It gets easier, but never easy.
A few days ago, after navigating my third international airport in less than that many days, and reflecting on how far I’ve come in the past year and a half, I quickly rattled off a facebook post that went something like this…
- Fact #1: The more you do a thing that makes you uncomfortable, the easier it gets.
- Fact #2: It’s the ONLY thing that truly will.
- Fact #3: The inevitable by-product of this is an overall increase in courage, confidence and feelings of self respect.
I knew it was incomplete, unfinished - even as I hit ‘post’. Calling Fact #3 a “bonus” is like calling the Grand Canyon a pothole. There's nothing small about it; it’s a big freaking deal. It’s a full-on, ninja-level hack for living an lusciously expanded life. What's even more exciting, it doesn’t take very much to begin the expansion. You don’t have to quit your job or your life, you just have to make more space. Space begets more space. Courage, confidence, and self respect do too. I’ve watched this play out, day after day in my own life, and in the lives of those around me. I knew it was something much, much bigger.
Here’s how this works, and why it matters so much.
When you say 'yes' to trying something that makes you uncomfortable (Fact #1), your courage, confidence and self respect grow as a result (Fact #2). These newly expanded attributes inevitably leak into all other areas of your life. Yes, all of them.(Fact #3) Imagine what would be possible if you had more confidence in your career, more courage in your sex/love life, or more self-respect in your relationships with money, your body, your family, or your story of not enough.
And what if you could get it by doing something like...eating a vegetable that freaks you out, or saying hello to a stranger, or finally wearing that orange skirt you love, or buying that plane ticket to [insert destination here], or publishing the blog you've secretly been writing for months.
Let’s look at another example. Perhaps you know you need to have an uncomfortable conversation with someone. You’d rather avoid the situation than confront it; you feel insecure, unprepared, inadequate, and scared. You’re not sure you’ll do it right, not sure it will turn out the way you want, or not sure it’s even worth it in the first place. All great reasons NOT to do it, right?
Then, for whatever reason +wink wink+, you decide to dig deep and muster the courage it takes to have the conversation. You believe you’ll do your best, and that the result will be better than continuing to avoid the situation. So, you do it. It goes how it goes - maybe it’s stellar, maybe it’s a little bumpy, maybe you don’t get any of the things you wanted.
Here’s the good news, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is you DID it. YOU did it. You did the thing that was uncomfortable and scary. It didn’t kill you and it wasn’t nearly as bad as you’d made it out to be.
Unknowingly, you’ve just expanded your world. You’ve expanded YOU, and as a result, are distinctly more likely to try on something uncomfortable in another area of your life. Sounds simple, but I promise, it’s a game changer.
You can use this phenomenon to create a sneaky backdoor entrance to your own courage, confidence and self respect. Einstein described a similar dynamic when he spoke about “conbinatory play”. He defined it as the “act of opening up one mental channel by dabbling in another”.
So, now what??
Start dabbling! Begin with something that is truly a stretch for you, something decidedly outside of your comfort zone. It has to be something with stakes. Pick one thing, and do it a couple of times. Notice what happens. Look for ways in which your comfort zone expands, IN ALL DIRECTIONS.
The feeling of “being able to figure it out, no matter what” will grow to fill other spaces. (p.s. The same is true for doubt and shame, but we’ll explore that one another time.)
If you can, tell a friend what you’re planning to do. See if they want in on the fun too. Let’s face it, we could all use a little more confidence, and having a buddy makes the dark places feel a little less lonely. There are no bonus points for doing any of this alone.
Now, notice in Fact #1 I said it gets ‘easier’, not easy. Going outside of our comfort zone never feels easy, that’s the whole point. It’s never going to feel particularly ‘good’. You will, however, start to feel like a badass pretty soon. You may hesitate or have waves of doubt, or even full fledged freak out if it’s something particularly ‘stretchy’, but knowing you will get stronger and more resilient as a result, will begin to feel like fuel. You’ll dare yourself to expand even further.
“How much better can it get??” - I ask this question when I find myself in the middle of a moment I couldn’t have even imagined a year and a half ago. I remind myself all it took was doing a thing that evicted me from my comfort zone, and in the process, I gained irrefutable evidence that I can handle whatever comes my way. It hasn’t been fun, but it hasn’t destroyed me either.
The Elephant in the Room
I can’t share these words without also recognizing that getting to choose discomfort is a function of privilege. (Yep, I’m going there. I have to. It’s part of my job. Did I mention I have a thing for discomfort?)
Privilege is a spectrum, and we all inhabit different places based on our circumstances. Folks living in certain contexts of mental health, race, physical ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, family configuration, trauma, poverty, war, or other forms of systemic oppression, experience discomfort (or worse) on a daily basis. That is not the kind of discomfort I’m talking about here.
While that kind of non-consensual discomfort can be….well, let’s call it “instructive”, it’s not the same thing. Yes, we can “rise above” our conditions. However, when some folks have to consistently and disproportionately rise farther and more often, with inequitable outcomes, it is a dark and destructive force. It is unacceptable, and we all have a responsibility to understand and do more.
All THAT being said, if you’re someone living a life of relative comfort, with reasonably liberal access to opportunity, voice, and choice, then choose some discomfort.
Not because it’s fun, or so you can “know what it’s like”, but so that YOU can rise. Rise so that you can put all that good stuff you’ve been given, as well as the stuff you’ve worked so hard to get, toward a purpose greater than you. Use your expanded space to create more freedom, more equity, more opportunity; more space for folks who have been dealt a hand with fewer cards.
There’s no time like the present. Start with something ‘stretchy’ but doable, and do it! Pay attention to what happens. Don’t forget to invite others in as you create more space.
I would LOVE to hear about something you’re inspired to do that’s outside your current comfort zone. Drop me a line or share a story on my facebook page. I have wonderful peeps there who will lovingly witness and celebrate with you. <3
Until then, consider “combinatory courage” the next time you think, “Oh, I couldn’t do that…”. Ask yourself, “What if I did??”
You’ve got this darling one. You, were made for this. <3