Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Go Get Overwhelmed

One experience that I highly recommend is that of being overwhelmed. It's like yoga for your comfort zone, stretching it out in ways you might never have considered and keeping it limber.

Yup, I highly recommend it, but I've got to say that it's often a hard sell.  First of all, many people find just the thought of being overwhelmed overwhelming. Second, stretching one's comfort zone is by definition, uncomfortable. Third, if you consider overwhelmedness and discomfort to be reasons not to do something, well, then actively pursuing states of being overwhelmed is a non-starter.

You might be thinking, "So what? What's the big deal about choosing to not put myself in situations where I'd be overwhelmed?"

The big deal is this; either you're growing your comfort zone or you're shrinking it. It may feel as though there were some sort of middle ground, but there's not. Comfort zones defy stasis. They grow. They shrink. They never stay the same.

You might be thinking, "That's not true. I don't spend time being overwhelmed and I'm perfectly comfortable in most situations. In fact, my level of comfort seems to have improved remarkably over the years."

If so, then one, the other or both of your assumptions are flawed. Either a) you've been overwhelmed but haven't noticed or, b) rather than you becoming more comfortable in your environment, you've made your environment more comfortable for you, or c) both a and b.  Your encounters with overwhelmedness may have been minor and your accrual of new comforts may have happened slowly, so you might not have noticed. However, if you compare yourself to who you were ten years ago, I'll bet you find changes in comfort-level that you can trace back to changes in your situation or challenges you overcame.

Fact is, most of us actively seek improvements to comfort and avoid challenges that might be overwhelming; this leads to continually shrinking comfort zones and greater dependency on external accouterments to maintain a sense of comfort. The result is like agoraphobia, just less pronounced. You fear leaving your comfort-zone lest something terrible happen.

As your comfort zone shrinks, your experience more closely resembles claustrophobia as your comforts close around you. All this may sound a bit overly dramatic (primarily because it is), but I think it illustrates my point pretty well. Your comforts close on you like the lid on a coffin.

So, I highly recommend exposing yourself to situations that are not only uncomfortable but completely overwhelming. Rather than growing your comfort zone incrementally, you grow it multiplicatively, and perhaps (if you get overwhelmed enough) exponentially. Just try it for a while. You'll amaze your friends and family with how much you're able to handle and how you don't seem to notice it.

Yup, that's what I recommend.

Happy Tuesday,


  1. Nail on the head, as usual, Tef. Comfort zones have often been an object of fascination for me, as I watch how they change, grow and shrink - mine as well as others'. There's one particular person I know whose zone has shrunk from small to shockingly microscopic over two decades. I remember being on the same trajectory myself for a couple of years after I finished college and entered the workforce, living single, endlessly tailoring my environment to suit my preferences. It was a chance encounter with a book - a particular sentence really - that awoke me to the benefits of ‘increasing my ability to cope’, as the book put it. It became one of my key cognitive changes; since then, it has been relatively easy to see obstacles as opportunities.

    A quote that also became my favorite around the same time:
    We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about. - Charles Kingsley

    P.S. By the way, your recent recounting of your friend Jonathan’s mantra – how hard could it be ? – has encouraged me to escalate it to ‘increasing my ability to conquer’.

  2. Sree,

    Thanks! I love your Charles Kingsley quote. I'll be using it.

    I'll bet there's a strong correlation between enthusiasm and sense of comfort. You see it all the time when people are so engaged in an activity that they don't notice events that would otherwise be physically painful, let alone uncomfortable.

    I remember when I first started learning to play guitar. I was so caught up in learning that I didn't notice that the tips of my fingers were bleeding until I saw spots of red on the fretboard.



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