It was the worst and the best thing I could have done.
With everything that happened last year, I thought it would be a good idea to do a family trip for Christmas. And I don’t just mean my husband and the kids. I’m talking about them plus my parents, my sister and her boyfriend, my brother, and my grandfather. What better way to spend the holidays than an intergenerational family gathering! Right??
As you can imagine, it was not the best three days of my life. Quite the opposite.
It was so uncomfortable!
Don’t get me wrong. When I had the idea initially, I was fully aware that if you want community, you have to be prepared to deal with people’s mess. The question I didn’t ask myself was how much mess I was comfortable dealing with. Thinking on it now, if I had known how uncomfortable the trip would have been, I never would have made the financial commitment. I never would have paid to be that uncomfortable!
The best way I can summarize the experience was this: Everyone was so focused on their own comfort and their own needs that they put the rest of the group in a state of dishonor. No one stopped to ask what anyone else needed. It was all “I need a certain bed with a certain pillow!” or “I need x brand of coffee,” or “I don’t want to stop using the F-word around x person because this is who I am!” My grandfather only lasted one night of this; he left the morning after we got there.
Here’s the thing about it all: There is absolutely no way I can shame any of it because I do it, too. My thing is coffee. I will put everything else on hold so that I can have my coffee. When I’m stressed, that’s what I need. I’ll make the whole group stop so I can get my fix! But my question is this:
This thing called “comfort” - what is it costing us?
What are we giving up or losing out on simply to stay comfortable? Relationships, better-paying jobs, creating a bigger impact in your life and on the world?
There’s a difference between comfort and safety. There’s no denying that safety must be achieved in order for us to reach our higher goals in life. In Maslow’s hierarchy, safety falls just after basic physiological needs like eating and sleeping. When safety isn’t met, that’s when trauma can happen.
In contrast, comfort is the desire to stay in the familiar. Lack of safety is trauma but lack of comfort is just... discomfort!
And avoiding discomfort puts us in a place of stagnation.
We strive so hard to stay comfortable and then we’re mad at the world because we get bored, because we stop enjoying our lives. Well guess what? Comfort doesn’t create a place of enjoyment! When we’re comfortable, it’s usually a place of disconnection because we’re trying to fulfill a superficial need that has no depth or grounding. We even have sayings to gratify this. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is our way of saying “I’m too old to change, so why bother putting myself through the discomfort of looking like a fool to chart new territory?”
Being comfortable isn’t always safe either.
I was a physique model and bodybuilder in my early twenties. I was addicted to the rush of winning. In the world of bodybuilding, winning meant routinely starving myself and giving myself human growth hormone (HGH) injections. I did enough HGH injections that I developed an abscess. I couldn’t hold a glass of water for 2 to 3 hours each morning because I was on medication that made my hands and body shake so bad.
And I was comfortable doing these things!
I was comfortable abusing myself for years for a superficial cause and pointless accolades. I was comfortable pushing my body into a state of malnutrition for instant gratification and acknowledgment. What made me uncomfortable? Opening up and being emotionally vulnerable with the people in my life, asking for what I needed, admitting I was miserable.
Let me be clear: If you’re used to living from your comfort zone, learning to step out of that is going to be a process. You can’t go from fear of public speaking to giving a talk to 5,000 people. Trust me, I tried. Early on in my career, I put it out to my community that I wanted to give a talk, and I ended up on a stage in front of 5,000 people. I wasn’t prepared for it and basically choked. I had pushed my zone too far. And then guess what? I shamed myself for it and didn’t get back on stage for two years. I had put myself in a place of trauma. I felt like I had failed when really, it was an unrealistic expectation because I had never spoken on stage before.
What does it look like to start getting safely uncomfortable? Try this on:
Start by asking yourself: What is it that I desire? A new lifestyle? A new goal? A new way of being?
Then ask yourself: What’s the comfort zone I need to push in order to create the person I need to be in order to achieve that goal?
Having answered those two questions, here’s where you look to your community. Find an external accountability buddy or reflection group to help you identify key points of awareness about where you’re at in relation to where you want to be. It’s often most effective if this is an objective third party, someone who can be brutally honest without worrying about hurting your feelings. I can’t stress enough the importance of this step! Honestly, without my community and a place to safely push those comfort zones, I don’t know that I’d be where I am today.
With help from your accountability partner/group, create a series of actionable steps towards your goal from Step 1. These steps should be specific to who you are, not anyone else. You have to expand your comfort zone with intention. Otherwise you will traumatize yourself and may actually push yourself farther from your goal. Each step should be what I like to call a “tolerated risk,” putting yourself out there in a way you never have before.
I leave you with this quote from Gary Bishop’s book, Unf*ck Yourself (which I highly encourage you to read):
[W]hen you try to stay in your comfort zone, you never feel truly comfortable. There's always a nagging feeling that you could be doing more. There's always that desire for a life that's better than the one you have now. The more comfortable we are today, the more uncomfortable we will be tomorrow. There really is no destination. There's only exploring, exploring, exploring!
Get out there and start exploring!
If you’re looking for an accountability group and a safe place to start pushing your comfort zone, chat with us!