photo by Lee Goss

Comfort has its place, for sure.

Routines can make our lives work well. Brushing teeth everyday, eating meals, getting to the office on time — all good. However, when we become rigid and cling to comfort – particularly emotional comfort – we seriously limit our experience of life’s rich purpose and meaning.

There’s a popular idea in the transformational coaching world:

We need to become comfortable with discomfort.

Do we? Really?

First, I’m not sure it’s even possible to become “comfortable with discomfort”. I mean, would it even be called “discomfort” if we were comfortable?

Second, just as comfort has its place, so does discomfort. You’ve surely seen that over-used chalkboard image illustrating the relationship between your comfort zone and magic. In case you haven’t:

overused but true

So, here’s an idea: How about we welcome discomfort? In fact, let’s EMBRACE it! …… No?

I don’t know about you, but my reaction to the first sign of discomfort is NOT to welcome or embrace it. Nope. My first reaction is more like: This Shouldn’t Be Happening! Immediately followed by any number of well-honed fix-it strategies.

Here’s an example of how it often goes:

  1. Let’s say someone gives me feedback (unsolicited, of course).
  2. It triggers my sensitivity to perfectionism or approval.
  3. I retreat and double down into my comfort zone of defenses.
  4. I’ll be honest, at this point I’m not one bit interested in the “magic” that supposedly resides outside of my barricaded comfort zone.

Then, I usually reach for one or more of the following to secure my position. I might:

  • change my self-talk and use “positivity” as a clever hiding place, or
  • get defensive and justify, or
  • come up with an action plan (which is really a reaction plan), or
  • vow to never, ever be vulnerable again, or
  • gossip about how wrong the feedback giver is and how, they aren’t so perfect either now are they?!, or
  • secretly plot my revenge

These are just examples but you get the point. They’re a far cry from the noble idea to “welcome” or “embrace” discomfort. These are all strategies to guard the perimeter of a comfort zone. Not exactly a recipe for “living my best life.”

New Plan: Accept Discomfort as an Invitation to Grow

It’s doubtful that I’ll ever like discomfort. I can, however, accept it and appreciate what it gives me after I step beyond comfort’s heavily fortressed threshold. The ambiguous and magical territory of transformation awaits. With enough practice and experience, acceptance of discomfort summons my willingness to step out and face whatever is uncomfortable. Not to conquer it or fix it or even to make it comfortable. Just to face it. Undefended.

That moment of being undefended in the face of discomfort is when magic stands a chance of happening. The higher truth is, discomfort has always led me to a larger experience of life. One that is richer with mystery, passion, gratitude, and adventure. It’s a life I’m far more interested in living.

It takes courage, for sure. Jungian analyst and author, James Hollis, sums it up this way:

It is far easier to walk in shoes too small for us than to step into the largeness that the Soul expects and demands.

The Soul doesn’t care about our comfort. It cares about our growth. It cares about us becoming who we are really meant to be, and then stretching beyond that to become more. When we remember this, it is an exhilarating, sacred journey and SO worth the price!