We are in a continual state of meticulously manicuring our comfort zone – and it’s disabling us from being able to grow and flourish.
We want to sit in just the right chair, walk in just the right shoes, eat just the right food, do only what we feel like doing, reach out to our friends and family only when it’s convenient for us to do so, set the thermostat for just the right temperature, and on and on. Living in a perpetual state of micromanaging our surrounding environment to meet our preferences of comfort, stunts our ability to grow and it disables our capacity to cultivate important life skills to the extent that one something big does happen (and it will), we have a near zero ability to handle it well because we’ve not trained ourselves in handling the small things well.
How can we possibly expect that we will be able to handle the loss of a close loved one, the news of a mass-shooting, or be confronted with great matters of trauma or injustice in a way that allows us to experience the gravity of such things without falling apart and breaking down emotionally, if we can’t even stand to have cold feet for 2 minutes or sit in a hard-backed chair for the duration of a meal?
We are shielding ourselves from the small discomforts of life to such a degree that we have no idea how to engage skillfully with ourselves – let alone others. By constantly shielding ourselves, we are dismantling our ability to weather an ever-increasing array of: situations, people, experiences, feelings, world landscapes, and current realities. We are plugging our ears like a 4-year-old and la-la-laing our way into the isolated, separating darkness of fantasy land, where our delusions reign supreme and we are the only one that matters, which is to the great detriment and deterioration of our true self-worth and serves to erode our ability to be a helpful and kind influence on those around us and the world at large.
We need to start small in order to work big. We also need to make an active choice to consciously do this comfort zone expansion work, vs. merely stumbling upon these moments or encountering them based on some kind of happenstance. While moments of discomfort abound, growth based on stepping outside of our comfort zone only takes place when we are an active participant. If we don’t develop an intentional practice around expanding our comfort zone, we won’t reap the benefits of doing so. It won’t just happen on its own accord.
We need to learn, find, and develop ways to get in touch with discomfort on a daily, ongoing basis – as an engaged practice. Pretty much the entirety of our day consists of our trying to maintain a certain level of comfort and an upholding of our preferences. And the more we do this, the less resiliency we have. The more we attempt to manage our comfort levels, the less able we become to skillfully engage with the present moment as it’s unfolding. Because the thing is – the present moment is unpredictable. There is – and will continue to be – a bunch of stuff that happens that we did not account or plan for. The more active we are in working with the small discomforts of life, the more balanced, grounded, and skillful we will be in working with the larger discomforts of life, which greatly behooves us in our journey due to the simple fact that small and large discomforts are part of life, not separate.
I’ve both written and spoken on this topic in the past and I will continue to do so. Not only do I feel it’s important to keep re-bringing it up based on how entrenched we are in our bubbles of comfort but I’m also aware that as humans, we don’t have the tendency to hear a teaching once and then put it into play. Often we need to roll up on a teaching over and over and over and over again until we start to really have it sink in. Mindfulness and self-growth teachings have a tendency to get stuck in our intellectual processing and for some of us it stays there for a hella long time, before we can absorb it into the heart of an embodied practice. Thinking about expanding our comfort zone without doing anything, does nothing in the gaining skill and growth department.
Here are some ideas of SMALL ways to start actively working to expand our comfort zone – and please keep in mind this is simply a launching pad, as it’s important that we find what works well for us in our own individual situation, there’s no one size fits all here (or really anywhere for that matter):
Sit in a chair or seat that you would normally avoid for lack of utmost comfort
Allow your feet to be cold for short snippets of time
Forego something small for a day that you wouldn’t normally be without (a favorite mug, a specific brand of coffee creamer, your usual route to work…)
Listen all the way through a song you don’t like
Watch a commercial (with the sound on)
Go through the checkout line with the cashier you tend to avoid at all costs
When you’re standing in a waiting line, don’t whip out your phone to keep yourself occupied
Don’t snack between meals or late at night for a day
Cut short your normal watch time of Netflix for a day
Take a day off from social media (or if that’s too much, maybe just start with staying off for an hour or two hours)
Give away a personal belonging that you covet (I’m not talking about something that will cause you pain and hardship to give away, just something you don’t entirely want to give up but know you’ll be fine without)
Reach out to a friend you haven’t connected with in a while and ask them what they’ve been up to
If your vehicle has a seat warmer and you tend to use it – don’t use it for a day
Engage in a random act of kindness for a co-worker you’re not a big fan of
Please understand that I’m not suggesting you do such things as listed above ALL of the time. My prompt, based on my own experience, is to pepper in such acts once in a while, making sure to do them ongoingly – at least one small thing every day. And it could be the same small thing every day or it could be a different small thing every day. Personally, I like to switch it up. One day I might go the cold feet route and another day I might decide to wear socks around the house but go through the checkout line with the cashier I’m not a big fan of. It depends on the day.
DISCLAIMER: Expanding our comfort zone will be uncomfortable. I say this both in jest and as a serious reality check. Because the thing is: we’re so used to being comfortable that if we choose to start doing this work of actively stepping into being uncomfortable on purpose, we may talk ourselves out of it when the reality of discomfort hits. And it will hit. This will involve uncomfortable, awkward, challenging, taxing, unpleasant feelings. If this were not the case and we didn’t feel these things, we wouldn’t be doing it right. So prepare to actually step into what it means to feel uncomfortable – and come to understand that it’s not the end of the world – because it’s the only way this practice of comfort zone expansion is going to equate to growth.
We have an inherent responsibility as inhabitants of this amazing world-scape to show up well as we possibly can for ourselves and for the good people and living beings that reside on this precious planet, and all those who will inherit it. And in order to show up in the best way we can, with skillfulness, care, kindness, and friendliness, we need to invest in the work of self-growth. We need to make it a priority. We need to actively and consciously do the work it takes. It’s as simple and profound as that.