The Comfort Zone Obsession: Personal Growth or Emotional Self Abuse?

As an emotional health life coach and I am often exposed to inspirational quotes and encouragements shared publicly by other people in the life coaching industry. One of the popular ideas that I come across is that “You have to push yourself outside of your comfort zone in order to grow”. This thought has been so popularized and regurgitated that most people accept it as being the truth without questioning it.

The idea implies that you must go about making an effort to create growth in your life, that you won’t otherwise grow unless you put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Very few take a moment to questions this, to ask: “Is this true?”.
I have noticed that people who embrace this idea without questioning it create intense internal pressure and suffering for themselves. I see a lot of exhaustion and self-sabotage in people who believe THEY HAVE TO push themselves to see progress in their lives. Most often than not, such persons refuse to allow themselves comfort. Sometimes out of shame, other times out of a sense of lack of worthiness. Continuous lack of comfort creates exhausted, overwhelmed, zombie-like people. Burnout people are more often emotionally injured by their uncomfortable circumstances than they are expanded by them. To me, the statement is incomplete and extremist. It misses out on the possibility that growth can also happen in comfort, in peace and support.

Refusing to allow ourselves comfort makes us emotionally and spiritually bankrupt and desperate for being comforted through methods that harm us in the long run.depleted emotional resources burnt out comfort zone exhausted

The supporters of this idea also argue that you wouldn’t try new rewarding things unless you dared to be uncomfortable. I disagree- the way I see it, we are wonderfully capable of reaching for new experiences when we are at peace, comfortable and confident. To further this point I think it’s incredibly important to make a distinction between growth and intensity. I can see how always being outside of your comfort zone can create intensity- like jumping off a cliff with a paraglider would.

But just because you’re having an intense experience doesn’t mean that you’ve created growth. Abuse is often intense but almost never expanding.

Comfort isn’t supposed to be intense, on the contrary, it’s gentle. Growth can be both intense and gentle/gradual. Both must be acknowledged. The issue with seeking intensity thinking that it alone can provide growth is that people miss out on the opportunity to experience peaceful, gentle growth. Another issue in equating intensity with growth is that intensity can actually be harmful and create trauma- like a paraglider who hit the mountain wall. This is one of the major dangers of embracing this idea without further examination: many people seeking growth end up harming themselves unnecessarily. The fear we experience outside of our comfort zone is an important signal that we might not be safe, that it is time to protect ourselves. When we ignore our fear for the sake of some potential future growth we can harm ourselves unnecessarily, we can lower our boundaries at a time when they need to remain strong and we may enter in agreements we really can’t honor.
Another premise the idea that pushing oneself outside of their comfort zone is a necessity is based on the belief that comfort brings complacency, that we get lazy when we’re comfortable. That, once again, isn’t always the case. For some, their comfort zone allows them the emotional resources to examine fears and transform them gradually, in a safe setting. In comfort, we can also explore, test, apply and implement new expanding behaviors. Some of this “comfortably seeking” is simply unavailable for people who would normally experience debilitating panic, self-doubt, and uncertainty. For such individuals, being outside their comfort zone can create the opposite of growth- stagnation. Our four most common reactions to fear are FIGHT, FLIGHT, FREEZE or FACADE. None of these are known for being particularly conducive to growth.
Also. the idea that “we have to” intervene in the natural course of life to have growth creates a controlling attitude to life, an attitude that doesn’t allow for trust or faith that life will manage our growth without us HAVING TO meddle in it. With such an attitude it’s easy to buy into the illusion that growth is always noticeable to us. Or, if the growth we think we’re seeing is not matching our expectations of how much we should be growing then we have somehow failed at mastering our own growth- “Well, I guess, I didn’t push myself enough”.
Should growth be a human calculated choice? Do we even know ourselves enough to be able to predict the amount of growth we should be experiencing?natural growth personal growth personal development (1)
Could it be that life organically offers us all kinds of opportunities for growth? I believe that our human make-up offers an organic PULL towards growth, a calling that comes naturally, as opposed to the man-made so-called growth creating PUSH. With this perspective, I often find myself grieving our unconscious resistance to the benefits of ORGANIC growth, and our attachment to orchestrating the growth that we imagine we need.
So please take sometime to know yourself before you adopt the comfort zone pushing method of growth.  Take your own makeup into consideration when deciding you need to be dragged into something that feels scary. For some people, always pushing/hustling/grinding can indeed be expanding. For others, it simply makes them burn through their emotional resources. Not everybody has the same emotional resilience to discomfort.
Some of us truly function better in peace…what is best for you?!?
Questions to take home:
  • have you paid attention to what makes you grow? Was it gradual and consistent care or was constant pushing?
  • what are the side effects/price you pay for always pushing yourself? can you notice?
  • can you trust that whatever your life offers it includes organic growth? can you surrender and let life grow you?