How Our Discomfort Zone Changes and Evolves

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During that weekend of sailing I managed to come to some sort of conclusion that living on a sailboat would be a good way for me to keep myself curious but also gently push me to my discomfort zone.

This is a good thing because I know that being outside one’s comfort zone has several benefits. And because I know this, I’m actively thinking I should be out on that zone more than I am now. Being social, trying new things, pushing myself to be more than I feel like I am. However, I also love to stay at home, cook some good food and watch a movie or enjoy a book.

One could describe it as a love-hate relationship between me and my (dis)comfort zone: I love my easy nights at home while at the same time I’m also pining for something exciting to happen. And this love-hate relationship with my (dis)comfort zone could be an answer to my feelings of restlessness but also an answer to the conflicting thoughts I have going through my head.

In other words, I think the reason behind my restlessness is the fact that I’m not pushing myself enough to be on my discomfort zone more often. This makes me wonder: would it be possible that I’m chronically searching for things that make me feel uncomfortable, continuously challenging me to adjust to new things, to keep my life interesting?

On the Escape Route

Let me tell you about my history with my discomfort zone.

I was the kid in school who wasn’t very gifted in gymnastics. I never found a sport I was good at or would have enjoyed which led to a deep dislike towards weekly gymnastic lessons in elementary and high school (and weight-gain, as well). In addition to that, winning didn’t matter to me that much, not at least at sports which meant that I never fought whole-heartedly to win a game or score a goal. This didn’t help me get more motivated in gymnastics, either.

So, as soon as I had completed the final obligatory course in gymnastics, I waved goodbye to my gym bag, feeling satisfied that I’d never have to do sports if I didn’t want to.

Another example: while I was in Scouts, I avoided hiking as much as I could. I was lousy at orienteering, having no sense of direction, and as mentioned before, not a fan of sports. Therefore, hiking never felt like an enjoyable activity to me and I can count with one hand all the hikes I ever participated in during those thirteen years I was an active scout.

I probably would have had the chance to participate in double that amount but because I didn’t feel comfortable hiking, I didn’t take up the challenge either.

And one last example:

After playing classical piano with the same teacher for eleven years, I decided to switch both genre and teacher – I applied to pop and jazz school, got in and started almost anew. I had never learnt the theory behind piano playing so almost everything that had to do with pop and jazz piano was unfamiliar to me. Especially improvising was the worst part of the whole thing and I avoided it as much as I simply could.

After three years of trying I stopped going to lessons, and was, in a way, relieved that I didn’t have to push myself anymore to play something I didn’t feel good at. From now on, I could play whatever I wanted, never having to feel the discomfort of improvisation again.

The lesson from these examples – well, it’s clear, isn’t it? In many different areas of life, I have been avoiding uncomfortable situations as much as possible. Of course, I have challenged myself to do many things that have made me nervous – piano concerts, taking responsibilities as chief editor for a magazine, public speaking… but I’ve also managed to avoid many things that I now believe would have benefitted me.

Into The Light

As it’s been quite a few years since my last obligatory improvisation lesson, orienteering hike and school gymnastics class, I’ve gained some insight in these discomforting situations. They were chances for me to grow as a person, to learn new things about myself and also to gain self-confidence. However, I bailed at every single one of the activities.

Now, if someone would ask me to tag along for a hike in the woods or join a volley ball class today, I’d go for it. Dare to ask questions about orienteering, dare to fail at passing the ball and admit that I’m really not that comfortable at improvising while playing the piano. I could correct all those failures from my childhood and teenage years. I could finally become comfortable in the things that for years felt uncomfortable to me.

But if I returned to the things that were challenging for me then and ”overcome my fears”, would it really help me develop, get more creative and benefit me in ways that being in one’s discomfort zone does?

The thing is, I really don’t think it would. Because today my life is about different challenges altogether. If I’d spend time doing things I was uncomfortable with, it wouldn’t get me that far. In conclusion, I have to let go of the things I failed at becoming comfortable with in my past. Instead, I need to take the lessons learned from it and stay curious to new things, keep my focus on things that make me feel uncomfortable.

As we grow older and develop as humans, our (dis)comfort zone does the same. Therefore, we should always be looking for new challenges. But how do I realize in time what discomforting things are worth becoming comfortable with and what are not? Is it worth my time and energy to get rid of my fear of snakes, for instance, or learn how to kill a fish I’ve caught?

What are the things I should do (i.e. the things in my discomfort zone that I’d rather avoid) and can they become the things I want to do? Is there a way to align these two? Because, if I think about it, that would probably be the way to reach the feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment.

The Next Step

On a sailboat, I might be able to align these two things. It’s not just about sailing, which I already know a few things about. There are a great deal of other stuff to learn, many of them being on my discomfort zone – mechanics, technical things, oily and greasy maintaining, plumbing, electrics… that I have no clue of and my first instinct being that I would really want to avoid all of that. At the same time, my second instinct says that it is precisely something I should do. And by doing those things, I would be able to sail onward. Does it make sense?

However, as I wrote on Tuesday, the sailboat dream is something for the future. Right now, it’s about other discomforting things, such as writing my Master’s thesis, dealing with conflicts and creating even better habits. And as time goes, other challenges will come in my way. It’s the way life is, and it’s something we have to deal with and adjust to over and over again.

Just as self-development, pushing oneself to one’s discomfort zone is both time- and energy-consuming. It’s tough and it requires a great deal of self-discipline and willpower to challenge oneself with something that is new and unknown instead of relying on revisiting the old challenges.

I do believe it does pay off – we just have to realize when the discomforting challenges are in front of us and meet them with curiosity instead of escaping them.

What are the things you felt uncomfortable with before and what are the main issues on you discomfort zone you’d like to address right now?

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