Conquer Your Comfort Zone

Discomfort is the gatekeeper to a better life

I was at a local diner the other day getting some take-out. While taking my order, the lady behind the counter stopped, pondered, then looked up at me and said, “I’ll need to ask someone else to help you. She feels more comfortable doing this than I do.”

As she walked away, I promptly pulled out my phone, opened Medium, and drafted the title of this article to take note of the moment.

I got to thinking about our relationship to discomfort. My personal experiences have taught me that it’s absolutely crucial to do things that are uncomfortable. It’s the only way to truly grow as a person.

If we shy away from difficulties, we stagnate. There’s a funny thing about stagnation; it’s not a neutral state like we popularly believe. When water stagnates, a layer of dust and grime forms on top. Mosquitos lay eggs along the surface. Mold accumulates.

It’s not pretty.

We tend to think that we can stay fixed in a particular state. But this just isn’t true.

If you’re not going forward, you’re going backwards.

Even if you do nothing, life continues on. The natural processes of the universe keep rolling forward.

In order to grow and develop into our ideal selves, it’s critical to take a hard look at the things in our lives that scare us. Most likely, these things are what will find themselves at the top of a high-level to-do list.

You know, those things that we always write down but seldom cross off.

I should know…

Every time I write in my planner (which is not nearly as often as I should), I write run, and meditate. However, I don’t seem to ever actually do these two critical things that I know I need to do. Though today marks my second running day in a row so hopefully that will start to change.

I’ll tackle meditation after I get this daily running thing down. (See, I’m making excuses here that I didn’t even realize until reading this through a second time. I’ll keep it here to illustrate how sneaky this procrastination thing is.)

But my point is that these two goals are extremely important to becoming the type of person I aspire to be. But they make me uncomfortable. That is precisely why I have to do them regularly.

Tackle the uncomfortable things in life.

Feel inside yourself as you contemplate the things that need to get done.

What scares you the most?

What do you want to avoid at all costs?

What is it that you really don’t feel like doing right now?

Whatever you answer when you ask yourself these questions is precisely the thing that needs to get done right away.

That pile of bills over there on the table is a good place to start. I seriously don’t want to even acknowledge its existence. But if I just walk over and start opening the envelopes, I’ll feel like a whole new person at the end of it.

I’ve commented before on the concept of Resistance that I learned from Steven Pressfield's excellent book The War of Art, but it’s worth mentioning again. Resistance is this mystical force that aims to keep us average and prevent us from becoming the person we long to be.

There are so many ways that we can see this force. One way that I’ve chosen to view this phenomenon is to call it the Devil.

He whispers in your ear and tells you to relax and crack open another beer. He gives you excuses for why it’s not worth your time and effort to clean your room. He congratulates you for procrastinating, deceptively implying that you’ve already completed the task when you decided to do it tomorrow.

Though I’m not Christian and I’m not completely convinced the Devil or God exists in the ways they’re depicted in the Bible, I do appreciate these perspectives from an allegorical standpoint. It works nicely with Taoist concepts of light and dark, chaos and order, male and female, and so on.

When the Devil whispers in your ear to continue down a path to nowhere, God will whisper in your heart to do that which will bring you peace and joy.

The problem is that God’s voice is softer and He typically says the things that you don’t want to hear.

The Devil says loudly, “Don’t worry about that next article, The Dark Crystal is out on Netflix. Plus, you didn’t sleep well last night and it’s been a hard week. You deserve to take it easy.”

God says softly, “You want to be a full-time writer. That will potentially take years of hard work and sacrifice. Keep writing.

Every single decision that we need to make will put us between these two competing voices.

To consciously take part in this conversation, we have to stop everything and look deep within ourselves. If we’re not even aware that this debate is taking place, chances are we’ll simply follow the louder voice that appeals to our need for immediate gratification.

When deciding whether to slack off or do the hard thing, here’s a practical approach that you can use as a guide:

  1. How will I feel after I do this thing?
    The feeling we get after taking on something uncomfortable is a natural reward in itself. Undoubtedly, we feel fantastic and proud of ourselves when we push beyond the Resistance and prove that we are strong enough to make a difference in our lives.
  2. Have I ever regretted doing the right thing?
    I for one have never looked back on a productive memory and thought,
    Gee, you know what? I really wish I hadn’t done that.
    Have you?
  3. Will I ever feel like doing this thing?
    Habitually putting things off until tomorrow is an insane approach to life. It’s not rational in the least. We know with absolute certainty that we will feel exactly the same tomorrow as we do right now.

After all, today is yesterday’s tomorrow, and tomorrow never comes.

So take a hard look at the impulses that arise within you when faced with the choice of pushing forth or laying low. Which way leads to your ideal life? Nobody who has gained your respect and admiration got to where they are by putting off hard things.

Cast aside comfort, and be somebody who inspires others to do the same.

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Aspiring novelist/director/podcaster/spiritual guru/normal person

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