Why We Need to Get a Little Uncomfortable

Welcome to Good Enough Creative, a podcast for creative people.

Welcome back! I’m your host, Marie Greene, and today I want to talk about your comfort zone. You know, that little bubble that has all the things you know you’re good at, all the people you already know, the places you love… all the good stuff!

You know what’s not in that comfort bubble? New adventures. New opportunities. And new ideas.

I think a lot about comfort zones, because the older I get, the more I like mine. I like my people, and my house, and my routines. And one thing I’ve learned about myself as I’ve gotten older is that I’m really sensitive to my surroundings, and I love being in my own space. I don’t know if everyone feels that way or not, but I think most of us know what it’s like to enjoy being comfortable. The unknown can be pretty intimidating.

But doesn’t it seem like creativity almost requires us to get uncomfortable sometimes?

When we stay comfortable, we’re less likely to notice things. We’re not on alert, and while that might seem like a good thing, being alert means we’re watching and listening for new information. New information is often where the good ideas live.

Now, getting outside of your comfort zone – also known as getting uncomfortable – is easier said than done. I’ve been thinking about taking golf lessons for about 20 years, and I’m a nervous wreck to show up at my age with no real experience and say, “Hey, sign me up! What shoes should I wear?” Twenty years I’ve been thinking about it – and though I definitely did not have time for it twenty years ago, the longer I wait, the harder it is to talk myself into it.

I really want someone else to do it with me, so that I don’t feel like a ding dong doing it alone. But if I think it’s hard to get MYSELF out of my comfort zone, getting my husband out of his is a whole other story. So here we are at an impasse, and I still really want to give it a go. But I have to get over myself first. I have to be willing to be uncomfortable.

Being uncomfortable feels like something is wrong. Comfort = good. Discomfort = bad. But is it really bad to be uncomfortable, or is it just …. Well, uncomfortable? And does feeling uncomfortable last forever, or is there a moment when it starts to fade? When that new experience doesn’t feel so new and different anymore, and suddenly – it’s part of our comfort bubble now?

Did you know that one way to slow down time is to have novel experiences? One of the reasons that time seems to pass more slowly when you’re a child is because practically everything that happens to you is new and different – and unfamiliar. Having those unfamiliar experiences requires more focus, more attention, and it seems to almost slow down the clock as you navigate it. As we get older, we have fewer and fewer of those unfamiliar experiences, so we can find ourselves almost going through the motions, noticing very little.

Have you ever driven the way home from work – a path you’ve taken a zillion times – and you arrive home and realize that you really don’t remember the drive? You were on auto pilot. Your brain knows where to go and what to do, and you don’t have to think much about it. Sure, you were watching the road, but you didn’t actually NOTICE the experience of driving home. That’s how life can be for us – being on autopilot and doing the familiar things, and days will pass without really any sense of what we did with them.

Getting out of your comfort zone has some excellent benefits, both for creativity and longevity. So today let’s talk about how to get out of your comfort zone a little more often.

First – just like I desperately want a friend to golf with, bringing a friend along for the ride can really take the edge off. If you’re thinking about taking a workshop and you’re a little nervous to go alone, invite a friend. Having a friend along can make it a little less scary to show up. Having a friend with you can also help you stay accountable – especially in the moments where you might otherwise want to throw in the towel. Doing something new with a friend makes the hiccups a little more bearable, and then you can both laugh about them later.

Second – Do it in small doses. There are moments in life when you’ll have to get out of your comfort zone in a big way, whether you like or not – those aren’t necessarily moments we get to plan for. But if we’re doing it in small doses here and there, getting out of your comfort zone can help you learn to be more flexible with change. It’s easy to get rigid and set in our ways, but creativity demands flow. If you want to feel more creative and inspired, look for opportunities to expand your flexibility (and I’m not talking about muscles here, but that’s also good for us). Choosing to do one new thing here or there, like take a new language class, sign up for improv lessons, or register for a sculpture class – it can break up the experience a little bit so it’s not too much all at once. If your personality is to jump into the deep end and figure it out – great, go for that. But if getting out of your comfort zone is a little bit scary, breaking it into smaller pieces can make it easier to get used to.

Third – Remember that a new thing isn’t new forever. Nothing will be as intimidating as the first step. And once you’ve done that part, everything after that is going to be a little easier and little less scary. The downside of this is that once you get comfortable again, you’ll need to add another new thing. It’s a never-ending process.  But I love the moment when something new and intimidating becomes familiar and fun. I love getting over the learning curve and feeling confident and comfortable in the process. And as long as you keep going, that’s the reward for getting out of your comfort zone. You’ll have one new thing in your comfort bubble.

Fourth – Choose different ways to get out of your comfort zone – shake things up a bit. Just because we’re talking about creativity doesn’t mean every new and novel step has to be something specifically creative. Have you ever heard the advice that if you want to be a writer, go study ANYTHING else. Go have adventures. Go live a big, interesting life. Because a writer needs life experience, as much – if not a little more – than they need writing experience. Getting out of your comfort zone will bring a range of rich, interesting experiences into your life that can impact your creativity in ways you may not even be able to predict. Whether that’s signing up for a fitness class or joining a local geology group or taking golf lessons – creativity can come from anywhere. Yes, we can certainly be inspired by an art museum or a painting class or a knitting workshop, but we can technically be inspired by anything. A lot of my knitting pattern inspiration comes from buildings, windows and bridges when I travel. I once designed a sweater inspired by two-tone cement wall with a sign pointing to the beach. When I shared that image with my knitting community, no one could fathom how that random wall inspired the pattern, but that’s how inspiration works – it’s sometimes hiding in plain sight, and only the one it’s meant for will notice it.

Last but not least, say yes when you can. Saying yes to new experiences can be a great way to keep things interesting. Sure, it’s fun when it’s your idea, but some opportunities will come your way and all you have to do is say yes. And remember, new experiences help to slow down the clock a bit. They invite your brain to be more alert, heighten your senses, and make you more likely to notice what’s around you. The more varied your experiences, the more opportunities you’ll have for inspiration.

Creativity is a funny thing. I think it likes surprises. I think it hangs out in AHA! moments and laughter. I think it loves to sit with us when we’re a little bit uncomfortable – but in a good way. And it loves moments of delight.

If you want a more creative life, if you want to invite inspiration to be a frequent companion, look for opportunities to get out of your comfort zone. Your comfort zone is allowed to expand, and I highly recommend it. The larger that circle of experience gets, the more wonderful memories and people you can invite into it. And the bigger the wellspring of creativity you’ll have to draw from.

Being uncomfortable doesn’t last forever – and the more you do it, the easier it will get. Here’s to new, novel experiences, slowing down time just a little, and discovering happy surprises along the way.

Until next time, my friend – you’ve got this.

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