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I’ve built a life of comfort…and its kept me stuck and mediocre.

As best as I can figure, I’ve built that life of comfort for 2 reasons:

Aspiring to a life of comfort has been one of western culture’s sales pitches that has worked on me; hook, line and sinker.

“Become a better, happier human by becoming more comfortable!”

But unfortunately, I think it’s why I have felt stuck and mediocre. It’s also why I have not risen to the challenge many times.

They Sell Comfort

Safety is comfort.

Beauty is comfort.

Fitting in is comfort.

Distraction is comfort.

Staying seated is comfort.

Staying in your lane is comfort.

Playing by their rules is comfort.

Doing it the way you always have is comfort.

Getting a good job at a good company is comfort.

Effective marketing and sales pitches pull emotional levers. Those are the levers that resonated with me.

The Younger Me and a Life of Comfort

My younger self assumed the path to success was about finding the path of least Resistance.

If it felt scary or I wasn’t comfortable, I believed the Resistance telling me it wasn’t for me. Little did I know then that those were the very things that I should have been pursuing.

Keep my head down, play by the rules, avoid scary, stay in the framework, never get in trouble, and all will turn out dreamy. I can now see the Resistance at work through that mindset.

The younger me bought the sales pitch.

Discomfort is Stress

We seem to focus on the negative aspects of stress. Books, programs, and seminars on “Practical Techniques for Stress Management”, and “9 Steps to Alleviate Stress in the Workplace and Home.”

Stress is bad, right?

It’s true that when you experience physical or psychological discomfort, your body and mind are experiencing stress.

And that’s bad, right?

Not necessarily…

The Evil Kind of Stress

Chronic stress is the evil kind of stress.

It can literally kill you.

The rut in your life or career produces chronic stress.

Eating poorly and never exercising produces chronic stress.

Living an inauthentic life or a life you are not proud of produces chronic stress.

Discomfort is not chronic stress.

The Useful Kind of Stress

Good stress is called eustress. It can be mild, acute, or even episodic. But it’s not chronic.

Eustress has the following characteristics and benefits(Mills, Reiss, Dombeck):

  • It only lasts in the short term
  • It energizes and motivates
  • It is perceived as something within our coping ability
  • It feels exciting
  • It increases focus and performance

You already know about physical eustress and its benefits.

When you needed the spotter in the weight room, you could lift more the next session. When you were gasping at the end of your run, you could run farther or faster next time.

Psychological eustress happens when you push your psyche similarly.

You experience it when you stand up in front of the room, publish the article, quit the job, start the new business, tell someone how you really feel, sit with the other people, go off the path “they” expect, or challenge yourself to stand up for someone or an ideal.

These things expose you to some level of emotional danger. And when you expose yourself to emotional danger, you feel vulnerable. Feeling vulnerable is uncomfortable.

But that type of uncomfortable can be eustress.

The Comfort Zone’s Effect

In hindsight, I can see how the comfort zone has shaped my journey. I recognize the little monuments of both growth and regression over my path that directly related to my level of comfort.

Most times I grew, made progress, or ended up better, it was because I stepped out, or was forced outof my comfort zone.

I can also look back and regret the opportunities missed or not taken because I was too afraid to test the waters outside the comfort zone. Resistance won those battles.

A Few Monuments Along the Path

The first time I found myself on a layoff list, I was stunned, terrified and felt like a complete failure. I had a young family to feed and a mortgage to pay. It led me to real estate investing, understanding residual income, and a keen interest in finding other sources of income.

In the 5th grade, I was voted captain of the safety patrol. My main job was to assign who was to stand at which post. I was too afraid to make any decision because of what “they” might think. So I just didn’t make any decision. When I was rightfully reprimanded, I quit the safety patrol.

In my first year as a manager of a team of software developers, I had little confidence and was mortified to let the team down. So I poured myself into it, learned new skills, found my voice, and did the work. I received an outstanding performance review.

One year later, I received the worst performance review of my career. Now working directly inside the comfort zone, I stopped pushing myself and the boundaries. I engaged the autopilot and sat back in comfort.

In high school, I was asked to run for class office by my guidance counselor, as well as some friends. The story playing in my head was: “What am I supposed to do? What if nobody votes for me? What if I stink at it?” I never even picked up the form to put myself in the running.

I turned down an offer from the premier tech product company of this age because of the fear of the unknown. Which means I turned down an offer to influence and be a part of one of the single biggest culture transforming series of products in history. Plus, if I would have accepted, the stock options provided with the offer were worth close to $3M just 3 years later.

After many weeks of over-thinking and agonizing, I nervously volunteered for a layoff in my mid-40’s from a company with which I had 18 years of service. That one decision, more than any other, has upwardly transformed my career and led to the best opportunities I’ve ever had.

Practicing Discomfort

Managing, and ultimately growing through discomfort is like working a muscle: the more you practice it, the better you can get.

Your goal isn’t to be comfortable. That’s an unattainable goal.

The goal is to be able to function, and then grow outside the comfort zone. As you get better, the higher the stakes you can handle.

The good news is that you can practice it without a high stakes event such as getting laid off. You can start easy, with benign little things, and ratchet up the level as you go.

Several years ago, I started purposefully practicing getting comfortable being uncomfortable. It will be a lifelong journey, but I’m so much farther ahead now.

Here are some of the things I’ve personally doneto practice getting out of my own comfort zone.

Feel free to try some of these yourself. Each one of these has literally no REAL risk, but you can use these to get ready for those moments in your life where there IS real risk at stake.

Note that I’m an introvert, so some of these things are not likely to put an extrovert out of his/her comfort zone.

Beginner Exercises

Take a cold shower.

Skip a meal.

Smile, make eye contact, and say “Hi” to a stranger on the street or in the elevator.

Overdress or underdress for an event, or purposefully make an appearance change that will draw comments.

Beginning to Move Forward

Buy the bike or running shoes, or get the gym membership.

Start a conversation with the person next to you on the airplane or train or bus.

Write and publish an article that has some of your actual thoughts about a particular subject. Take a side, defend a position, tell a personal story, etc.

Go to a local networking group meeting.

Go to a network marketing meeting.

Force You to Grow Exercises

Sign upfor the power lifting meet, triathlon, marathon, spartan race, or whatever pushes you physically.

Find a speaking engagement (networking groups are great places to start).

Get on stage at an open mic or storytelling event.

Say “yes” to a network marketing opportunity.

Find a mentoring client. It doesn’t need to be a paying client, but someone you will work with to help on his/her journey.

Summary

“Everything you want is just outside your comfort zone.”

Robert G. Allen

My growth, and stagnation has been directly related to my comfort zone.

Leadership, creativity, entrepreneurship, public speaking, writing, expression of my voice…All things I SHOULD HAVE been pursuing with vigor, but instead I was running away.

A WARNING: no matter how much you fight to stay in your comfort zone, sometimes you will get shoved out.

It’s these times of discomfort that will shape your future life.

You will get laid off.

You will have to give the presentation.

Somebody close to you will hurt you.

Your family will have a crisis.

You will be asked to solve the hard problem.

You will have an existential crisis of faith.

These things are coming. You can count on it. With a mindset that recognizes the opportunities in discomfort, not only can you deal with them, but you can grow through them.

Use that comfort zone as a guide, and instead of believing the sales pitch, start walking towards the uncomfortable.

Beginner — Writing to try to figure out the stuff in my head