One of my favorite quotes of all time is “Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.”
That paints a lovely picture, doesn’t it? All we have to do is take one bold step past an imaginary line in our mind, and we’re well on our way to growth, success, happiness, or whatever we envision our dream life to include.
So, why then is it so hard to push past our comfort zone if we know that is where growth happens?
As a Society, We Have an Addiction to Comfort
Recently I was listening to the Jordan Harbinger Show, and he had Todd Kashdan on the podcast. Todd Kashdan is a Professor of Psychology and Senior Scientist at the Center for the Advancement of Well-Being at George Mason University and co-author of The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self — Not Just Your “Good” Self — Drives Success and Fulfillment.
About halfway through the episode, Todd began talking about how we, as a society, have become addicted to being comfortable. Todd explained,
“We can make ourselves comfortable by altering the temperature of the room, altering the comfort of our chair, choosing carefully manicured websites that match my political views, hang out with people that think like me and look like me. This is what people do in society.”
I had never really thought about it, but he was right. We all seek comfort in everything we do, whether we realize it or not.
He went on to explain,
“This cultural push to offer you strategies to be comfortable has made us weaker. If you don’t work out muscles, they atrophy. If you don’t exercise regularly, your bones become brittle. If your immune system isn’t tested by walking outside, it ends up being weakened. In the same way psychologically […] as we acquire more physical and emotional comforts and even handicaps to help us get through life, so we feel soft and comfortable and pleasurable all the time, we are mentally weaker when exposed to ambiguous and challenging situations.”
I don’t know about you, but that hit me like a sack of bricks.
There have been so many times that I have talked myself out of attending a networking event, declined a public speaking event, or skipped an exciting opportunity because I knew it would be uncomfortable, unpredictable, and challenging.
I didn’t want to live like that anymore, so I decided to overcome my addiction to comfort and you can too.
Whenever you find yourself tempted to say “no” to something uncomfortable, even though deep down you would like to try it, or when you feel like backing out of something you already committed to, ask yourself these three questions:
1. “What will I gain from this opportunity?”
The idea behind this question is to start with the end in mind. In other words, look for the reward in the opportunity instead of focusing on the risk. Most of the time, doing something beyond our comfort zone will teach us something new, make us more confident, or take us closer to a larger goal we’re trying to achieve.
I’m deathly afraid of sharks, so I said I would never, ever go scuba diving, but a close friend talked me into it a few years ago.
I asked myself “What will I gain from this?” and the answer was “a once in a lifetime experience.” Not only was it a once in a lifetime experience, but overcoming that fear gave me the confidence to try more new things in life.
Someday I would love to be able to share my Daily New Year’s message in front of an audience of 10,000 people. Right now, the timing isn’t quite rightbecause I lack speaking experience, but that doesn’t stop me from building towards that goal.
When someone approaches me with a speaking opportunity, I tell myself that it will take me closer to my larger goal and that it will help build my confidence in speaking. I can step out of my comfort zone because the reward is far greater than the discomfort.
2. “What’s the worst that could happen?”
For many of us, our addiction to comfort comes from fearing the unknown, or not knowing what will happen down a challenging path. I picked this tip up from Tim Ferris: the practice of fear setting can help you break free of your comfort zone and realize there is nothing to fear.
Write down the worst possible outcome of whatever it is you’re afraid to do. Then, write down how you would respond to that situation. It’s an eye-opening exercise, but through it, you’ll find that you can survive just about anything life throws your way.
Maybe you’re suffering a job that you hate. What would happen if you started searching for a new job? Maybe your boss finds out and fires you. Then what would you do? You would probably hit the job search even harder. What if you couldn’t find a new job? You could always file unemployment for a short while or turn to family for help.
As you work through the fear setting exercise, you will find that you can come up with a solution for nearly any situation. Sure, maybe you wouldn’t want to file for unemployment or ask your family for help, but you would survive the situation.
Better yet, you would no longer be in the job you hated, and you would have the freedom to look for a better one.
3. “Where will I be in 5 years if I take the easy route?”
This is a question that opened my eyes, because it helped me realize that, staying in my comfort zone only led me to more of the same. As Henry Ford once said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
Avoiding discomfort may feel okay today, but where will that lead you tomorrow? What about the next day, week, month, or year? How about five years from now?
Deep down, you know you are meant for more, so when you make these seemingly tiny compromises and decisions to avoid discomfort, these choices compound over time and lead to a life of dissatisfaction and disappointment.
That’s heavy but true.
I always feel instant disappointment in the pit of my stomach when I back down from a challenge. It’s a feeling that says “you avoided the discomfort, but you also sacrificed your growth.” Without personal growth, we would all be the same person that we are today five years from now. Who wants that?
A Challenge to Overcome Comfort
As people, we’re meant to grow, improve, and live purpose-driven lives, and when we don’t do those things we struggle to be happy.
So as difficult as it might be, I want to challenge you to start overcoming your addiction to comfort today. Identify one thing that you’ve been avoiding, or putting off, and ask yourself these three questions:
- “What will I gain from this opportunity?”
- “What’s the worst that could happen?”
- “Where will I be in 5 years if I take the easy route?”
Please consider dropping your answers in the comments below. I’d love to know if this article is having a positive impact.
If you find the idea of sharing your challenge uncomfortable, maybe this would be the perfect time and place to step out of your comfort zone.