Don’t Let Comfort Take You for a Ride

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By Kristen Wheeler

Raise your hand if you want to get uncomfortable. Yeh, that’s what I thought. Truth is, most people prefer to be comfortable. That’s why we wait for an elevator even though there is never a line for the stairs. The elevator comes to us, opens—and closes—the door for us, while we casually step in and wait to be delivered.

But taking the stairs, now that’s a challenge. First you have to find the stairwell. Then you wonder if the alarm is going to go off when you push the door open. Your heart starts beating a little faster as you climb the steps. Then panic strikes when you wonder if the door to your floor is going to be locked, stranding you inside the stairwell. Let’s face it, it’s much easier to take the elevator.

Just like staying in your current role is easier than pursuing a new position. Or staying quiet is safer than sharing your idea. And doing things, “the way they’ve always been done” is more comfortable than trying something different. But beware. Comfort can lead to complacency. And complacency is like stagnant water. It causes decay and “rustout,” a feeling of numbness that comes from taking the safe way, never accepting new challenges, and continually surrendering to the day-to-day routine.[1]

Have you ever thought about trying something new, and then just as quickly talked yourself out of it? Maybe you’ve wanted to sign up for a class, learn a new language, or start an exercise routine. Learning, discovering, and improving only happens when we push ourselves outside of our comfort zones. I recently changed jobs. Actually, I changed careers. Well, truth be told, I completely changed my entire working existence. I dove head first into being uncomfortable. But getting uncomfortable doesn’t have to be that dramatic.

Let’s break it down a bit. And remember, each step is going to have its own level of “pain.” Stick with it. Push through. You’ve got this.

Identify where you need the change.

Is it work-related? Relational? Physical? Spiritual? All aspects of life are important for balance and well-being. Just like Stephen Covey taught us, we must Sharpen the Saw.

Set a goal.

Setting a goal is important. Remember that it doesn’t have to be the end goal. Taking baby steps along the way prevent us from feeling overwhelmed. My husband always says, “you can’t eat an elephant in one bite.”

Adjust your thinking.

The mind is a powerful tool. We listen to our inner voice, so be strategic with what you tell yourself. I coached field hockey for 24 years. “Timed Runs” were a part of our culture; definitely not comfortable, but absolutely essential for our fitness. The problem was that “Timed Runs” had developed a negative connotation and were creating disruptive angst. So, we started calling them “Opportunity Runs.” The process was still the same, but the idea that the run was an opportunity for improvement—an opportunity for us to reach our ultimate goal—was much more motivating and inspiring.

Welcome the discomfort.

Or in military terms, “embrace the suck.” Ok, that’s a little extreme, but we do need to open ourselves—allow ourselves—to feel discomfort. During our facilitation courses, we often ask participants to describe a time when they grew the most, felt the most accomplished, or were most proud. Across the board, answers involved dealing with a difficult task, taking a risk, and/or overcoming challenges.

As you begin to dip your toe in the water of change, you will most likely experience feelings of doubt, fear, or insecurity. It’s a scary place called vulnerability. It’s also the first step toward success. Author Brene Brown tells us that to live whole-heartedly, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Her research shows that being vulnerable is not comfortable, but it’s also not excruciating. It’s just necessary.

Remember, no pain, no gain. So start leaning in to the discomfort. As with anything, the more we try it, the easier it becomes.


The Rustout Syndrome,

[1] —Richard Leider and Steve Buchholtz, The Rustout Syndrome



Harvard Business Review

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  • Shep Jordan

    Coach Wheeler, sage advice as always! The zero defect, its not my fault mentality is crushing us. The only way to grow is to take risks, learn from the occasional failures and move on to bigger better things. As iron sharpens iron……

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