Home > Be There, Yes/No > Braving the Discomfort Zone

Braving the Discomfort Zone

Waiting to singOne person’s fear is another person’s fun, right? A friend of mine is totally unfazed by donning 50 pounds of scuba diving gear and breathing apparatus to plunge into 75 or 100 feet of water, but when she is faced with the prospect of walking into a room full of strangers her heart races, her breath gets shallow, her palms sweat.

For me, singing in front of an audience can drive my anxiety up to acute levels. What sets off your fight or flight alarms? Regardless of what your particular challenge looks like, the fact that it feels risky is a solid clue to tell you that there might be something of substance for you to learn from it.

Oh, sure, we might wish to hang out endlessly in our comfort zones, those cozy, familiar, not too challenging places where we feel safe and self-assured.

Or we might crave more time in the flow zone that psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has identified as the state in which people experience their greatest capacity for happiness and creativity. When you are absorbed in a “flow experience” he says, “…your sense of time disappears, you forget yourself, you feel part of something larger. And once the conditions are present, what you are doing becomes worth doing for its own sake.”

These two inner-directed zones are absolutely vital to a balanced, joyful, healthy life, representing a spectrum of unconscious feeling that ranges from serenity to ecstasy. But even if we could choose to spend all of our time there, we’d be cheating ourselves out of something critical, wouldn’t we?

Just as important is that discomfort zone in which we get conscious about what scares us and what matters to us most. It’s there that we identify the gaps in our life and define our opportunities for growth and understanding. In short, it’s there that we learn.

It’s only in the discomfort zone that you can gather valuable data by asking, “What makes this experience so difficult for me? What would it take to convert these feelings of vulnerability, inadequacy, stupidity, frustration, or uncertainty into feelings of comfort and flow?” Your discomfort zone is a practice field where you can acknowledge and challenge your biggest fears and declare your intention to disarm them in pursuit of what you really care about.

When you choose to enter the discomfort zone with intention and curiosity—walking into that room full of strangers, standing up there to sing—you build your muscles for navigating this challenging zone the next time you find yourself there unexpectedly. Will you give it a try?

  1. ldmccormck
    April 10, 2012 at 8:35 am

    Thank you Vicky, for the very timely reminder.

    Choosing to be in the discomfort zone IS hard and yet so valuable in the process of self discovery. I love when I find myself mysteriously there and the choosing has been unconscious and unexpected. Because, left to my own devices, my very protective mind helps me to think of all the reasons I’m too busy to choose discomfort.

    • April 10, 2012 at 10:36 am

      Thanks, Lynn. And thanks for all the fabulous mandalas you’ve been posting on your blog. Love your creativity. One thing that amazes me about the discomfort zone is how tenacious it is. You would think that after years and years of prying away at understanding the roots of our fears they would just shrivel up and blow away. But we keep having to face them down, don’t we?

  2. Lorraine
    April 12, 2012 at 7:14 am

    This is a great reminder for me Vicky. Sadly I still love my comfort zone.

  3. April 12, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Well, Lorraine, I don’t think it’s so sad to love your comfort zone. We have to be grateful to our comfort zones. They’ve done a good job of keeping us safe. As Lynn mentions in her comment, it’s our “protective mind” that keeps the walls of the comfort zone intact. What the protective mind doesn’t realize is that the fearsome threats that we assume await us outside the comfort zone usually aren’t as fearsome as we think they’re going to be, because our assumptions about them are based on old information. Every time we avoid a threat, we add to its legendary ferocity. It might help to remind yourself that when you venture into the discomfort zone, you don’t have to totally abandon your comfort zone. You can tell yourself that it will always be there for you if you need to return to it. : )

  4. judyringer
    April 14, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    Thank you, Vicky, for your insight and beautiful singing! Glad you faced down the discomfort.

  5. judyringer
    April 14, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    I love the photo, too. Really lovely.

  6. April 14, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    Thanks, Judy. It’s a funny photo because I look rather calm and serene. Inside?…not so much! But that concert went well, and I keep learning.

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