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Embracing discomfort

Everything you’ve ever wanted is just outside your comfort zone."

Robert G. Allen*

There are so many trite phrases and commonplaces used to inspire or motivate human beings, that if we dedicated ourselves to compiling them, a whole book could be written.

Exaggerations aside, today, like never before, we are bombarded by "advice" and harangues of all kinds, shared and disseminated through the almighty social media. Sometimes, however, among the myriad of famous quotes that invade our senses, some phrases stand out from the rest with a spark of truth and wisdom.

To me, Robert Allen's words fall into that category. So much truth in that revelation! To discover it, it is necessary to immerse ourselves more deeply in the meaning of “comfort”, and in the consequences that keeping it in our lives entails.

Comfort, or the love for what’s easy

Comfort is something we pursue daily in different aspects of our lives. Whether it's physical, financial, or mental, just to name a few of its faces, convenience and ease are a glittering gem that never fails to captivate and grab our attention. It is, at “best”, a goal. And I place “best” in quotation marks because as a goal, comfort is a misleading incentive and, also, because there are worse scenarios, like the one in which, more than a goal to be achieved, comfort becomes a daily constant, which we pursue and yearn for above all else. A momentary distraction is enough to fall into the vicious circle in which our existence is reduced to moments of comfort, making everything that is outside of them just a lingering period, a mere interval between well-being stages.

Trying to be as concise as possible, comfort should only be enjoyed as a prize, earned after putting effort and sacrifice towards a goal. A balm that refreshes us from the battle, but nothing more than that. Why? Because getting used to constant comfort weakens and minimizes us, making us minor spectators of our existence.

It is difficult to desire something that is within our comfort zone. Furthermore, it’s close to impossible since, being within our reach, it ceases to be the object of our desire. Generally, what you want you don't have and, if you don't have it, something will have to be done, some price will need to be paid, or some sacrifice will have to be offered to achieve that thing you long for. And any task, price, or sacrifice will always be outside that circle that encloses the tiny universe of self-comfort.

Expressed most unpleasantly and emphatically, nothing, absolutely nothing that you yearn for, dream of, or want in or for your life, can be found at your fingertips. Everything worth has a cost, precisely because it is valuable. Price and value are not the same things, and valuable things, carry high costs.

Whether it is a material asset, a university degree, or an athletic conquest, running away from comfort, eradicating it from your life – except for those moments of rest that follow sacrifice – is a sine qua non-condition. Perhaps, what you are looking for is neither a material thing, nor fame, nor a sports conquest, but to overcome your ghosts, control your depression and keep your anxiety at bay. For that, you’ll also need to get out of your comfort zone, escape the conformism of "I can't", and take control of your life. Seeking as much help as you can get, working on looking better, taking care of your body and nutrition, talking about how you feel, cultivating your mind with uplifting and inspiring books, videos, podcasts, or movies… all of these may be things outside your comfort zone that you need to incorporate into your life. You must accept the challenge of seeing yourself as you are and delve into what you do not want to see. It is essential to embrace…

Discomfort, or the key to growth

You may have heard the statement that there is nothing that makes you grow – or change – without challenging you at the same time. One thing is not possible without the other. It is certainly an attractive and inspiring idea, but have you stopped to examine the reason for that statement? As I understand it, change means the modification of the status quo. What was in a certain way ceases to be. Change implies movement which, therefore, breaks with our statism. Change, too, puts an end to routine and cuts the thread of what is common and customary, removing the certainty that inertia confers on our existence. Like nothing else in this world, change ends what was and gives birth to something that was not there before, did not exist, and had no place in our lives. The change is the end and the beginning, although on rare occasions it can also mean adjustment and incorporation, without necessarily entailing a complete abandonment of what’s already in place. Even more so on these occasions, change continues to demand sacrifice, risk, and placing ourselves in an uncomfortable situation. It is necessary to understand and accept this truth. Trying to find shortcuts is just a waste of time that will add to your frustrations. Because there are no shortcuts, no tricks, no cheats. Just dedication, consistency, work, and courage to accept the challenge. I write these words with full awareness of the risk they run of falling on deaf ears because they are ideas repeated ad nauseam by countless people much more capable, intelligent, and prepared than me and, even so, have not found fertile ground in which to take root. But why, then, is it so hard to make these notions produce the desired effect? Because they challenge, annoy, and invite you to enter unknown terrain. That is always unpleasant, and often threatening. Faced with this reality, then, the following question should be asked…

What is the alternative?

"The definition of 'insanity' is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results." This phrase has been attributed to different personalities, but it is not my motivation to delve into that debate. Rather, my interest is to find out if there are sound alternatives to change to achieve positive results.

The question is quite simple to answer. If there is frustration or disagreement with the current state of things, whatever they may be, it means the methods (or the lack thereof) that are being used are not effective. If they are not effective, adjustments are necessary. If there is a need for adjustment, then there is a need for change. Is the answer so easy? Yes absolutely. The fact that putting it into practice is difficult does not mean that the answer is too. More often than not, the keys to success are in plain sight. Even when it is difficult for us to determine what changes are necessary, understanding and accepting the need for them is the first veil that needs to be removed from our eyes.

What is the alternative to change, then?

Changing nothing? Continue with the same methods and routine, for a while, while everything gets worse and until there’s no way back?

If your frustration lies in feeling that your life is just surviving, remember, and accept, that change is part of living and, in many circumstances, life itself. Comfort is a prize, not a norm, just as rewards are splashes on a canvas full of efforts, sacrifices, and concessions. But how worthy are them!

Change is freedom, and without it, there is no life.

Comfort, sooner or later, will place its chains on your wrists. Do not fall prey to your laziness. Don't clip your wings, settling for a life on the ground, while dreaming of heights. Freedom costs because it is worth it, and what is worthy always deserves the effort.

* Robert G. Allen (May 20, 1948, Raymond, Canada) is one of the most influential investment advisors of all time and has authored several bestselling personal finance books.

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