Just call me Goldilocks. You know, from the story of The Three Bears. She doesn’t want anything too hot, too cold, too hard, or too soft. She wants to stay in her zone and avoid being uncomfortable in any way. This sounds all well and good, but the flip side of this coin is that often, while staying comfortable, we’re missing out on things that are potentially really awesome.
How this lesson came up for me
My husband and I were able to finally meet our friend Jeremy Janus live and in person. (Jeremy is one of the photographers I interviewed, who has helped me with numerous giveaways, and we’ve talked off and on ever since online, but we don’t live close so we had never actually met.) Oddly enough, this meeting happened in a state that neither of us live…Florida.
We were both down there for separate reasons, but we were able to meet up and spend the day exploring and hanging out.
The whole day was amazing. We went to the Melbourne Beach/Sebastian Inlet area, where we sat by the beach, walked through the Maritime Hammock Sanctuary, and ended the day watching the sunset and a storm roll in.
My husband and I talked as we were driving home that evening and we realized that, if it weren’t for our wanting to spend time getting to know Jeremy, we may not have even attempted some of the things we did that day because we would have thought it was too hot, too sticky, too far to walk, etc.
And really, it wasn’t that hot, or that far, or that bad. But the idea of it possibly being bad would have stopped us before we ever started.
Inherently there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be comfortable.
In fact, it’s our brains job to keep us comfortable. That’s part of why we avoid being uncomfortable in the first place.
Along with comfort, our brains strive for familiarity. They like to do things the same way over and over again so they don’t have to work as hard. It’s why we get more anxious and stressed out when things happen that are out of the ordinary. Our brains are signaling, “danger, danger”.
To keep us in these “safe” places, our brains actively seek out anything that may possibly cause us to have to be outside of our norm, and they tell our bodies to avoid these things at all cost. Even if the threat is perceived, or completely irrational, it reacts the same way as it would if we were in real, mortal danger.
Because of this, we literally get into ruts, like those that you create when you drive the same path over and over again. These ruts are how we move through our day without having to think about a lot of the things we’re doing. The trouble comes though, when you’re no longer pushing yourself too hard or too far in any one direction, and you’re always staying in the comfortable and familiar.
When we avoid leaving our comfort zone, we miss out on learning new things, having new experiences, and creating new opportunities for ourselves. So how can we do better?
1. The best way to start, is to take baby steps.
It’s easier for most of us to start slow when we’re doing something new. It gives us the opportunity to warm up to the different things that we’re experiencing, and the feelings and emotions that come up along the way.
Find small things to do each day, or each week, that will challenge you to go a little further outside of whatever comfort zone you’re challenging. These small things will add up over time, and when you have the chance, you will feel more comfortable doing the big things.
From our day with Jeremy, we knew we wouldn’t want to hike miles and miles at a time, because it was too far outside of what we were used to doing. But going a few miles that day helped us ease into it slowly, while still being able to enjoy ourselves. These few miles, started with a half a mile, or a mile at home, working our way up.
Going slowly like this, also gives us a chance to build our confidence in ourselves and our abilities.
2. Learn to recognize the difference between when you’re avoiding things because they might be uncomfortable, and when you genuinely don’t want to do something.
This is where you need to be totally honest with yourself about why you’re avoiding something.
If someone is asking you to go to the beach, and you don’t want to because you don’t want to get all hot and sweaty and get sand all over you, but you really want to go because it would be fun…that’s different than if the beach just isn’t for you. Some people don’t like going to the beach, they would rather be in the forest, or inside. And that’s ok.
3. Remember that you are choosing to do this, you aren’t being forced to do it.
Sometimes what makes us uncomfortable, is the feeling that we have to do something. Not only do we cringe at the idea of being out of our comfort zone, we flat out rebel at feeling like we’re being forced to do it in some way.
But when we DO decide to go somewhere, that beach for instance, we have to remember that we chose to go, knowing that we may be uncomfortable part of the time.
I chose to sit on the beach and walk in the water, to walk in the woods with sand all over me, and to be out in the sun where I would be sticky all day from wearing sunscreen. Knowing that I chose that freed me up to pay less attention to it and actually have fun instead of focusing on being hot, sticky, and feeling grimy most of the day.
4. Give yourself permission to quit.
This may sound counterintuitive to everything else I’ve written here, but giving ourselves permission to quit reminds us that at any time during the process of being outside of our normal comfort levels, we can choose to step right back into that zone of the familiar.
We are the ones who choose to go do the thing, and we can choose when it’s over. Giving ourselves this option from the beginning is reassuring.
It doesn’t mean that we should give up the moment we feel the discomfort kick in, but we also don’t have to stay in that feeling for hours and hours.
For example, if you push yourself to go to a party for a friend, you can choose when to leave the party; when you’ve had enough. You don’t have to force yourself to go, stay the whole time, and then stay to help clean up too.
“To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake it is necessary to stand out in the cold.” – Aristotle
I know what you’re thinking, I could look out my window from my warm house and appreciate the snowflake that lands on my window. Which is true, but I think the point of Aristotle’s quote is this, we have to put ourselves out there sometimes to really enjoy things. We have to step outside of our comfort zones, into the possibility of being uncomfortable for a time to really appreciate certain things in life.
If we get into a Goldilocks state of mind, we’re likely to avoid doing anything that requires too much from us.
Watching Jeremy walk that day, stand on the edge of a pier, and even lay down in the sand to attempt to get the best possible photos was an inspiration for me. He genuinely loves what he does, and it shows through his work. If he needs to be uncomfortable for a time, to fully engage in what he loves doing, it’s all part of the process.
I’m not trying to compare myself to him, or to say that he’s better than me or anything like that. I’m comparing myself to myself only…and I know I can do better. I know I’ve been limiting myself and what I can do.
If you find yourself doing the same thing, I hope that this will be your ah-ha moment, and that you’ll start taking steps to live more fully as well.
Unfortunately, (or maybe fortunately I’m not sure which…haha) , we didn’t see any gators on our walk. But Jeremy has gotten some gorgeous pictures of Florida and the wildlife that lives there. To see it, go to his website. To hear some of the stories behind the photos he has taken, check out his Instagram. That’s one of my favorite things about Jeremy’s photography, aside from the pictures themselves…his stories from behind the camera.