Does it Help to Make Ourselves Comfortable All of the Time?
By Harley M. Storey
My friend had anorexia, depression and self-harmed by cutting, but she was one tough cookie.
She's always had an interest in Japan, so one day she planned a trip. Her trip involved cycling a long way up the Japanese mountains. Her cycle guide wasn’t sure she could do it, but he was very impressed she made it.
When she returned I asked her how she coped. She said, "the guide was very surprised that I kept up, but he didn’t know how much pain I could handle."
We spend our life trying to make ourselves comfortable. We would never choose an uncomfortable bed. No bed company would use the slogan "buy this for an uncomfortable night's sleep!"
We buy heaters and coolers and air-conditioners to keep ourselves at a comfortable temperature. We choose cars optioned with "climate air" and heated seats.
We buy chairs and shoes because they're comfortable - unless they're stylish and then they might be uncomfortable but that's ok if we feel more comfortable socially.
We choose comfortable jobs, cabs, trains and planes.
We try and create a comfortable life.
And all of that is fine and logical and makes sense except that sometimes in order to grow we need to be uncomfortable.
You have probably heard of PTSD, but have you heard of PTG? PTG stands for Post Traumatic Growth. It means that people who have experienced Post Traumatic Stress also have the potential to experience Post Traumatic Growth.
Prof. Benjamin Roebuck has been studying the effects of Traumatic Stress and was recently interviewed by Anna Maria Tremonti of CBC Radio. He says he has heard, "remarkable stories about the harm that they experienced, and at the same time there's courage and perseverance and remarkable stories of healing and wellness that come in as well."
Prof. Roebuck goes on to say that, "when we experience adversity, it tends to bring out the worst and the best in us."
He says that he thinks of the traumatic event as, "a seed that's buried in the ground."
And host Anna observes that this can send people, "on a path they weren't expecting."
And I would add that traumatic events can send people on a path they may not have chosen or explored.
Jennifer Barkley was a participant in the study following her sister's murder 18 years ago. Jennifer notes that, "pain can serve many purposes. And for me, my pain in the end helps mto understand others."
Pain is a signal that something is wrong or that something is growing.
If we haven't been to the gym for a while and we go for a workout, we will feel aches and pains afterwards. The pain is our muscles adapting and growing. No pain, no gain.
We all have a relationship with pain. Unless you're a masochist, you instinctively avoid pain. Avoiding "dangerous pain" like sleeping lions, bees or boiling water is useful and keeps us safe. That's cool and makes good sense, but if you need to exercise and you avoid the pain of sore muscles, you will never be fit and healthy.
Being programmed to avoid pain means we can seek to avoid "positive pain" - like pushing out our comfort zones.
There's a key thing you need to understand about comfort zones: Comfort zones are like a rubber band. Unless you stretch them once in a while, they will continue to shrink and grow smaller.
With a smile on my face and a twinkle in my eye, I said to a client who loved cats recently, "If you don't push back against your comfort zones sometimes, you might end up living by yourself with 10 cats, afraid to set foot outside the house." Luckily for me, she saw the funny side of that!
So what's the takeaway?
- Pain can help us grow.
- Fear is trying to avoid pain in future.
- Fear is positive when it protects you from danger.
- Fear is negative when it stops you from growing.
- Sometimes you've got to push back against your comfort zones, because if you don't they will shrink.