I see a lot of messages out there telling us we have to get out of our comfort zones. While there is truth to that, it’s not the whole story. Contrary to what some of the memes say, I don’t believe that everything good exists outside my comfort zone.
I get frustrated when there’s pressure to always be pushing ourselves to be uncomfortable. Yes, incredible value comes from being uncomfortable sometimes. Discomfort is part of growth. It’s part of life. And there’s value in our comfort zones as well.
I like spending time in my comfort zone. There’s so much good stuff there. I am comfortable snuggling on the couch with my dog and a good book. I am comfortable walking through the woods in my local park. I’m comfortable enjoying my favorite meal.
Of course, there are plenty of coping habits that exist in my comfort zone that maybe aren’t the most healthy or most helpful, but there’s a reason I do those things. I don’t think it’s kind or supportive to force ourselves to let go of the things we use to feel safe without something else to take their place.
Part of the goal of stretching outside our comfort zones is to practice things that will benefit us in some way until they become part of how we live our lives. We want the things that feel like a scary stretch to become more comfortable. Just because we’ve practiced something enough that it no longer feels so uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s become any less worthwhile.
The idea of needing to try to exist outside my comfort zone all the time sounds exhausting and miserable. I don’t want to live my life like that.
Even the intensity of trying to stretch too far outside my comfort zone for a little while can have the opposite effect of what’s intended. If it feels like too much and I don’t have the support to handle it, I’m likely to go running back to my comfort zone to hide out for a while so I can recover.
At the same time, if I never venture outside my comfort zone I miss out on so much. I never get to try anything new, never get to meet new people, and life becomes stagnant. I don’t want to miss out on things just because I’m afraid they’ll be uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be all one or all the other.
We can stretch and grow our comfort zones by venturing outside the edges. With time and practice, some of the things that seemed way out there will start to feel closer. All the while we know we have more comfortable places to come back to for rest, replenishment, and enjoyment.
What’s something you love inside your comfort zone? What’s something outside of it that you want to stretch toward?
Reasons to stretch into discomfort
I have this long held, deeply entrenched belief that I am working on shifting that tells me that if I’m doing something that’s enjoyable or easy then that means I must be bad. I’m wrong. I’m selfish. I’m lazy.
That can make it pretty difficult to spend any amount of time in my comfort zone without feeling a lot of guilt. From conversations I’ve had with other people, I don’t think I’m the only one.
When I take a moment to question that belief, I don’t actually think it’s true. I don’t believe it’s inherently more righteous to suffer.
Yes, there is a difference between choosing to spend time in our comfort zone for enjoyment, rest, or replenishment, and hiding out there because we want to avoid anything that’s uncomfortable. At the same time, it’s ok to give ourselves a break once in a while.
More helpful than trying to decide what our level of discomfort means about us, is deciding what is worth being uncomfortable.
We’re much more likely to be able to stick with it through the discomfort and really grow something of value if we are stretching towards something that we actually want. It’s much harder to stretch because we think we should or that somehow generally being uncomfortable makes us a better person.
I also want to acknowledge that sometimes there are things we don’t necessarily want to do but they need to be done—making the phone call, scheduling the appointment. Avoiding them is going to cause more problems.
Where can you listen for the call of curiosity? Where can you listen for your longings? What’s that difference between forcing yourself into discomfort because you hope it will make you better and stretching yourself in a way that helps you really experience the fullness of life?
Supporting ourselves as we stretch
We can’t—and don’t necessarily even want to—avoid all discomfort. We can, however, make being uncomfortable a little easier.
Acknowledge that it’s uncomfortable
Sometimes when we’re pushing ourselves to do something scary we try to convince ourselves that there’s no reason to be afraid. What? It’s not a big deal. What’s wrong with you? Why are you feeling all stressed out about it? That person over there isn’t having problems.
If we are stretching outside our comfort zone for any reason, then we’re outside our comfort zone. It’s going to feel scary or stressful. We might be nervous or uncertain. We might get frustrated or even angry.
Trying to convince ourselves that we do not feel those things doesn’t actually change how we feel. It just denies our experience, which doesn’t tend to be helpful. Instead we can tell ourselves something along the lines of, I see that this feels hard. I see that you’re frustrated, scared, and not quite sure what to do. I also see you willing to try.
Break things down into smaller steps
Often the things that feel like a stretch are unfamiliar or vague. The uncertainty of what all is involved or how we’re going to get there can start to feel overwhelming.
We don’t need to put pressure on ourselves to have it all figured out and get everything done instantly. If we break it down into smaller steps, we can concentrate on what’s next. Focusing on the next step and letting that be enough for right now makes it a lot easier to start making progress.
Pay attention to where we are in each moment
With each step we can ask, What’s here? How am I feeling? What do I need? What am I learning?
Paying attention as we move into unknown territory allows us to figure things out as we go. It gives us a chance to notice options we weren’t aware of before we got to this point. We might realize where lessons and skills from previous experiences can help us in this new situation.
We don’t need to know exactly how to get to our end goal because at every point we can reassess, Here I am. What’s next?
Also, don’t forget to take a moment to celebrate. Even if you’re still far from where you want to be, try celebrating each step you take. Look back at all the steps you’ve taken so far. You’ve gotten here. You’re still here. You’re still showing up. Celebrate that.
How do you support yourself? What is helpful for you when you’re trying to stretch into something that maybe feels uncomfortable?