Think for a moment about the biggest problems in your life. Fearing to start something new. A lack of stamina to accomplish something. Procrastinating to find a new job. Avoiding disputes.
Almost all these problems share the following: You are afraid to leave your comfort zone, because it is uncomfortable.
Discomfort is not a real pain, but the feeling you have, when you leave your comfort zone. Quitting smoking, eating less chocolate, being in time, saying no, cleaning-up, stopping to pee standing up or getting regular exercise is uncomfortable.
And most people don’t like discomfort; remain in their comfort zone – despite the fact that the consequences are often even more uncomfortable.
Why is that?
If you are often reluctant to leave your comfort zone, the comfort zone remains as a safe heaven, but it is only a very small part of life. Often, the best part of life is outside and remaining in the comfort zone has consequences:
- If you don’t dare to get to know someone, you’ll probably stay alone.
- If you don’t detach yourself from your mum, you do not become a grown-up adult.
- If you never say no, you get utilised.
- If you don’t live healthy, you get ill earlier or more seriously.
- If you watch too much TV, you’ll get fat and immobile.
- If you don’t go to medical check-ups in time, you risk that a disease remains undiagnosed.
- If you spend more than you earn, you get into the debt trap.
Here is an „easy“ solution:
Reconcile with your discomfort.
I discovered that already as a young man. I had a comfortable job selling insurance policies. Two hours a day I was talking to people and for about half I got a signed contract. These were the golden times of the insurance business. That has changed completely.
I was earning good money, but after two years of this “work” I was bored. Always the same procedures, always the same boring team meetings. There were no challenges and I was unhappy.
I knew what I would prefer to do: To study psychology. But I didn’t have A-levels. In order to study I would have to do A-levels first. That was one of the most difficult decisions in my life:
- To go back to school for 2.5 years
- Instead of two hours of talking a little, six hours of lessons and homework in the afternoon
- Translate again Caesar’s The Gallic wars. To deal again with hated math problems, the reason I had left school
- Move away from my beloved Heidelberg, to the Franconian Nürnberg, because that was where there was a college
- Convince my then wife to leave her beloved university in Heidelberg to continue her studies in Erlangen
- Live of 210 € instead of the easy life with enough money.
Then I didn’t know the term of leaving ones comfort zone. But alone imagining the above mentioned consequences did indeed feel very uncomfortable. And the whole thing was not just for six weeks or four months – but for 2.5 years!
The discomfort wasn’t imagined either. It was really hard. And when I finally got my A-levels after 2.5 years, the discomfort didn’t stop. My marks weren’t good enough for the numerus clausus in psychology and I would have to wait at least one year!
I spent this year in a Kibbuz in Israel, because I didn’t have money and had to work. I was accepted at university when I was 28 years old.
As mentioned, the most difficult decision in my life. And I did it.
How do you befriend the discomfort?
Suffering isn’t the most appropriate one. Many people rather suffer than change anything. Suffering becomes familiar over time and becomes part of the comfort zone.
The most important thing is, not to avoid feelings of discomfort, but to observe them; self-awareness helps you in this process.
Whenever you leave your personal comfort zone and feelings of discomfort crop up, sit down and consider your feelings.
You will realize: It is not that bad. The world keeps turning. You survive. The “suffering” is bearable.
The worst part is imaging beforehand what will happen as well as the first few minutes. You have to get through those. After you get used to the uncomfortable feelings, they become weaker – and sometimes other, more pleasant feelings appear.
Already children struggle with leaving the comfort zone as shown in the famous marshmallow experiment by Walter Mischel:
That’s how it is with many things, you want to change. It doesn’t matter, if you want to start something or quit something. To finally start filling in the tax return instead of procrastinating further. Going to the over-due appointment at the dentist. The annoying presentation. The weekly housecleaning.
To arrange yourself with the discomfort or even to befriend it, is the most important prerequisite to change many things in your life
How to leave the comfort zone more easily
If you learn how to deal differently with the feelings of discomfort, there are hardly any boundaries in your life. No skill is more important.
Here some tips from my own experience:
1. Start small. Try for 30 seconds. Assume you want to start running. Or eating without reading or watching TV at the same time. Start with 30 seconds and get to know the feeling of discomfort.
2. Immerse yourself in the feeling of discomfort. Assume you are sad, dejected, angry or frustrated. Instead of avoiding these feelings and distracting yourself, immerge yourself in them. Accept that you have these feelings. For instance procrastination: Start with the task that you have procrastinated again and again. Do it for 30 seconds and experience the discomfort of it. What exactly is uncomfortable? Is it a big pain? Are you still ok?
3. Get used to the discomfort. Expose yourself every day to this challenge. Search for uncomfortable things – and bring them behind you. Talk to strangers. Say no. Get more exercise. Avoid unhealthy food. Be honest.
4. Observe what you are trying to escape. What did you avoid so far because it is hard work and uncomfortable? What problems are caused, because you don’t want to leave your comfort zone? What are your favourite excuses? Observe that carefully and think about how to stop this process. Step by step.
5. Only resistance makes us grow. You don’t get muscles lying in a hammock. Only if you put on more weights in the gym, do your muscles realise they need to build more muscle tissue. Discomfort is not your enemy. It shows you the way. Leaving your comfort zone proves to you that you are alive – and that you are growing.
PS: In the above mentioned marshmallow experiment the then four year olds were revisited 15 years later. Something remarkable was observed.
The longer the children had waited in the original experiment, the more competent they were as teenager socially and at school. Moreover, they could deal better with stress and frustration and were better in resisting temptations.
Leaving you comfort zone is guaranteed to benefit your life.
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Photo: © Mikael Damkier, Fotolia.com, privately
This article is based on this blopost from Leo Babauta,
to which I added my own thoughts.