It’s in our nature to avoid discomfort. If it’s cold, we move closer to the fire. If we find ourselves in a stressful situation we do our best to resolve it or remove ourselves from it. While this is perfectly sensible, it isn’t necessarily the best thing for us. It may seem counterintuitive, but choosing to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations is something we should be doing if we want to grow. You’ve probably heard something to the effect of: ‘if a thing isn’t growing, it’s dying.’ I’m not sure I’d go so far as that, but I think it’s safe to say: ‘if a thing isn’t growing, it’s stagnating.’ Stagnation isn’t as bad as death, but it ain’t good. How do we avoid this?
Resistance produces growth
When I first started lifting weights many years ago it felt completely futile. I had very little upper body strength and it took a lot of effort before I noticed any effects. It was painful and humbling but I was determined to get stronger so I kept at it. After a few weeks, I noticed my muscles getting more firm and I was able to do more reps and add more weight. After half a year of this I was probably two to three times stronger than I was when I started. The transformation amazed me. It was pushing hard against the resistance that produced the results I wanted. The same is true with the resistance we feel when stepping outside of our comfort zones. Our instincts tell us that it’s futile and that we should return to what we know, to what’s comfortable. When we give into this, we’re rejecting the possibility of becoming a more complete version of ourselves. Embrace the resistance and keep pushing. You’ll see results.
Accountability forces you to push the envelope
Years later, I started my own business building websites and it was more than a little stressful. I didn’t necessarily feel like I knew enough to make this my only source of income and feared I wouldn’t be equal to the task. When I got my first client I felt a lot of pressure and the responsibility made me quite uncomfortable. Because I was accountable to my client, whatever it was I didn’t know how to do, I figured it out. I didn’t really have a choice. I kept pushing myself beyond what I knew and beyond what I was comfortable with because I had someone to answer to. Each new project took me outside my comfort zone and forced growth. Whatever you decide to undertake, make yourself accountable to someone other than yourself and you’ll be forced push through the most difficult times.
Comfort is an unhealthy addiction
How many of us, given the choice, would like to know the amount of precious time we’ve wasted eschewing the setting and pursuit of challenging and worthwhile goals in favor of video games, television, and staring at our smartphones? I know there are way more hours of my life flushed away than I care to consider. I’d hazard a guess that more of us are addicted to the distracting pseudo comfort the entertainment culture offers us than not. How does binging on these, or other time wasting activities, make you feel? Does it leave you feeling positive, energized, and excited about life? We all know it has the exact opposite effect. How different could your life look if you stepped out of your comfort zone and began legitimately pursuing that thing you always thought about doing?
Learn how to fail
The word “failure” is taboo in most circles. We dare not talk about it lest it become reality. It may evoke images of shame and disgrace. The idea of it likely horrifies you but it shouldn’t and doesn’t have to. The truth is, if you aren’t failing with some frequency you probably aren’t taking enough risks and the goals you’re setting, if any, aren’t big enough. Failure needs to be a regular part of your life. Learn about any high achiever and you’re certain to hear about not just one but many failures that preceded their success(es). While I’m sure you’d be able to find the random, rare exception of someone who got lucky on their first try, mostly anyone who’s achieved any notable success has left a trail of failed attempts behind them. Learning to persevere through your failures is perhaps the most underrated life skill there is.
Energize your life
Continuing to challenge yourself is exciting and helps you to focus your energy in productive directions. Starting this blog and returning to my love for writing after many years of not writing has been amazingly energizing. I installed Wunderlist on my computer and my phone and after a month or so I had almost a hundred topics I wanted to write about. New ideas just kept coming to me. Deciding to start this blog has activated my imagination and shifted my life into a higher gear. Is putting my work out here publicly scary? Yup. Have my writing skills atrophied after years of not writing? Yes, but even after a short time I can see the improvement and it makes me want to keep at it. I’m not sure where this will ultimately go, but this endeavor has gotten my heart pumping and has made me feel twenty years younger.