Discomfort and Growth

Comfort isn’t just physical—it’s a state of mind, and a dangerous one that makes it easy to stay put. When you’re comfortable, you’re not challenging the world around you or even engaging with it; you’re simply blending in.

A slight level of discomfort creates a completely different mindset, one in which you’re eager to move and create. You become inquisitive; you explore and invent. Your role shifts from passive observer to active participant.

Many of us have become so comfortable in our lives that we’ve forgotten exactly HOW to make ourselves uncomfortable. To help ignite your excitement about this idea, I thought I’d share a few strategies on how to do this.

1. Break a Routine

Routines are comfortable and mindless, which can often be a good thing. But when you want to break out of the comfort zone, you have to first break your routine. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be anything huge. Tiny little changes are enough to snap your brain back into focus. Remember, it’s all about engaging with the world around you. A slight shift in your routine is usually enough to re-engage the brain. Try simple things like taking a new route to work, or using a different phone greeting, or scheduling your morning tasks for the afternoon instead. Notice how these small changes make you feel more alert and present.

2. Follow a Dream

We all have secret little daydreams we like to think about but never follow through on. It’s time to bite the bullet and just go for it. Start that new hobby you’ve always thought about (skydiving anyone?). Take that big trip you’ve been “planning” since childhood. There’s no better time to confront your fear and accomplish something you’ve always dreamed of. It might be scary at first, but I promise you it won’t last long. And the feeling of pure bliss and pride that comes once you’ve done it will last the rest of your life.

3. Choose “Right” Over “Easy”

When you make this choice, you’ll never regret your actions. Do the things you know you should do but don’t want to. Sure, it’ll be hard to get started. But once you do—more often than not—you’ll realize that it’s not as bad as you thought it would be. So grab your workout gear and head over to the gym. Agree to go to that upcoming networking event. Pick up the phone and call your mother for goodness sake! This is the kind of discomfort that indicates progress. Remember that the “right” thing to do isn’t always the “easy” thing.

4. Fall in Love Again

If you want to experience the sheer joy of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, you’ll take me up on this suggestion. Nothing makes you feel more alive than rediscovering something you once loved. Maybe you used to go dancing with your ex but gave it up when you split. Get back in the ballroom! What activities did you love as a kid? Perhaps you should tap into that childlike enthusiasm and pick up painting or soccer or tickling. If you used to love it, chances are you still will. It might feel awkward at first but then, you’ll fall right back into it just like riding a bike. In fact, maybe a bike ride is exactly what you need to push past your current comfort zone.

Comfortable situations don’t inspire growth; they encourage complacency. Whether you’re looking at your job, your relationship or your physical state of being, when you slip into comfortable territory, you’ll inevitably stagnate. So venture out of your comfort zone now and again, and rediscover how good discomfort can feel.

Chrissy Scivicque is a writer, nutritionist and career coach. You can find her at EatYourCareer.com, a blog dedicated to helping you create a nourishing professional life.

photo courtesy of Simon Hucko

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Comment & Add Your Voice

Brian July 29, 2010 at 11:55 am

Great post Chrissy! Personal growth happens by going outside the edge of your comfort zone. I think it is important to keep in mind that if you go too far out of your comfort zone, you can be overwhelmed and discouraged. So if this happens, step back and try something a little bit closer to the comfort zone, and over time you can continue to grow by pushing the boundaries.

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Brenda Freeman July 29, 2010 at 2:49 pm

Great post. As someone who learned to get uncomfortable and make real changes to her life quite a few years ago, I really related to this post.

I especially liked “Falling in Love Again”. When my children were born, there were many things i gave up doing. Not that I regretted that at all – being a mother is fantastic. Now they are adults, I have revisited some of those loves, and having a wonderful time being uncomfortable again :)

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Cindy July 29, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Great post! These small changes end up turning into big changes. I wrote about this same topic just a few days ago: http://beautycharmandadventure.blogspot.com/2010/07/get-out-of-your-comfort-zone.html

Great minds think alike? ;)

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debbieann July 29, 2010 at 6:39 pm

This really resonates for me – both the post and the first comment.

We had a great life in SF, I loved the city SO much, but it was comfortable and easy and we wanted a challenge. So we moved to Bangalore India. We wanted to get out of our comfort zone. I had a great insight about 6 months in when the electricity wasn’t working, and the internet wasn’t happening and my life was reduced to trying to pay bills. It is not comfortable outside of your comfort zone.

Now I am in Sydney -back in the comfort zone. I am glad I had the experience of Bangalore – no words on the screen can match real life in India, and I learned many many things that I could not have learned staying in SF.

I’m ready to try another out of my comfort zone experience, but it was good to have some time to recover.

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Anita July 30, 2010 at 8:34 am

You’ve made an excellent point with #1 Chrissy. I’ve always had this ‘rule’ to break my habits periodically for the same reaason you mention.

But also to make sure that when life throws you a ‘curved ball’ and I can’t keep my habit for whatever reason – there isn’t that debilitating discomfort that usually comes with not doing what you always do.

Also #4 is a very good way to create a little bit of excitement. It’s so important to know that you don’t have to always do what you’ve always done. It’s never too late to do something new! That’s such an empowering belief :)

Thanks again for a great post.

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Chrissy @ Eat Your Career July 30, 2010 at 2:03 pm

Thanks for your comments, everyone!

@Brian – great point you make about doing it slow and taking baby steps.

@Brenda – it’s wonderful that you’re spending your time “falling in love again” now that your kids are adults…I can only imagine you have MUCH more free time available :)

@Cindy – thanks for sharing the link to your post…great minds think alike

@Debbieann – OMG! SF to India?? That’s a huge change. You really pushed yourself and I’m sure you gained a ton of the experience. But you’re so right…I should have added something to this article about time to recover. Pushing yourself too hard too fast can lead to burnout for sure. Thanks for sharing your story!

@Anita – yes, it is an amazingly empowering feeling when you realize that YOU are the one in control and you can always change things at any moment. Great insight.

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Matt Hooper July 30, 2010 at 9:38 pm

I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed this post and I included in my weekly roundup of articles that I found throughout the week that intrigued me. If your interested you can see this week’s “Five for Friday” here: http://bit.ly/aqGxek

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Steve Errey - The Confidence Guy August 1, 2010 at 8:48 am

A subject close to my heart and some great points. The lure of the comfort zone is a powerful one, but it’s only in that sweet spot of exhilaration and terror that growth happens, and that’s exactly where natural confidence grows too.

#4 and #4 jumped out particularly. The number of people who choose to be right rather than happy never ceases to amaze me, just as people leave behind the things they love because it means leaving their comfort zone to engage with them. Crazy.

Here’s to changing it.

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Deborah Wall August 1, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Love this post because I’m in the middle of uncomfortable at the moment and it was a great reminder to ride it for all it’s worth.

Thanks

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wilson usman January 4, 2011 at 7:34 pm

Love this post. I remember when I sold vacuums door to door. They use to say “if you want to be like the top salesman you need to get out of your comfort zone”

Basically they would draw a picture on the wall with a dot in the middle of the circle, the ones that made the sales were those outside the circle. It took me a while but I slowly got out of the circle.

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leomax5h August 12, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Brilliant article. I have done many workshop where the recommendation was to get out of your comfort zone.

All the way from the forum to weird stuff I don’t want to mention.

But the argument against it has been to be careful about being compulsively out of my comfort zone. I have done that too. Like constantly always thinking outside of the box and not getting things done in a stable, familiar, comfortable manner. There has to be a balance that comes with time. I have noticed that I need to do what is “necessary” be in comfortable or not. I used moodgym for a while and it was very tedious and uncomfortable. That threw me off track. Then I tried http://www.clarifylife.com and I like it because they try to make it comfortable. The most comfortable personal growth technique has been the forum posting, as long as I get feedback.

But this whole thing is counter-intuitive for me. After all comfort is a value. And going after discomfort is not something sustainable in the long run. But I am not saying that shying away from discomfort is the way to go. Just that we can’t get to “comfortable” with it.

Again I see the merits but I got of the track and it triggers me when I hear this message.

Keep up the good work.

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mikerouten January 16, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Thanks for the post Chrissy! All too often we find ourselves on auto-pilot in the middle of our comfort zone. This is a great reminder to turn off the auto-pilot and take the wheel once in a while.

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