You have probably been told the only way to grow is to "leave your comfort zone".
You've probably thought it through and understood how that makes sense.
You leave your comfort zone, you do something that is uncomfortable to do and at one point, it becomes comfortable.
It makes sense logically, but it sounds easier than it is.
Brianna Wiest said in an article titled You Will Not Grow Until You Learn to Tolerate Discomfort, "Discomfort is not inherently bad. Still, we avoid it because we think it signals something wrong."
Comfort is the essential word in this phrase of leaving the "comfort zone". Why would you ever want to leave the comfort zone and do something uncomfortable?
We always gravitate to things that we are comfortable with and we made it this far, why leave the comfort zone now?
The adapted zone
One way to look at it that might send the message to your brain is changing the wording of the phrase "comfort zone".
- The comfort zone is the adapted zone. Leaving the comfort zone means you are willingly stepping into something you aren't adapted for.
Our brains start over-analyzing and trying to gather as much information as possible when we step into a situation that we aren't familiar with.
Why else are we able to remember very small details of an event we attended years ago yet a day at work is as nonrememberable as sleep?
When we put ourselves in situations that are uncomfortable, we are either stressed, anxious or trying to distract ourselves from feeling that way and alternatively not feeling comfortable at all.
And maybe back when we were young every situation we were in, we were gathering information from. Because of this, we didn't necessarily have the capacity to feel discomfort. Only to take in everything.
That could explain how certain situations have always felt comfortable to us.
Makes sense, right? But so things that are uncomfortable now are things that we didn't learn?
Uncomfortable situations now are good for us. But that doesn't solve a single problem.
What do we do about that? Uncomfortable situations are things we've always avoided.
The answer to solving this problem of discomfort, is to sit with it. Look at it.
Look at the feeling of discomfort and see what it does to your body. Try and find where in your body you can feel it.
Once you've looked at it and really really understood what that feels like, imagine it as a meter or a percent. Maybe a social gathering puts the meter at 30%. Maybe an interview pushes it to 70%.
You might then say, "Ok, I'm in an uncomfortable situation and I see my discomfort. Now how do I get it to go away?"
The answer is not what you think, and it'll work nonetheless.
Challenge the feeling of discomfort
You're in an uncomfortable situation. Now what you do is you challenge it.
If you've imagined a meter or percent and you say, "I feel about 25% discomfort right now all over my body."
What you should then do is challenge it. Try and raise it.
- You're feeling 25% anxious or discomfort?
- See what you can do to get it to 50%.
Trying to keep it low and below a certain bar does worse for it than feeling it go up and pushing it to see that it won't go as high as you thought it would.
I'll use social anxiety as an example because this is something I've had trouble with in the past.
If you're at an event and you feel uncomfortable standing around not wanting to talk to people, you might already know what to do next.
Find someone to talk to. No, don't over analyze and try not to disrupt anyone. Don't look for ways to get into a comfortable conversation. Just go and jump into one that seems like it'll make you the most uncomfortable.
Go into a conversation with the people that you are most scared to talk to, the conversation that has the most people in it, whatever your fear is, look for it, and go to it.
While that's easier said than done, all it takes is this one trick then you'll never have that problem again.
Just remember, you're trying to push that anxiety meter way up.
What you need to understand, is what you are scared of is raising that discomfort.
When you are trying to raise it to 50% or 60%, you won't get there.
It's like expectations. There are times we didn't expect to have as much fun as we did. And the times when we expected to have a lot of fun, we didn't.
Before, when you've tried to push that percent down, you might have thought you can keep it at a constant 25% or 30%. But you lose control and that throws you deeper into discomfort.
But, when you try to raise it, when you expect to feel so much discomfort from doing something that you really really don't want to do, you'll notice that you can't get there.
When you take away that barrier, that line of what you want to stay below, and you try and raise it beyond that, you trying to push it up will only raise your expectations of how far up that meter you can get.
In this situation, you're doing something your body is familiar with, but your brain is not.
Your mentality being challenged in an uncomfortable situation is like exercise.
When you go to the gym, you lift weights, you do it until you can't anymore.
But what you may have forgotten, is your body told you to stop exercising early on.
You start working out, doing sets that push your limits, and your body starts telling you it's in pain. But you don't stop. You feel that pain, that discomfort, and you try and push it up more and more.
You don't leave the gym until you've decided to leave. Your body had no say in it.
If our bodies worked like our mentality, we would go to the gym and expect to be comfortable the whole time.
We would expect that we lift weights that we are comfortable with and stop when we start to feel pain or when we think the pain is coming.
Your mentality just sees it backwards because it's not in your body, it's not in that part of you that feels disconnected from your mind. It's inside your mind and it's scary.
But that scariness is the pain, and if we are looking to minimize the pain in a situation where we didn't expect to feel pain, that's an opportunity to work out our mentality and try to push it beyond for growth.
This idea of our mentality being able to act the same way as we would with going to the gym is something that was told to me not too long ago.
There have been a few situations where I've tried it and the reduction in discomfort was huge.
That feeling of challenging discomfort and trying to feel as much discomfort as possible really taught me a new way to look at it.
And hopefully, it does the same for you.