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The Blessing of Discomfort Zones

I have a five-year-old. His name is Truman. If you’ve ever been around a five-year-old you know what a magical time it is. He’s not a baby, yet he has some holdovers like the special stuffed animal he sleeps with, trouble opening certain packages, and he can’t tie his shoes. He’s not completely self-sufficient and needs our supervision. At the same time, he’s exploding with growth. He’s learning how to read and how to write and how to do by himself all the things we take for granted. It seems like every day he is shuffling off the baby and becoming the big boy. 

One of the hardest transitions as a baby for us was getting rid of the pacifier. It was like magic. Anytime he was upset, we could give him the pacifier and he was instantly settled. Toward the end, he would even use it like we would use a sleeping pill. He would get ready for bed and hold his hand out for his pacifier in order to be able to go to sleep. The minute that his nap was over he would hand us the pacifier and go about his business.

The thing that allowed us to transition out of the pacifier easier was his stuffed animal, Limbo. It’s a long blue dog that can literally be bent in half—thus the name, Limbo. It’s really incredible because he also uses it as a pillow. It has double duty. Therefore, it has been his greatest giver of comfort. This stuffed animal is a talisman for his safety and comfort. Anytime he’s upset he needs only to have his Limbo to be able to calm down and move forward. 

The problem is that he will reach a point very soon when he will no longer grow if he doesn’t relinquish that instant comfort zone. He started kindergarten this year and it won’t be long before his friends will come over for sleepovers. If he doesn’t learn to relinquish Limbo, ridicule is soon to follow. Limbo has served him well. It has been his friend and confidant from the very beginning when we brought him home from the hospital. Yet, if he is to move forward and become the truly awesome man that I know he will be, he has to step outside and feel discomfort. He has to learn what it’s like to be able to be in discomfort and not have it instantly removed. Lest he becomes a 34-year-old man-baby living in our basement carrying around a ragged blue stuffed dog named Limbo.  

The Growth Cycle

Dr. David Schneider, one of the pioneers of therapy that I look up to, published what he calls the growth cycle in his book, Passionate Marriage. The growth cycle is essentially two concentric circles. The center circle is the comfort zone. This is where we rest and find ourselves safe. The outside circle is where the growth takes place. The line that connects the comfort zone to the growth cycle is RISK. No growth happens without risk because if we’re to grow we have to step in a place where we are not competent or familiar or completely in control.

Just after risk takes us from the comfort zone to the growth cycle there’s another line that will take you back into the comfort zone. It’s called AVOIDANCE. Risk creates anxiety and the very quickest way to reduce anxiety is to avoid anxiety producing things. The problem with this is that although we don’t feel discomfort we are stuck in a crippling cycle.

You were created to grow. Everything in your body is changing every single day. So the problem with avoiding the discomfort zone is that you’re never able to be who you were created to be. You’re stuck in a place that no longer has room for you. Ironically, in this place you’ll usually end up feeling discomfort. The problem is because you didn’t accept the discomfort that comes with growth you’re going to feel discomfort that is going to do nothing to help you. It is needless, mired down discomfort. 

The Blessing of Risk

There is a blessing in the discomfort zone. It is a place where we’re able to be who we are created to be. Once we willingly engage in the cycle of rest in the comfort zone and growth in the discomfort zone we feel like our true selves, alive and full of energy. We are able to feel movement forward. Even if it isn’t the direction that we actually want, it is freeing. As a friend of mine once said, it’s easier to steer a moving car. 

Most of us would laugh at the idea of my son at age 34 carrying around a blue stuffed dog named Limbo. However, many of us live our lives in much the same way. We don’t like to feel discomfort. We don’t like to feel struggle. Therefore, we often find ways of reducing that struggle or discomfort or avoid it altogether. On the surface this may seem like wisdom. However, in actuality it’s creating stuck-ness that is neither healthy nor beneficial for you in the long run. 

What is your stuffed blue dog? What is your limbo? Is it uncomfortable conversations or awkwardness in interpersonal relationships? Is it standing up for yourself? Is it creating boundaries with those close to you who don’t treat you the way they should? Is it making hard decisions with your kids? Is it risking disapproval of others? Whatever it is, maybe it’s time for you to set aside your limbo and to step inside the blessing of the discomfort zone. You may have no idea how to achieve this next step, but at the very least it may be time for you to risk. It may be time for you to run toward growth that comes from feeling uncomfortable and take a step permanently into the discomfort zone. Otherwise, you may never feel the growth and the freedom that’s just on the other side of that first step. 

[bctt tweet=” It may be time for you to run toward growth that comes from feeling uncomfortable and take a step permanently into the discomfort zone. ” username=”orangeleaders”]


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