Uncomfortable Places

Por: MA. Clara Franco Yáñez
Master en Asuntos Internacionales, por el Instituto de Posgrados en Estudios Internacionales y del Desarrollo en Ginebra, Suiza

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Phrases and slogans about “leaving our comfort zone” have become a cliché and like clichés tend to do, they risk losing their meaning entirely. We should be placing more of focus on the other side of this equation: just how UNcomfortable it is outside the “comfort zone”. Outside of this zone, action can be risky, and painful, and it might not bring the exact results that we expected, or at the time we expected them.

A very fine personal coach once taught me “we only grow in uncomfortable places”. This is true even physically, in nature and in our bodies. Babies are often in pain when their teeth start to grow. Teenagers are often in physical and emotional pain due to the hormones to stimulate their growth. Growing is often painful and uncomfortable; but we do ourselves a disservice if we forget that this also applies to the kinds of growth that we often want to seek, or should be seeking such as: emotional, psychological, mental, and professional growth or even to the growth of a business, a project or a professional career.

And the truth is that; in a world of constant movement, where even the universe itself and the cells and fluids of our bodies are in constant movement, we are always either growing or we are becoming smaller. There really is no such thing as stability, at least not as a very long-lasting state of affairs. Especially in a world where markets, technology and science move at an astoundingly quick pace, a fish who remains quiet for very long may soon be eaten by a bigger fish!... Seeking growth however, should also be done while keeping in mind the importance of balance and mindfulness in our lives. A desperate search to outgrow competitors, or an unhealthy and excessive amount of work without rest, may also bring so much stress into our lives that our health will bear the costs.

Speaking of health, even breaking the small (and comfortable) routines can be healthy for our mind. Recent studies have shown that as people grow older, those who are used to very strict and monotonous routines stand higher chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease – a tragic opposite of mental and intellectual growth. Experts suggest that doing small mental or physical exercises daily (from solving a challenging puzzle, to trying to perform a simple task while blindfolded, in order to activate our senses in a different way) are great shields against Alzheimer’s.

All of this applies for the business world, too. Markets and technology move at a very fast pace, the comfort zone – if it exists at all – is constantly shrinking and shaking. By nature, it becomes necessary to stretch outside of it, to venture into trying a new market, a new process, a new product or a new client. This of course should be done mindfully and with some risk calculation: not just to try variety for the sake of variety, but rather by consciously doing and trying things that we know may bring better results, more profits or a healthier business.

Yet how to purposely reach out to something that can be painful?... Even our brains are wired to try to stop us, in an instinct to avoid pain or risk. Mel Robbins, a worldwide renowned personal coach, talks about this extensively on TEDx talks and conferences which I strongly recommend and are easily found online. She says it bluntly: your brain WILL try to stop you from doing uncomfortable things which could make you grow. The human brain is designed and ready to grow and to tackle challenges, yes, but its bigger priorities are to seek survival and to avoid risks. Most of our brains have a hard time telling apart “deadly risks” from just “risks”; and that is why some people go into actual, physical anxiety attacks at the thought of speaking in public. It is uncomfortable, it is challenging, and the brain goes into “fight or flight” mode, desperately trying to avoid such a situation. Growing, thus, has to become a conscious effort. I personally prefer the motto “Do every day at least one thing that scares you”, rather than to just think about “leaving the comfort zone”. Doing every day at least one thing that scares us, or one thing which we know is good for us yet uncomfortable (and doing it mindfully and consciously, reflecting upon why this will make us grow), is a good way to start hacking our systems into small but constant, and cumulative, daily improvements.