory and having some kind of new and potentially enriching experience.
It’s a gift, not a cross that we have to bare.
Changing your relationship with the Unknown…
When we make this shift in our thinking, the act of moving out of our comfort zone can start to look – and feel – a whole lot different.
All of sudden, the discomfort we feel in these situations can be seen as a resource: a vital cog in the machine that makes up part of the journey towards the achievement of our goals and dreams.
When I look back to 3 years ago, standing in front of that camera for the first time, I would never of thought I’d go on to produce over 100 hours of video-based learning content.
If I was to be totally honest, in that moment, I would have been happy to simply manage a 5-minute video without verbally falling to pieces.
But that’s often the way of it when we embark on a new experience:
We try. We fail. We learn. We try again.
Then eventually, after trial and error, something pretty cool comes out the other end.
So as we rapidly move towards the end of the year, how would you like to define your relationship with “comfort” and “the unknown” moving forward?
How much “comfort” do you plan on being comfortable with?
And how much “discomfort” do you plan on being okay with?
Maybe you’ll decide to step into the unknown more, to expand your comfort zone and become a more resourceful and rich person.
One specific tactic you can use is to do 3 things each week that would make you step out of your comfort zone.
They don’t have to be the scariest things that you can imagine. Just things that you would find mildly challenging.
By continually stretching yourself in this way, you start to increase your threshold for difference; it becomes easier to step into the unknown and even quite thrilling.
And over time, the benefits you’ll experience as a person will be immeasurable. You’ll become more confident, cultured, flexible, and resourceful.
Why not give it a go and start today.
Who knows, maybe you’ll even become “comfortable” with the uncomfortable?
Now there’s an interesting thought.
All the best,
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