No-one can post bail but you
by Janice Holly Booth
Quick, when was the last time you opted to shiver a little before putting on a sweater, or to sweat a few minutes before cranking the A/C? You’d think by the way we abhor minor variations in temperature that we’ve grown up shoeless and at the mercy of the elements. Climate control is but one of the ways we have locked ourselves inside a cage of comfort. Our cushy lifestyle is a death sentence – to our bodies and our potential -- and here’s why.
When we’re comfortable, we occupy a very small space on the spectrum of physical and emotional experience. Our bodies don't have to work at regulating anything; in fact, by never getting too warm or cold, hungry or scared, some prehistoric part of our brain decides we're no longer viable, and we begin to decay faster than normal -- which is pretty fast these days, at least for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love my heated car seats, but I’m also aware that the cushy ergonomic memory foam cradling my butt is a trap: the more I use it, the more I want it, and the less my behind is able to navigate the real world of angles, sharp corners, and church pews.
I think it’s fair to say that everyone yearns to do or experience something astonishing rather than live a boring life. But that requires venturing outside the cage to take some risks, and risks are -- well -- uncomfortable.
My theory is we're addicted to comfort because it minimizes three things we fear most: failure; risk; and injury.
Failure is inherent in the growth and learning process. Look how long it took you to walk, to form meaningful words, to make good choices. You never would have mastered any of it if you hadn’t failed often in your first attempts. I love what John Gardner wrote: “We pay a heavy price for our fear of failure…There is no learning without some difficulty and fumbling. If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on risking failure – all your life. It’s as simple as that.”
Risk is synonymous with discomfort because it involves stress – we’re not sure of what will happen and how we’ll react, or if we’re even capable of reacting. But a little anxiety helps us perform better than we do when we’re comfortable. When pushed, we almost always tend to rise to the occasion. It’s the only way to really find out what we’re capable of at our core.
Injury is a valid concern. It’s what keeps me from BASE jumping but it doesn’t keep me from rappelling into canyons. There is a difference between real risk and a perception of risk. Engaging in activities that feel risky but really aren't -- i.e., a high ropes course that makes you feel as if you are about to die, when in fact you are extraordinarily safe -- is legitimate and valuable and smart. You don’t need to take dangerous risks in order to grow – you just need to feel like you have.
Good news: once you’ve unlocked your comfort cage and stepped outside, it is very likely you’ll do it again. That first voluntary dance with risk is usually the clumsiest but dare I say the most memorable. When I think back on some of my canyoneering adventures, when I was cold, hungry, bruised and scared out of my mind, I realize how navigating all that discomfort made me a better person, a better leader, and much more resilient. Your body, it turns out, is capable of spectacular feats, but only if you take a day pass from the recliner and drop yourself into something challenging.
Someone once said that comfort in many ways is like fire: it’ll warm and sustain you, but too much of it will scar and disfigure you. Make no mistake: this comfortable bubble we love has lulled to sleep our potential as humans. But discomfort and risk -- or the perception of risk -- is what wakes us up fully, it’s what forces us to focus deeply on the moment, to feel and experience with greater intensity the raw world around us. It’s the stuff of life-time memories and ongoing growth. You owe it to yourself to get uncomfortable, not just once but often. You will amaze yourself, I promise.
How will you unlock your comfort cage? Any ideas to inspire others?
Scroll down to comment.