At the start of the COVID pandemic, I shared some thoughts on how growth and comfort don’t co-exist. I’ve continued my own work with that idea, and it has brought new levels of grounding, peace and joy to my everyday life. The practice has also decreased my stress levels.
So, of course I’m not going to keep all that to myself! Let’s explore.
The Paradoxes of Comfort
The vast majority of people prefer comfort over discomfort. If someone gave me the choice of a.) sitting on hot coals or b.) sitting in a comfy lounge chair, I would definitely choose “a.” There is certainly nothing wrong with comfort. It’s…well…comfortable. And we do need a certain amount of it to stay sane.
Yet. Comfort comes packaged with paradox. Two actually. Well, sort of. You’ll see.
Paradox #1: Comfort breeds fear.
What’s interesting about too much comfort is that it actually breeds discomfort, over time. It breeds fear. When you are comfortable most of the time—not stretching yourself, not trying new things, not facing the music—being uncomfortable becomes increasingly unbearable. And your ability to navigate discomfort dwindles. Which, of course, means that you’ll turn up the volume on your efforts to avoid discomfort, because you’re afraid of feeling uncomfortable.
You might think of it this way: If you want to hike the Grand Canyon, you might build strength ahead of the trip. The way we build strength is by challenging our muscles so they get stronger. We push them past the comfort zone. This process is uncomfortable. Anyone who has gone to lift weights at the gym for the first time in a while remembers that feeling of waking up 24-36 hours later and feeling very sore. Moving like the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz. You feel me on that one, right? Uncomfortable.
Yet, leaning into that discomfort empowers you to handle the Grand Canyon’s rough terrain. Or the rough terrain of life, like illness or family issues or getting fired or, say, a pandemic. Which leads us to paradox #2.
Paradox #2: Discomfort breeds freedom.
In essence, this paradox is the reverse of Paradox #1. The more willing you are to move outside your comfort zone and engage with discomfort—even seek it out—the more comfortable you become. You are freed from wanting things a certain way in order to be happy and comfortable. Because you’re undergoing a perspective change.
Feeling uncomfortable becomes a part of life, instead of the crappy stuff you desperately avoid as you scramble to resume comfort and ease. The truth? Discomfort is a reliable part of life whether we change our perspective or not. Discomfort—everything from a bad hair day to rain on our picnic to our kid in jail to a cancer diagnosis—is 100% guaranteed.
Maybe you’re thinking: “Well, that’s not true. What about those movie stars that are gorgeous and rich, who know all the right people and live in amazing homes and travel in private jets and go on fancy vacations and never have any problems?”
Actually, they likely even have more discomfort.
Movie stars still have bad hair days (look on the front page of any tabloid for verification on that one); rain doesn’t care if you’re famous or not; I would wager their kids (and them!) seem to end up in jail as much as the rest of us; and cancer doesn’t care if you’re famous or not. Plus, they have little privacy, get stalked by unbalanced people and operate under enormous social pressure.
So, a fair amount of discomfort for them too. So what’s a person—famous or not—to do?
A Discomfort Practice
Earlier, I mentioned “my practice” with discomfort. Perhaps you thought, “Well what the bleep does that mean?! How on earth do you practice discomfort?” Three words: By LEANING IN. Instead of leaning away from feeling uncomfortable and doing everything possible to numb it. Online shopping, Netflix binging, alcohol, drugs, over-working, or making sure you’re so busy that you never have one moment to BE with yourself. Instead of that, stop, lean in and engage.
I’m blown away by how often running from a feeling only serves to magnify it. To solidify it into some solid spectre that is waiting around the corner to ruin our day/week/life. So instead, I invite you to stop leaning away, turn and face the discomfort. What most often happens is that for a little bit, it flares up bigger as our mind catastrophizes the uncomfortable thing. Then, it starts to deflate. Maybe we only do a little at a time. Because, you know…it’s uncomfortable and all. But over time, our fear of discomfort loses its power over us. We are liberated from needing comfort in order to feel joyful.
Start small. Meaning, don’t start with talking to your sister-in-law about her mean-spirited jabs. Maybe you start with the discomfort of sitting and being quiet. Or perhaps you change your morning breakfast routine to be more healthy. Start small and build your muscle. The result? When life’s inevitable discomforts pop up, they’ll feel less like tsunamis and more like speed bumps.
Want more intel on discomfort? If you’d like to revisit last spring’s post on discomfort and growth, you can find that post HERE.
To your Empowered Well-Being,