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Take a seat. Relax. Kick back. Isn’t that what life is about? Don’t you want to be comfortable? Certainly on the beach in Maui, drink in your hand, toes in the sand, that’s the place to be comfortable. What about in business and life? What if your comfort zone was all about your past but your future, one way or another, was destined for the uncomfort zone?
The dirt: Just be comfortable (the real c* word)
A dog and an old man were sitting on the front porch. Another man was walking by and heard the dog whimpering. “What’s wrong with your dog?” asked the passerby. The old man replied, “He’s sitting on a nail.” “Why doesn’t he get off of it?”, the passerby said, dumbfounded. “Well, shucks, I guess it’s not painful enough.” retorted the old man.
When we are living a comfortable life, aren’t we like the dog in that we’re perhaps not living the life of our dreams but we’re not doing bad enough to do make any changes either? It’s as if we’re focused so much on making it to the end, to surviving, that we forget to maximize the journey.
Our mind has been soiled in a couple of ways. For one, we’re told to take it easy and it’s about being comfortable. But how many great things have come from the comfort zone? Secondly, we’re told that the comfort zone is comfortable. What if the comfort zone is just a short-term Illusion necessarily leading to pain and regret? Let’s explore both and discuss what we can do about it.
Take it Easy
Just like nothing great comes from sitting on the couch all day, nothing great comes out of the comfort zone. It is said that the enemy of great is good. When we’re good, doing okay, we tend to fall into the mediocre hum of an average existence. It’s about making it through another day, nevermind what we actually accomplish. Each morning we wake up, it’s often our supreme goal to make it back to bed that evening, safe and sound, hoping that the time between wasn’t too terrible.
Here’s the challenge. Doing just good enough robs us of motivation, exterminates our passion, and blinds our vision. Consider your memories so far. How many occurred in the comfort zone? How many great things, or anything you could remember, have happened when things were going okay? Didn’t it take a major shakeup, a scare, a surprise, or putting yourself in a position to fail that truly made for a memorable experience? Even more, how hard did you work, how uncomfortable did you get, the last time you won anything?
Aside from forfeiting our potential greatness, we are at least ingenious enough to numb ourselves to any discomfort we do encounter. Distractions are all around us with TV and social media, each minute an escape from the small disturbances of our safe and secure life. Take a life where the goal is to avoid pain more so than to seek pleasure. Like that slow drip of Morphine that keeps us comatose, the pain is minimal, but there’s no winning any marathons or anything else for that matter. Is this the quality of life that you would wish on anyone, yourself included?
Imagine your comatose life slowly dripping away until you’ve spilled your last drop, leaving no more of a legacy than an evaporated puddle of tears.
The UNcomfort zone
Outside of being truly free and living the life we would design if money were no object, isn’t being comfortable just an illusion anyways? We’re comfortable at our job until we get downsized, outsourced, or pink-slipped. We’re comfortable with our income and budget until we have to buy a new transmission for the car that we need in order to get to our comfortable job that could lay us off tomorrow without cause. We’re even comfortable watching TV and bleeding onto social media until we wake up and find we have no real friends nor any appreciable value to offer the world. Even the proverbial nail in the dog’s butt will eventually rust, leading to a nasty tetanus infection.
For many folks, their comfort zone is one piece of bad news away from being their desperation zone. It’s only good when things are good. When things don’t go as expected, it gets bad very quick. It’s like waking up and rolling the dice. It’s not if life will happen, it’s only when. The discomfort is coming now or later. And if we survive a bad experience, we often pat ourselves on the back for making it through the tough time only to suffer an amnesiatic episode whereby we find safety in our comfort zone once again. The warm bath may feel good, but even warm baths eventually get cold. Comfort only exists in what you know while discomfort lurks in the shadows of what you don’t know….yet.
Born to win
Consider that we didn’t start life comfortable. From the time we cried at the sight of the delivery nurse upon being removed from the comfort of the womb, to our first haircut, to our first time behind the wheel, our early years were full of new and uncomfortable things. Ironically, those very same things that we feared are now part of our comfort zone. Let’s not miss this point.
All things within our comfort zone today were once outsiders that we faced with fear, doubt, and worry and yet still conquered.
So why did we stop growing the size of our comfort zone? Wait a minute, you hadn’t realized that the cliche “Grow or die” was referring to the size of your comfort zone? You are either increasing the size of your competence and comfort or you’re passing away into that comatose existence. I won’t pretend to have your answer. Perhaps it was enough to develop the skills to breathe, bathe and feed yourself. Perhaps you hit the limit of your identity (self-esteem) from those who raised you. Or it could be you had one bad experience trying something new and vowed never to get hurt again. The only question is will this be the your excuse you tell yourself and your grandchildren for an unremarkable legacy?
The outer limits
What if the secret to winning were to be uncomfortable, but on our own terms? Imagine using intentional discomfort to produce real and everlasting comfort. It’s the conversion process from taking that which we fear and turning it into that which we don’t fear that creates those great results in our life. When we take the uncomfortable, bust our ass to acquire knowledge and experience, failing forward into success, we are rewarded with greatness at first, then eventually comfort.
Every great performer was born without comfort. From Beethoven to Jordan and the countless other winners in life, one thing they all had in common was that they had to be uncomfortable long before they became comfortable in their craft.
Be careful upon “mastering” your craft though. The comfort that eventually follows greatness is just the next level of achievement. It’s a plateau. If that’s the final destination desired and it’s sustainable, then congratulations I suppose. I can’t imagine ever stopping there, but to each their own. Why plan on stopping until you can high-five God? If it’s not the ultimate level, then we must find a way towards the uncomfortable again.
By the way, discomfort is only scary when it’s out of our control. So while comfort will eventually lead to discomfort, properly designed discomfort will lead us back to the ultimate comfort Some ideas to get out of your comfort zone:
- Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Just expect the uncomfortable to arrive. Don’t be surprised by it, be excited for it. It’s a sign that if you don’t quit, success is on it’s way. Make it part of your life like avoiding bad drivers on the road.
- Do what scares you a little. Don’t avoid fear, run towards it, flirt with it, see what happens when you poke it with a stick. I’m not suggesting to put yourself in physical danger. Maybe just make those dreaded calls, talk to that prospect, ask your boss for that raise, give that speech, etc.
- Learn something new. This is a fantastic way to become uncomfortable. They say the more you know, the more you don’t know. If you consider lack of knowledge (not ignorance, rather knowing that you don’t know) is proportional to lack of control, there aren’t many things more uncomfortable.
- Meet someone new. For many, getting to know someone is often an awkward and uncomfortable experience. We always try to make a good impression and have a heightened sense for their opinion of us. If you hit it off, you now have a friend and potentially a great life and business connection.
- Change your routine. Most of what we do each day is habit. Habit is the fertilizer of the comfort zone. Change the order you get ready in the morning. Take a different route to work. Eat at different times. Even bathing your “parts” in a different order can inspire new thoughts and shake up the old you (try it!)
When Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse, interviewed her patients during their end-of-life care, she recorded the top regrets from each. The number one most common was, “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” If the consequence of discomfort were living a life closer to that of your dreams and experiencing a life that could fill a bestselling book, would it be worth the temporary pain and work?
The good news is that at any point, we can rip the I.V. off our arm, awaken from our coma, and realize our inherent greatness. We have a chance and a choice to place ourselves outside of our comfort zone. We need not do it carelessly, but when we find the recipe that will get us to our goal (hint: somebody knows how, even if you don’t), then it’s a matter of doing the work, in spite of the comfort level. Remember, the discomfort is now or later. How great that we have a choice. I dare you to share this with your five closest friends and family who are still in the rat race. You just might save a life or two!
“I never wanted to be rich, just comfortable. Then I found out to be comfortable, I had to be rich.”
Meet you at the top (‘cause the bottom’s way too crowded!)