By Chelsea Elkins, Simple Intentions Marketing & Program Manager
Neale Donald Walsch says that “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. It is true that the things that make us uncomfortable or afraid can also create an unexpected joy or sense of fulfillment. Moving abroad, taking a risk on a relationship, pursuing a new certification or degree, even taking a literal leap and cliff jumping, all may naturally be outside our comfort zones. Pushing beyond the “shoulds” that society creates for us (or more often that we create for ourselves) can allow us to expand our horizons and accomplish things previously considered unachievable.
Though life cannot fully be embraced if we solely stay in “the known”, we must also respect the boundaries we each have put in place to protect our most precious values. Often when we are uncomfortable, it is because our values are being threatened – and it would therefore be harmful and draining to remain in that state. There lies the complication: determining when going beyond our comfort zone challenges and benefits us, and when crossing that border is actually a result of someone or something violating a deeply rooted value. So how do we tell which is which? And what do we do if it’s the latter?
Determine the What
So what is it about “Co-Worker Todd” that makes us uncomfortable? The answer may be simple or surprisingly complex – and so may the solution. Reflect on what makes you set your teeth on edge when talking to “Todd”. Delve deep into the specifics. Does he stand too close to you when he talks? Do you find his tone irritating since his recent promotion?
Examine the Why
When you uncover the specifics of what action or statement has made you uncomfortable, examine the why. Which of your values feels threatened? If Todd is standing too close, he may be violating your value of personal space. If you’ve found his tone insufferable since he beat you out on a promotion last month, your value of respect may feel threatened. Alternatively or in addition to that, it could be that his presence is triggering feelings of unworthiness, as you again wonder why you were rejected for said promotion. Whatever the why is, acknowledge it without judgement. Understanding the reason behind an uncomfortable situation is the first step to alleviate it.
Communicate Your Boundaries
Often when we feel uncomfortable, the situation can be improved with a conversation on boundaries – either with the offender, a loved one, or ourselves. Todd may simply be unaware of his too-close-for-comfort proximity (as obvious as it may appear to us). Or if his actions are indeed intentional, speaking up may make him rethink that choice in the future. If the thing that’s making us uncomfortable is further away from our day to day – say a politician’s latest statement or an undesirable policy being passed – our communication may take the form of a letter or phone call.
Just the act of sharing our feeling of discomfort with a friend or loved one can also help disperse the unpleasantness in a situation. Lastly, correcting negative self-talk and addressing internal criticism can also be a way to guide us back to our comfort zone. After all, a positive affirmation or two can go a long way.
Sometimes communication is not enough to create change and additional action may be needed. If Todd continues to breach your personal bubble, consult with a trusted mentor or your manager. If you are unhappy with local politics, sit in on a City Council meeting or attend a protest. If a new policy is threatening a value you deem as a global human right, volunteer at an organization fighting for something you hold dear. If you feel you are being attacked online by a stranger, determine if some small part of you believes those words to be true. Then pursue whatever action would lessen that belief – it could be meditation, education (whether individual or institutional), therapy, or a more heightened and informed awareness of yourself and the world. Whatever your next action is, ensure it is authentic to you and your values.
The beautiful thing about our brains is that they change. A statement that made us uncomfortable 6 months ago may not have the same effect now. Todd may still set our teeth on edge but the reason why may be different. This means we must be persistent with our detective work, as our what’s and why’s are constantly changing.
All that we have control over is our own actions (and reactions). Next time you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, get to the bottom of the what and the why and take the needed steps to move forward. Let go of the idea of external control, determine what can be done to protect your values, and then, like a resolute cliff diver, take the leap back into your comfort zone.