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The Benefits to Being Uncomfortable

It’s mid-week, and I’m still mentally turning over River Run Dry’s post from Monday, which means I should probably write about it and get it out of my brain.  Like Karen, I also don’t like to be in that uncomfortable place outside my comfort zone.  She explains,

I have a card that I taped to my office wall which reads: Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. I bought the card a while ago, when I was feeling uncomfortable about all the uncertainty I was feeling about work and this coming fall, because I liked the idea that there’s some good that comes from being uncomfortable.

The good from being uncomfortable.  Don’t we need that?  Because the alternative is that there is no benefit to being uncomfortable; that being outside your comfort zone or going through something difficult is a pointless aspect of life that we all must deal with from time to time, and it serves no purpose other than to fill the reality of chance.  Every life will be filled with easy and difficult moments.

Well, that isn’t a cheery thought, is it?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I am outside my comfort zone.  I’ve zig zagged off paths I want to be on for what amounts to poor reasoning upon reflection, and I’ve ended up outside my comfort zone.  Knowing that means I can move back into my comfort zone; I just needed to get to this place to realize where I want to be vs. where I’ve ended up.  But… returning to that quote, it means THIS is a better place because it’s where life begins.

This uncomfortable place that doesn’t really fit; that pinches and tugs at me.

If you asked me before I read that quote, I would say that the only benefit to being uncomfortable is that it gives you the motivation to change and move forward to get out of the uncomfortable place.  But that quote has been nagging me because it implies that we should always aim to operate outside of our comfort zone.  Even if we do our best work or our happiest work — our best or happiest living — inside our comfort zone.

Three out of the four of us in this house are in flux.  Josh is thankfully our anchor, happily in the zone at the moment.  But the kids are starting a new school and new routines in another month.  It makes me ill when I think too long and hard about it, so I’ve been ostriching this summer and pretending that the start of school is always going to be a month away.  I am in flux with projects and… life.  For lack of a better word, life, because it feels like too many things are all swirling around me, close enough to see but not slow enough to easily grab.

I’ve learned that I don’t like being out of my comfort zone.  I don’t thrive here.  I don’t hum.  Sure, it has helped me to take a step back so I can look at the big picture and think to myself, “Yes, I need to go here, here, and then here to get back to my comfort zone.”  But that, you see, is the goal.  To get back to my comfortable spot so I can do my best work, my happiest work, when it comes to writing.  I want to get back to cherishing and maintaining my friendships better.  I want to read more and better use the hours of my day.

So I keep turning over the quote.


1 nicoleandmaggie { 08.03.16 at 11:23 am }

Different strokes for different folks.

I start feeling depressed and bored if I’m not constantly stretching outside of what is comfortable (in my work life, not personal life). I will never be happy. https://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/ambition/

The other half of my blog, otoh, would be perfectly happy reading novels for pleasure all day every day.

2 noemi { 08.03.16 at 11:45 am }

I’ve been thinking about this since I read it too, tying it in to the 10,000 hour rule/idea that you have to be practicing intentionally and always out of your comfort zone to become really good at something. I suppose it makes sense that life would be the same way. I definitely think you need to be outside your comfort zone to grow. I grew more during our struggles to get pregnant and loss than I ever have before or since, because it was so uncomfortable and so difficult. I also grow a lot through parenting because I am constantly uncomfortable, my kids stretch my tolerance levels every day (every minute?!) in every way. I know I’m going to be really uncomfortable at work this year, but I’m hoping to also grow as a teacher, to work on my classroom management skills (I’m going to have some tough situations on that front) and to become more flexible as I co-teach a big class for the first time. So yeah, that post came at a good time for me, I like going into all this discomfort feeling like something good might come out of it, if I have the right attitude and put in the right effort.

3 torthúil { 08.03.16 at 12:58 pm }

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be comfortable. Like above commenter suggested, I think some of it has to do with personality: some people feel they are at their best when they are relaxed and comfortable, and others when they have a bit of tension. In my case, I can handle some tension and discomfort, in fact it’s a normal part of many things I attempt, and because I tend to be anxious lots of things make me uncomfortable. However, I need to have my secure base. So for example, I can handle some tension at work, and being out of my comfort zone, but then I need to be able to come home and be comfortable. When I think about my life decisions, I have tried my best to arrange things so that I have that place of safety and comfort, and I’ve never regretted it.

4 Ana { 08.03.16 at 1:14 pm }

I think there is good discomfort—when you are rising to a challenge or learning something new vs. the kind of discomfort that might ultimately help you grow but really freaking sucks when you are going through it and you wouldn’t wish that “lesson” on anyone.
And I think its very normal to want to get back to comfort—even those that thrive on some kinds of discomfort need to have their home base of comfort.

5 chris { 08.03.16 at 2:08 pm }

I think it depends on the type of person you are (generic you, I’m not pointing fingers). My father for example THRIVES on conflict, and what to me looks like discomfort. He actively creates it in fact. If he doesn’t have enough of it going on in his consulting business he’ll try (and fail with me) to get a political discussion going just to get that conflict and discomfort going. I OTOH, thrive on harmony and comfort and have to be extremely motivated to step outside my comfort zone. I also wonder if this has to do with how much of a risk taker someone is- my husband for example would love to do things like skydive, and is happy to try new things. I will be the one on the ground watching and hoping he doesn’t kill himself. LOL

6 nicoleandmaggie { 08.03.16 at 4:11 pm }

One does not need to be a risk taker or enjoy conflict to get bored when things get too easy. I’m both risk averse and hate conflict. But I have a career that is not as easy for me as many of the career paths I could have chosen.

For a lot of people, the concept of Flow fits– you want enough challenge that it isn’t too painful, but lack of challenge makes things boring. Challenge should be gradually ratcheting up without being impossible, as in video games.

7 Cristy { 08.03.16 at 4:52 pm }

To quote Steve Jobs “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

To me, this is what uncomfortable is about. Sure, there are moments I crave more stability. Especially when everything seems up in the air and super complex. But with comfort comes stagnation and boredom. Unnecessary fixations on the material and gossip. So I continue to push for the edge. Even if many days I find myself exhausted.

Thank you for the quote. It’s one I needed today.

8 a { 08.03.16 at 6:53 pm }

I don’t know – I sort of think of it more as expanding your comfort zone. There are some times when you will have to get used to new things, so trying to look at it as a positive thing rather than a temporary thing might make it easier to adjust. I like new things sometimes, but I prefer my routine. I am the rock in my house. But life changes, and pushing back against change just wastes energy.

9 Mali { 08.03.16 at 7:36 pm }

An interesting discussion. I desperately wanted to travel when I was younger, and so as a 17 year old got on my first ever flight (first time out of the South Island of New Zealand), and headed to Bangkok as part of a student exchange. When I think of that year, and of subsequent experiences, I wanted the experience more than I didn’t want to be nervous, embarrassed, frightened, or lonely. I think that every time I’ve done something that has been out of my comfort zone, I have – in the end – been grateful for it. Even though I do hate being out of my comfort zone.

This is a good reminder, as was the original post, for me to kick myself out of my comfort zone.

10 xykademiqz { 08.03.16 at 10:10 pm }

I definitely crave physical comfort much more now than I did when I was younger. I used to be fearless when I traveled, these days there are whole continents where I will be perfectly happy to never set foot. OTOH, I crave challenge in my work, probably more so than before, and I care much less if I suck at something new that I want to try than I did when I was younger.

11 Justine { 08.03.16 at 11:02 pm }

Funny, because I had almost been thrown out of my comfort zone this summer at work, and prayed that I wouldn’t, because I’d already be adjusting to a new house and new colleagues, and too much change felt like … too much. But we also spend a lot of time telling our students at orientation that they should expect to be out of their comfort zones, and that the skills that got them there are the same skills that will help them to adapt, and reacclimate. That they will grow from being uncomfortable. Which is true, I guess … every time I’ve been out of my comfort zone it’s changed me. But I think it’s better to not have your whole world upended at once; that makes for a situation in which it’s harder to adapt, because you have nothing to hold onto. If that makes any sense.

12 swatibassi { 08.04.16 at 12:45 am }

Sometimes that uncomfortable zone teaches us a lot. Living in comfort zone is the best but it should never be taken for granted.

13 Karen { 08.04.16 at 9:31 am }

I also don’t think there’s something wrong with being comfortable and content and happy inside your comfort zone – especially if that’s where you do your best work. I do still think, though, that there’s a lot to be gained with being more comfortable with discomfort. My reaction to discomfort is CONTROL! EVERYTHING! because discomfort causes fear and sometimes even panic. But there are so many things that can’t be controlled, if I can figure out how to sit with the discomfort and BE uncomfortable for a bit, then I can grow as a person.

Also, I love that Josh is the anchor right now for your family. It’s like in meditation- you can keep coming back to him like you would your breathing if you were doing seated meditation. It’s kind of perfect.

14 Jess { 08.04.16 at 12:35 pm }

I feel like that quote is similar to “Do something every day that scares you.” I think it’s good to think about doing things that make you feel a little on edge but push you to do things you might not otherwise do, and that can be where great things start. I kind of resent the idea of life beginning at the end of your comfort zone, and being told to be terrified for the good of the order, though. I do like to be comfortable, and while it’s good to take a risk for the sake of something awesome (adoption is like that), I feel like I would be in flight-or-flight all the time if I was constantly out of my comfort zone. It’s good to think about though. Risk-taking is super scary but necessary, as Karen says, to grow as a person. I just don’t want to live there all the time. 🙂

I’m sorry so much is in flux and glad that you have a steadiness in Josh right now. And yes, read those books… I hope your copy of Cursed Child has come and you are voicing all over the place!

15 Lori Lavender Luz { 08.04.16 at 2:07 pm }

In yoga they say that the pose begins the moment you want to come out of it. So we are to find our edge — not too little and not too much — to expand the area of our comfort zone.

Interesting that my last post was kind of about doing that. Sometimes, though, I really don’t want to have a bigger comfort zone. Sometimes I want to be nowhere near the edge. And that’s OK. (But not as a place to stay.)

16 loribeth { 08.15.16 at 6:31 pm }

I have a hard time with change and leaving my comfort zone too. When everything is constantly in flux (as it has been too often the past six months or so…), I feel anxious & on edge and tired. On the other hand, I do sometimes get bored when everything is too much the same old same old. That’s when I crave a vacation. 😉 Dh said when we got home from our most recent vacation that he enjoys going away, but it’s great to get back home & back to our little routines again. I think the trick is to find the right balance.

17 tasivfer { 08.22.16 at 9:27 pm }

It is strange that every once in a while there are articles and books that extol the virtues of going outside your comfort zone. I believe that there are good things in my comfort zone and good things outside of my comfort zone and that there are bad things in my comfort zone and bad things outside of it. When I’m finding it impossible to leave my comfort zone that’s probably a bad thing as I can’t engage in the good things outside it, however it is often because I have a need to not be challenged. There are times when that’s too much. Sure there might be eustress, but there are time in live when any stress is too much and becomes distress.

Having said that I think I’m hiding in my comfort zone with my good and bad things. I need to change and live more consciously rather than only staying in that comfort zone. I may not be ready to leave my cacoon, but I think I need to.

A friend that I have a lot of respect for is organising her year into challenges, both big and small, and one of her current challenges is a ‘year of fear’. I find her approach very interesting.


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