Embrace “productive discomfort”

“You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

-Roy T. Bennett

We are always drawn to easier way of doing things. Many of us feel safe in our comfort zones. Convenience and comfort has become our default choice and many times it becomes a driver of our decisions. But the problem with convenience is that it makes us intolerant of things that are not within our comfort zone. It is very hard for us to do things that could be good for us like leaving a bad habit or learning a new skill. We fail to do so and tend to avoid taking action as it might involve a certain level of discomfort and unfamiliarity. We constantly try to avoid facing such situations that cause us discomfort which otherwise could fulfil some of our personal and professional endeavours. Most of the times, we relinquish many of our cherished goals because they fall outside of our comfort zone.

We make new goals, new dreams and develop new passions from time to time. We make new resolutions to change ourselves in order to meet those desired goals. But this desire to change also makes us reluctant to leave things that are familiar. For most of us, leaving our comfort zone is difficult because of the fear of the unknown which coaxes us right back into the known and old familiar ways. We might feel frustrated and annoyed about the fact that we have to leave our comfort zone. We often feel stuck to adapt ourselves to unfamiliarity and avoid anything that is not comfortable. To overcome this pattern of avoidance, it is important to learn to step outside our comfort zones and get accustomed to discomfort.

What is comfort zone?

The comfort zone is a behavioural space where your activities and behaviours fit a routine and a pattern that involves less risk and stress. It provides familiarity, security and to some extent some level of certainty. Within our comfort zone, we become comfortable with what is familiar and get used to a steady level of performance. This soon makes us complacent as we easily fall into comfortable habits and begin to avoid those which are not.

We avoid changing most of our habits and behaviours by rationalising our thinking and saying ‘this is not the right time.’ or ‘It’s not important for me to do it.’ We tend to structure our lives to avoid moments and tasks that cause us discomfort. But those are the things that are probably important for our personal and professional growth and to maximise our potential. We hold ourselves back by thinking it is better to stay the way we are in order to avoid the discomfort, stress and anxiety.

Why is it important to come out of your comfort zone?

We are comfortable in engaging ourselves in a familiar pattern, but sometimes they may not be serving your current goals. They may prevent you from making necessary changes and hold you back from reaching your full potential. You may not be open to new challenges, to learn, grow and try new things. You begin to underestimate your ability to make any kind of change by judging yourself and end up convincing yourself that you will never be able to make necessary changes. Such thoughts can influence your actions and keep you from doing things that you might otherwise would like to pursue and can cost you your own success.

But with little awareness, understanding and by making few adjustments, you can break away from your routine and can push yourself to make those necessary changes in order to pursue your goals and aspirations. By learning to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone, you can open a lot of new possibilities and discover things about yourself that you could not have otherwise discovered. You might learn things that you are capable of and could achieve things that you could not have anticipated. You cannot be successful in achieving your dreams if you only stick to a comfortable habit pattern and routine. Sometimes you need to take risk of attempting something which is outside of your comfort zone as well.

Outside of your comfort zone

“ Life always begins with one step outside of your comfort zone.” – Shannon L. Alder.

Within our comfort zone, there is little stress and anxiety. We can anticipate things to certain extent and know what’s coming next and can plan accordingly. Whereas outside of your comfort zone, you are open to risks, challenges, and open yourself up to the possibility of more stress and anxiety. But sometimes, a little bit of healthy stress and discomfort is not all that bad and is required to provide motivation for us to achieve desired goals.

“Being slightly uncomfortable, whether or not by choice, can push yourself to achieve goals you never thought you could.”

But it is important to not to push yourself too far and enter the zone of bad stress. This if happens can interfere with your ability to work well, to learn and to plan effectively. Here are some benefits of getting accustomed to “productive discomfort.”

• It improves your performance by opening up to challenges and taking risks.

• Makes you more creative by trying new things.

• Lowers your fear of failure and creates openness to new experiences.

• Improves your curiosity, imagination, and drive to explore.

• You can deal with new and unexpected changes easily.

• Improves your productivity and you will be willing to push your boundaries by adjusting to what was difficult.

We know what we need to do to improve our lives. We say we want to change for the better. But we often are held back by our belief that sameness equals safety and change equals discomfort. The key is to be aware of whether your comfort zones are preventing you from creating change and to be willing to leave what is familiar to make the change you desire. Here are some ways to get accustomed to ‘Productive discomfort’.

Try new things

We have a tendency to only seek out information we already agree with and avoid doing new things. Seeking new experiences, learning new skills and opening yourself to new ideas inspire you to challenge your confirmation bias. You can see old problems in new light and take risks. By challenging yourself to things you normally wouldn’t do, you can experience some of the uncertainty and get used to tackle changes easily. Try changing your daily work routine or try some new activities and be open to new experience.

Decide to take the leap

One of the important factor to break out of your comfort zone is to find your source of conviction about why a task is important to you or why making that change is essential. When you face situations that are not in your comfort zone, even if you feel the discomfort, believe in your convictions. This way, you can fight through the discomfort to take that leap towards the desired change. You may come to realise that what you feared most is not all that true and in a way, slight discomfort becomes normal to you.

Take risks

Every time you open yourself to challenges and risks, regardless of their outcome, they provide you with learning experience and provide you an opportunity to utilise your store of untapped knowledge and capabilities. Even if you make mistakes and don’t get it right, there are always these experiences you have to tap into in future. Taking risks is important for your personal growth. challenges and risks expand the size of your comfort zone and you can cultivate openness to experience.

Do things differently

To stretch beyond your comfort zone, you need to make changes either large or small in the way you do things on a daily basis. For instance, sometimes slowing down is all it takes to make you uncomfortable especially if you are used to speed or quick thinking. If you are one of that conflict avoidant, you must embrace conflict. If you are an introvert, you have to do things which you have been avoiding like meeting new people or having different conversation. By doing things differently, you can expand your comfort zone and open yourself up to new possibilities.

Finally, Start with making small changes.

It is always overwhelming to step into discomfort and into the unknown. But instead of thinking of big picture, it will be easier to break down what you want to accomplish by making small changes. Getting used to ‘productive discomfort’ is to embrace new experience and to reach the state of optimal anxiety in a manageable way.

In conclusion,

Comfort zones exist in every area in our lives. To practice ‘productive discomfort’, be aware of which comfort zone may not be serving your current purpose or which comfort zones are preventing you from making the desired change in your habits or behaviour. If you feel that you are stuck in your routine, challenge your underlying belief and make small changes to your routine to slowly move out of your comfort zone.

Stay consistent with change

We all have certain personal behaviours we wish we could change. Whether this change can be related to healthy eating choices, lifestyle choices, decisions related to work or relationship choices. Some of us set goals to achieve our dreams or improve our behaviour and wellness. And in order to achieve these goals, certain negative habitual patterns need to be replaced by positive ones that actually stick. But despite our intentions, more often we fail to be consistent in our efforts. When we are starting out in a new goal, we are full of energy and enthusiasm. We eagerly make changes in the first few weeks. But as the days pass on, the newness wears off and we fall off the wagon back into old behavioural and habitual patterns. Many lack potential to be consistent with the change.

Why is it difficult to change and be consistent with change once we decide upon it!

The main reason being our own perception of change. We begin to form these perceptions from a young age. Because of this, thinking of change makes us feel uneasy and we start resisting changes we wish we could have made. Because of the perceived risk or fear attached to it, we end up procrastinating, stressing ourselves up or ending up dropping the changes and resorting to old behavioural or negative habitual patterns.

We always have a choice when it comes to choosing between self-managed lifestyle and our present orientation. Most of our positive habits develop out of necessity, without specific intention. This can make us inconsistent in following our resolutions inspite of putting in the time and effort. We are often unaware and unprepared for change because of our habitual nature of our behaviour, which drives much of our daily activities as often as usual. Change in our habitual behaviour cannot happen in linear fashion or in a single moment but only occurs gradually.

Factors that obstruct change

When we want to implement a change, we temporarily face resistance by becoming angry and withdrawn. Thinking “it’s all hopeless and impossible to make changes, so, why try?” or “just stay the way you are” is what usually keeps you from it. when we have some habitual and behavioural patterns buried deeply within us, often our reaction is to think the approach is silly, or it doesn’t make sense, or unacceptable. We don’t want to do it. Because of this it becomes difficult to switch between habitual behaviour and deliberate decision. The effective method is to reduce the habitual control over behaviour and modify the factors that control the behaviour.

Here are some factors which impede your ability to be consistent with the change.

• Even when you know your old habits are inefficient, you remain convinced that they are necessary for success.

• Your environment is unsupportive of the habits you are trying to cultivate or the changes you’re trying to make.

• Undervaluing the achievement and overvaluing the importance of the interruption.

• Misplaced belief in a less effective habit leads you astray and a positive belief in bad habits turn a habit into a permanent behaviour.

• Lack of motivation and lack of conscious intention towards change.

• Incorrect perception of the advantages of change and deeply ingrained contrary perspectives interfere with your ability to keep up with the change.

• Having an inflated self control belief or overestimating the ability to control can increase chances of exposing yourself to impulsiveness.

• Not having proper commitment to plan, act and make substantial adjustments to keep up with the intended change.

To shift from habit to goal-directed action, you have to make an effort to do small things that will add up to you moving in that direction of change. The mind is a pattern making system. You should be capable of breaking out of inherited collective mind-patterns and cast off your limitations in order to adopt to your new behaviour to be in consistent with it.

Here are certain ways to progress in the direction of change and to be consistent.

Identify consistent cues

Our behaviours are triggered by physical and mental cues. When you put your plans into action, you have to make substantial adjustments to your routine, environment, your relationship and to yourself in order to further the change you desire. For instance, if you are looking to decrease procrastination, you should follow a realistic and purposeful daily schedule. By engaging in habits consistently, you can maintain a stable routine. Identify those things that happen with relative consistency from your daily routine and use them as anchors for your new behaviour or habits.

Be persistent in your efforts

From the moment you decide to make a change until you get the demonstration, there is a transitional period. You tend to go back and forth between what was and what you would like to be or to have. Don’t beat yourself up for the step backward and view it as a relapse into past habits. Trust that you will have plenty of days in the future to get back on track. At the same time remember to praise yourself for each small step forward that you make. Reflect back on advantages of the commitment you have made to be persistent in your efforts.

Develop insight awareness

Most of the times, you may not find yourself commit to making a change because of feeling a overwhelming sense of uncertainty. By analysing the advantages and disadvantages of continuing with the proposed behaviour and thinking through all possible avenues towards change, can help you in setting measurable goals and not to give up on them easily. It is essential to look at how your old habitual behaviour may conflict with your personal goals. This can be helpful to correct your perception of the advantage of change and can motivate you to progress in the direction of change.

Rely on intrinsic motivation

Sometimes, intrinsic motivation enhances your efforts of staying consistent with change by directly reinforcing the changed habits or behaviour. If you are intrinsically motivated, you continue with the changed habit or behaviour because you find it inherently satisfying. On the other hand, if your change is influenced by pressure from others, your willingness to be with the change will be short lived. By knowing why that desired change is important to you, you can reinforce your willingness to keep up and you can get through brief periods of temptation and can provide yourself with positive reinforcement of your changed behaviour or habit.

Practice self-reflection

Once your desired habit or behaviour is established, chances of returning to old habits or behaviour may always be present. It is important to avoid those things that might trigger your old behaviours or habits to reappear. Avoid overthinking or feeling guilty if you find yourself fluctuating back and forth. Reflecting upon these triggers can help you avoid them the next time around. Acknowledge your responsibility in having created that condition and plan on what you would do differently in the future to avoid these triggers.

Finally,

Develop mental agility to deal with change more effectively. Work on your own change. Do not identify with unhappy, fearful and limited self. Cast off your limitations. Break out of inherited collective mind-patterns and habits to achieve whatever you intend.

In conclusion

The majority of people fail at building life-changing habits because they start strong but give up early. You can’t focus on achieving something overnight. It takes time until you are strong in the new and have gone through complete change. Until then, you must be vigilant in your endeavours to change. Even the tiniest of efforts, when done consistently that brings you good results over time.

Notice if any of your long-standing behaviours are causing anxiety, guilt, fear, or depression, identify as to what factors are controlling your behaviour and work on changing them one by one and stay consistent in your efforts.