“It’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Bryan Kest, one of my favorite yoga teachers, said this as the room full of 200 profusely sweating people bumped into each other while bent over and teetering on one leg. In that moment, he was referring to being less reactive. To remove the drama from being necessarily uncomfortable. He’ll also often mention that after teaching for 30 years, he’s never seen anyone who’s liked being in his class. He teaches the fundamentals and importance of getting outside of your comfort zone. Standing on one leg encourages my body to stay strong enough to support its own weight. Bending over ensures that I stay flexible enough to put my own shoes on as I age. Breathing deeply with a calm expression through the whole experience gives me a much better chance of doing the same when something really uncomfortable happens outside of the class. If I don’t practice these things, which are innately difficult and uncomfortable, I’ll eventually lose them all.
It’s not just our bodies and disposition that require discomfort in order to stay strong and grow. At its essence, stagnation and atrophy in all areas of life are often symptoms of staying tightly wedged inside of our comfort zone. Our brains often trick us into believing that the discomfort of trying something new will be greater than that which exists in the current situation. Of course, when weighing out the long term benefits, this is seldom true. We find comfort in jobs we hate, unhealthy relationships and even addiction. The more confining the comfort zone, the smaller the resulting life. For millions of people, psychological disorders such as OCD and anxiety result in a diminishing amount of experience. A gentle widening of those comfort zones is commonly recommended as a way to seek relief and even begin to recover from such disorders.
Just because we push the boundaries of our comfort zones and take risks, it does not mean that everything will work out the way we want. However, if we just keep doing the same thing or nothing at all, that story will have a very predictable ending. Our minds often blow the potential risks way out of proportion in order to keep us pinned in the realm of certainty. A great question to ask yourself is “What is the worst thing that could happen if I try this?” If I said hello to that girl, if I offered help to that person, if I ran a mile a day, if I quit the job I hate.
Start with a list of things that you would not ordinarily volunteer to do. It need not be crazy and can be as involved as like. The important part is consistency: to do at least one per day for the next three weeks. They do not need to all be unique, but try for a little variety to keep things...well, uncomfortable. You will then become less sensitive to being uncomfortable, making it possible for a bigger, less reactive life to be habitual. Everybody's list will be different based on their personality, but here are a few examples:
- Smile at a stranger
- Have an uncomfortable conversation that you've been putting off
- Try the coffee challenge
- Intentionally sit in the wrong seat
- Pick some interactions to be totally honest in
As I struggle to stand on one leg, I notice that the person I almost knocked over is lifting her leg much higher than I am. Bryan reminds the class that there are 7 billion of us on the planet, all with completely different bodies and stories. It makes zero sense to compare and contrast ourselves because those differences mean that someone else’s experience has no relevance to ours. When I remove the competitiveness, all it really means is that she has to lift her leg higher to feel the same challenge which I experience just to get mine off the floor. We all need to find our own edges around vulnerability and challenging ourselves outside our respective comfort zones because they are as unique to us as our bodies. But maybe like yoga, we can do it with some self compassion and a little less reactiveness.