I read this sentence somewhere recently: Inhabiting the discomfort of the unfamiliar can let a truer, stronger voice emerge

You know how some things, like sentences, words, images, situations, jump out at you sometimes?

What do you do when that happens?

Here’s the thing:
when something jumps at you like that, it’s your intuition talking.
It’s ringing your doorbell to say: pay attention! Look at this! This is important! You need to get this message!

So I looked at the sentence. Picked it apart. Analyzed it.
I was feeling discomfort when I read it. Not a physical ache but more an uncomfortable feeling about a situation. And I just wanted it to go away. You know? Just get it over and done with so comfort can come back.
I wanted to move past the feeling of discomfort and anxiety as soon as possible. To be back in my safe zone. Where feelings are known and not scary.

Discomfort is always felt when you have moved out of your comfort zone, out of the familiar. Yikes!
We are creatures of habit. We like structure, routine, things to be the same, knowing what will happen.
This is how we explain the world, how we make it manageable, liveable. It’s a stress free zone.

However, this is also where things get boring and stuck. This is where the aches are born that tell us something is not right. This is where we feel we need to search for happiness because we are not there yet.

So discomfort is necessary to grow. It’s needed to expand your comfort zone. It’s needed to learn, experience, connect synapses in your brain, connect to other things and people, understand things.

We tend to shy away from it. Yet we know we should go there!
And learning how to ‘inhabit that discomfort’ is a life long process. Because the discomfort of yesterday’s situation is the routine of tomorrow. Yet there are always new things to learn and experience.

And when we sit in that discomfort, talk to it, look it in the eye, ask ourselves why we feel uncomfortable and eventually get past it, ‘a truer, stronger voice emerges’.
A voice that says ‘see, I told you you can do it’. A voice that whispers ‘told you so’. A voice that tells you ‘wow, look at you!’.

And the lessons learned are so valuable. They teach us so much about ourselves and our values, about situations and relationships with people.

So next time you feel discomfort, here’s what you can do.

  1. Breathe.
    Get back in touch with your body. Listen to it. Slow down. Quieten your mind and focus on your breath. Only when you’re calm can you see things the way they really are.
  2. Know your comfort zone.
    What are you comfortable with and what not? Have you ever asked yourself this? Why not make list each time something comes up that you’re not comfortable with? And also make a list each time you did something and thought ‘Oh, that was ok.’. Change starts with awareness. So the more you know about your comfort zone, the better.
  3. Know the fear.
    Sometimes we are afraid and afterwards think ‘well that wasn’t really necessary’. So in each situation, try to get to know the fear. What is the fear really about? If for example you’re afraid to introduce yourself to new people, is it because you don’t know what to say? Or are you insecure about yourself and what you do? Or are you concerned about the way you look? Once you know that fear, you can take action against it: rehearse what to say beforehand, take assertiveness lessons or get a style expert to revamp your look.
  4. Excuse or fear?
    Sometimes the excuses we find not to do something are actually fears disguised as excuses. When you say for example that you have no time to do this, is that actually true? Or is it just an excuse so you don’t have to name the real fear?
  5. Practice.
    Just like with ice skating or learning a language, the more you practice getting out of your comfort zone, the better you get at it. So next time you find yourself inching away from people, try to stay a little longer on purpose before retreating back to your comfort zone. Go out to meet new people on purpose, seek out situations that freak you out. Get help from friends or a coach.
  6. Fail.
    Failure is the best teacher. No really! We are so drilled to see failure as bad that we hardly ever see the good in it. Each failure teaches us something and we grow (ie expand our comfort zone) when we learn from it. So go ahead and fail often. You will become a bigger. better and more comfortable person!
  7. Laugh
    Learn to laugh at yourself when you fail. Because, let’s be honest, some epic failures are really funny in hindsight 🙂 The more you learn not to take yourself and things too seriously, the easier it will become.
  8. Baby steps
    No need to immediately to a Ted Talk when you’re afraid of speaking in front of people. Take baby steps. Steps that feel just a little uncomfortable but that you can manage. Speak up more often in meetings. Ask a question at a conference. Present a project you love to your friends. Baby steps are practice and help you get better at it and feel more comfortable with the discomfort.
  9. Get to know risk takers.
    Look around you for people you admire for their risk taking, the challenging things they do that you are afraid of. The more you hang around with these people, the more you can learn from them. Their ‘fearlessness’ will start to rub off on you 🙂
  10. Focus on the benefits
    Looking at what stepping out of your comfort zone will bring you, helps you to make the step. What are the benefits for you if you get more comfortable talking to or in front of people? Keep your eye on those benefits and they will be the carrot that can drive you in case of doubts.
  11. Focus on the fun.
    Trust me, once you focus on the fun of the stepping out of your comfort zone action, you will forget the fear – or it will at least be less prominent.

So back to my recent situation. I looked at the discomfort. And yes, it was fear.

So I gave it a chair.
Uhu. That’s what I always do with fear.

Instead of ignoring it or sending it away, I invite it in and give it a chair. Then we have an honest discussion. About what it is and why it’s here.
And usually fear is the voice of my ego. And the ego is just the scared little me.

Once my fear is on the chair, it shuts up (because it’s sitting down and is part of the action, right?). And I can go about doing what I have to do.
I sat with it, listened to it. And in the end I didn’t do anything.
What?
Yes, I didn’t do anything.
I didn’t jump out of my comfort zone.
Why?
I usually do not have a problem jumping out of my comfort zone. But my word of the year is Unfold and I need to learn to let things unfold instead of jumping. Because letting things unfold by themselves (instead of taking control) is actually my discomfort.
And you know what? It felt great. It made me a little edgy, but what happened in the following days confirmed that unfolding is what needed to happen.

If what you need is to jump (out of your comfort zone) then ask yourself this one question:
What’s the worst that can happen?
Usually it’s ridiculously funny. Or just plain ridiculous. That should give you perspective.

Here’s an interesting article to read more.
The science of breaking out of your comfort zone