motivation

Change, Comfort Zones, and Saying Nope

I know that growth requires some discomfort.

I recognize that change is challenging.

I understand that doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is pointless.

However, I still HATE being told that I have to step out of my comfort zone.

For me, even the phrasing is upsetting.

It’s a disorienting piece of advice, like being told to abandon everything you know and leap into the unknown.

My immediate reaction is to say ‘NOPE.”

A drawing in blank ink on white paper of a young person with bobbed hair. They are standing next to a ladder that leads to a diving board that extends over a very small swimming pool. They are saying the word 'Nope.'
Luckily, I have no comfort zone when it comes to sharing my drawings. I’m still learning and I mess stuff up regularly
but as long as they make the point I was trying to make, I go ahead and post them.

So, I was really expecting to agree with Melody Wilding’s Please stop telling me to leave my comfort zone it seemed like it was going to be the sort of advice I use with my clients.  I was expecting to be disappointed that I hadn’t written the piece.

That’s not how it worked out.

Even though she and I share a lot of the same perspective on the value of ‘comfort zones’ and the same distaste for being told that leaving that zone is the only way to grow, I found her depiction of leaving a comfort zone to be very odd.  It was as if, for Wilding, there were only two states of being – living in a comfort zone or constantly maximizing your stress.

That’s a very extreme view. It’s no wonder that she wants to stay in her comfort zone if the only other option is full crisis-mode.  

I don’t want anyone to regularly spend time in full crisis-mode, that’s not good for your health. However, I also don’t want anyone to stay confined to a ‘comfort zone’ if they want something else for themselves.

That’s why, when I have to coax my clients toward change, I encourage them to EXPAND their comfort zone. To take small risks, be slightly uncomfortable, and gradually increase what the actions and activities that they are comfortable with.

I tell them that change is difficult and it can be uncomfortable. And I remind them that some people enjoy the disorienting feeling of jumping right into something new. If my client doesn’t enjoy that feeling, then there are lots of other ways to change and to grow – slowly.

It will require a certain amount of willingness to be uncomfortable, and maybe even a few minutes of panic, in some cases. However, they can build up their tolerance for those feelings.

And, in talking about this whole issue with some of the other Fit is a Feminist Issue bloggers, I came to realize that there was an aspect of the issue of comfort zones that I had been missing. 

Since I am firmly pro-comfort zone, I didn’t know that there are people (Hi Mina!) for whom the comfort zone is actually UNcomfortable – it feels too safe, too easy, too controlled.  So getting away from that comfortable feeling feels GOOD to them, they aren’t ‘stepping outside their comfort zone’ in the same way I am. They are stepping TOWARDS something that feels better for them.

(So, perhaps there are multiple kinds of comfort zones. Maybe some are about staying the same and some are about constant change, depending on what feels right for you.)

But, when it comes to what we usually mean when talk about comfort zones (i.e. staying in a ‘low-risk’ area skills-wise), I agree with Wilding about their importance. There is a lot of valuable work to be done from within an individual’s comfort zone, a lot of good things come from there. I don’t advocate making yourself miserable for no reason, or worse, just to show that you can step outside your comfort zone.

And I think that she and I are probably operating in some of the same spheres – calculated risks, small steps, gradual growth –  but I think that there is something off about setting up comfort and panicked stress as a dichotomy.

Ultimately, these quick snippets of advice that get tossed around as memes are lacking in nuance. They are one-size-fits-all and it can be annoying the way they held up as received truths.

When you are trying to make changes in your fitness, your self-care, or in your habits, you have to take your own path.

Maybe you thrive on the stress of the unknown and you love the challenge of overcoming your discomfort and meeting your goals. If that’s the case, keep stepping towards what feels good.

Or, maybe you are more like me (and, apparently, Wilding) and you find that full-on discomfort is overwhelming and prevents you from making progress toward your goals. If that’s the case, keep taking those small steps outward and EXPAND your comfort zone until you are where you want to be.

Neither approach is bad or wrong in itself.  It just might be the wrong tool for a given person and we can’t presume that our approach is the ONLY way to get things done.  Obviously, different tools work for different people 

One of my favourite writing quotes is by A.J. Liebling  – “The only way to write is well, how you do it is your own damn business.”

The same principle works when it comes to making changes – “The only way to change is by changing, how you do it is your own damn business.”

So, my question is, how DO you like to change?

Do you jump toward that feeling of discomfort or do you prefer to deal with it step by step?