In pop psychology there is a saying to the effect that everything we desire in life exists outside of this thing called a comfort zone. I’ve been observing this concept gain popularity for years while at the same time feeling on an intuitive level that there are flaws in this paradigm. As I have sat quietly with this over time it’s become clearer to me how this line of thinking is off. At the same time I have witnessed this become a sort of ‘zeitgeist’ culturally, used to try to help motivate people to try something new (which is inherently aligned with the greater good) but it has also become dogmatic. No one thinks about it, and the energy of words – the semantics – are quite important. It is essentially saying that we are no good where we are, and unless we do something that will be uncomfortable we will remain no good. It’s part of the always doing, bigger better, more more more mentality. It’s the opposite of the compassion and grace that have always been the catalyst for major change in my own life.
I hope you’ll enjoy what I am going to lay out in this blog post, and that it can give you the same good feeling it gave me upon my discovery of it. It’s a shift in the paradigm, and it addresses what I feel the shortcomings are. The reason I am even writing this is that I care greatly about personal growth and change that is accessible to all who desire it. We all should feel that ‘being the change we wish to see in the world’ is accessible.
I laughed out loud when I first saw this graphic. It plays perfectly into my new model for growth and change. When I look at this picture I see a guy, frightened, clinging to and hiding behind his rock. He is shaking and his eyes are bulging indicating stress and fear. He is definitely not in a comfort zone. So, what is it then that these 5 steps will help him break out of and into? It would appear to me he might be needing to break INTO a comfort zone.
It has become commonplace to discount comfort. Inherently, there is a bias toward discomfort. Ideologically we crave ‘being comfortable’ but societally we judge that comfort is somehow a bad thing. I would like to propose that comfort is a goal. It’s a temporary resting place. I would add that the pursuit of some form of bliss, some heartfelt desire, is mostly a joyous process, and that the attainment of fulfillment, of being on our soul’s purpose, and of course dharma… these are all joyful things.
Now, what about this graphic? To me it implies that we can either have ‘adventure’ or our ‘comfort zone’; not both. I am a person who loves adventure. I am comfortable with life being one big adventure with the constant pursuit of new adventures being added like chapters to a book we get to write. To me, discomfort is a big motivator. Living a boring, staid life, filled with routines I do not enjoy — that to me is the opposite of adventure and something I have to deal with daily – when my calendar comes out I have to happily build in adventures, or I will get swallowed up in routine.
This next graphic does contain some truth, but it also discounts the concept of the miraculous and spontaneous. It ignores the idea of energy manifesting the most mystical and miraculous changes, awakenings, epiphanies and shifts. These often come in a flash, usually only with the merest suggestion on an energetic level. On the other hand it does speak to a more physical form of accomplishment – it’s unlikely you will learn a new language or run a 6 minute mile unless you actually take training for those things. As an example as a runner for many years people would ask me ‘How do I run faster?’ (How do I prove my race time, my mile time, my pace, etc.) Of course the answer is ‘to run faster you must actually run faster’. In other words, include some speedwork in your routine – change your anaerobic threshold. You may have to do something you have never done. Or, possibly, by having a regular routine, you may also evolve!
Intuitively, this physics model when adapted for personal growth and change makes so much more sense, to me. The Bohr Model for the way electrons change orbitals, in oversimplified terms is how an electron (us) moves around within a space – it’s as far as we can zip around with what we have. But, if energy is added, like let’s say for electrons, light… or for us humans ‘the mind’s wants’ … then increasingly we experience discomfort in the form of agitation, feeling contained, dissatisfied, and as if we are stuck. So, in actuality, we really are in our DISCOMFORT ZONE.
In the world of energy, and in the world of physics, what happens next is that these electrons, are gaining in potential energy, and will finally achieve enough potential energy to ‘jump’ to the next level or orbital, and the process can begin again. And so will we. As our discomfort increases, and as our agitation and potential energy (or energy for change) increase, we are naturally preparing ourselves to ‘jump’ into a new area, into a new ‘comfort zone’… where we can take rest and enjoy our successful transition, reap some rewards, until, inevitably the mind’s wants begin eroding our comfort.
I am here to say – comfort is good. Do not judge comfort for bad. My sense of the origin of this judgement may come from some Calvinian dogma about work ethic, but it probably predates that by many centuries. Discomfort is the thing: it’s the mover, it’s the shaker. This graphic to the left has it all completely backwards, in my opinion. How is a dull life comfortable? How is fulfillment outside your comfort zone? Just getting by, playing it safe, and being full of regret feel pretty uncomfortable even just reading the words. Excitement, Confidence, Happiness do not seem to me at all uncomfortable.
Finally, I would like to discuss this model briefly as well.
Here we see a three tiered model which actually identifies some of the characteristics of stages involved in change and growth. To me it’s a pretty decent model, and aligns with what I have been saying. It’s that when we experience the sensations described in the Red (Panic) Zone, we are in a state of discomfort, and are full of the potential energy for change. From there we convert that potential energy into kinetic energy — we channel our discomfort into change… It’s also ripe ground for deep spiritual work. It is here where our ability to manifest is strongest! Finally when we have made some changes (begun an exercise program, stopped spending money on credit cards, start clean eating, get into a program of recovery, plan a trip…the list of common things goes on and on) we gradually find a comfort zone again. Be very happy. Enjoy these times, because this too, shall pass. Given, again that ‘the minds wants can never be satisfied’, you can trust that new discomforts are pretty much right around the corner. So, be good to yourself, be good to your friends, as you get increasingly uncomfortable, it’s time to look at that. Is it just the mind’s insatiable wants, or is it time to deal with a legitimate discomfort. If it’s time for a change, you’ll know, because the energy of it will propel you through the resistance. It’s the way energy works.
And I say that with love.