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?

Thoughts From Toothbrushing

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We hopped onboard a sailing vessel one weekend. It was a boat we knew from before – an old, unique sailboat that was first used for sailboat racing, then turned into a vessel that was the home for a couple that sailed around the world three times during a time period of twenty years. Now the boat is owned by the nephew of that couple, whom we had learned to know through our common interest in films and photography.

It was nice to be back on that boat. We didn’t put too much pressure on the sailing part and enjoyed life instead, staying in harbor when it rained and taking long mornings if we felt like it. On the second morning, which unfortunately was our last morning (this only being a weekend trip) I felt a satisfying sensation while brushing my teeth on the island we had stayed that night.

A thought came along with that satisfaction: I could do this for a longer time.

Fight Or Flight – But What Does It Mean?

Lately, I’ve been feeling restless. As if I’m waiting for something to happen, waiting that time when I’m able to take the next step, move on to the next phase. I feel unsatisfied with what I have and think that there has to be more to this life, there has to be a place or a way of life that won’t leave me feeling unsatisfied and unfulfilled. And it isn’t the first time I’m feeling like this. It’s a feeling that reaches me regularly – and it isn’t really a nice feeling.

I haven’t figured out yet what it means exactly. I do know it means I’m not satisfied with what I have at the moment – but what I don’t know is if I’m reacting to the feeling in the right way? Up until now, my solution has often been moving from one city to another or making changes in career plans. But it feels like I’m escaping rather than taking the action that is needed.

It’s like the classic situation of fight or flight. I know how the flight part goes – but what about the fight? How do I fight these feelings of restlessness and dissatisfaction and how do I overcome them?

Usually these feelings disappear for a few months after I’ve moved to a new city or when I start a new job or continue my studies after some sort of break, i.e. after a change. But they always come back, suggesting a change: move to another apartment, quit this and start that, change this.

And I wonder, for how long can I manage this feeling of restlessness? When will I finally find what my gut feeling is looking for? When will I find something that keeps the uneasy feelings away for good?

The Search For Alternatives

So, as I was washing my teeth on that island and the rays of early sun reaching towards me through the pine forest, I thought how wonderful it would be to wake up in a new place every few weeks, look at a map and consider the alternatives for the day. Check the wind and weather forecast and adjust my plans according to the observations.

My days would go by sailing and maintaining the boat, cooking food, being creative, discovering things and always pushing myself outside my own comfort zone. Because sailing would be just that – always adjusting, always trying to find new creative or better ways to do things and see something that is so different from what I’ve experienced for the past 24 years.

A camper van could have the same effect, so I might consider it as an alternative as well. But after a few road trips I’d still have to say that nothing beats the fascinating physics of sailing, the gentle rocking of a vessel on anchor and, if the weather’s warm, taking a morning swim in the sea from your backyard (that is, the cockpit).

Reality Check

I have enjoyed my thoughts on full-time sailing for the past few weeks, letting them take over the realities of life for now. But I’m aware that buying a boat isn’t an alternative at the moment, neither is a camper van.

Instead, I’m in the final year of my Master’s Degree, determined to finish my studies. The thesis-writing will begin the next week. After that my plans will be more open for other alternatives. Which means I’ll keep on floating on those gentle waves of dreams, but trying to keep the balance with the things that are in my power at the moment.

One question remains – how to keep myself going until that day of graduation comes and I can start figuring out the next step? How to keep those feelings of restlessness and dissatisfaction at bay, and what are the things I can do right now to keep calm and focus on what’s important at the moment?

The only thing that comes to my mind is that I need to keep on writing. Holding on to the hours that I can write fiction or blog posts, and in that way keep the dream alive while focusing on something else for a moment. After all, nine months (the time I’ve planned to dedicate for my thesis) is only a short period of time in the life of a human being.