“I can’t do that; I’ve never done that before!”
“That’s not the way we’ve always done it.”
“I don’t want to fail.”
Sound familiar? We all have thoughts like these. Humans have a tendency to stay comfortable, play it safe, and stick to familiar routines. In other words, we like our comfort zones!
But we often overlook the valuable personal development opportunity discomfort provides us as learners and leaders.
It’s vital to push past the uneasiness and the desire to “return to normal” because just beyond that feeling is where growth, creativity, and learning flourish.
When we expand beyond our comfort zones and experience something completely new, our brains spur us to action by releasing dopamine and showing increased neuroplasticity, which creates new neural pathways that fuel creativity and enhance memory.
In one study, researchers tested participants’ memories by showing them a range of images rated as novel, familiar, or very familiar. Those participants who viewed a novel image followed by a familiar image had the best results. Researchers concluded that while repetition may help with memory, incorporating new information was even more valuable. This means it’s good for us to step outside our comfort zones!
Still, even when we know its value, leaving our comfort zones is anything but comfortable. However, there are ways to manage discomfort and grow:
Move beyond fear and self-doubt.
Self-doubt can cripple you if you allow it to. Acknowledge and accept your feelings of fear and uncertainty rather than letting them paralyze you. Instead, pursue a growth mindset.
Think about the last time you started a new job. It was overwhelming! Discomfort was your most common feeling, every day. But you had to keep moving forward, learning new tasks, getting to know new people. You grew past your own fears, celebrated your small successes, learned from your failures, and eventually the new became second nature.
Change up your routine, even if it’s working.
Routines are safe and easy, but they can be ruts that only get you to one place. By switching up your routine, you can trick your brain into healthy new habits and encourage it to make new connections. The perspective you gain from any change, even if it’s negative, prevents you from tuning out components of your life and missing opportunities for growth and productive change.
Embrace “The Suck.”
A phrase commonly used in the military, “embrace the suck” doesn’t mince words. A certain amount of frustration and discomfort is inevitable in life! Rather than deny or ignore that there will be challenges, embrace them as part of the process. If you plan for difficulty, you can face the task or duty with courage and confidence, resulting in improved mental toughness.
If you’re feeling uncomfortable, you’re ultimately doing something right. You’ve realized a change needs to be made. However, simply dabbling outside your safe space won’t get you the results you need. As Sujan Patel notes in this Forbes article, “You need to dive in head-on and fully immerse yourself. That might be more stressful, but there’s no better way to get the process going so you move beyond that one thing holding you back.”
By becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable, you’ll discover more than you ever thought possible.