As a child, I remember waking up in the middle of the night with growing pains — my legs would be aching with the most uncomfortable pain. Mom would give me a drink of milk, and tell me to go back to bed. Sometimes, when it was awful, she would wrap them up in a heating pad.
Years later when my kiddos started having growing pains, I offered the same remedies my mom had taught me. Through their cries of discomfort, I would reassure them that these pains were a good thing. It meant their bodies were growing bigger and stronger.
Growth & Our Comfort Zone
Today my growing pains are a little different from when I was younger. My legs may not be experiencing discomfort from the stretching and lengthening, but my soul feels the enlarging of my capacities and the increase in my learning. As with most things uncomfortable, the common side effect is growth.
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” -Neale Donald Walsch
Anytime we choose to stretch our abilities, try hard things, take risks and expose our most vulnerable self we open a whole new world of possibilities. Real growth has been proven to only happens when we step outside of our comfort zone.
Alan Henry describes our comfort zone as “a behavioral space where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk.” Pushing beyond that safe place elevates our anxiety and stress levels creating what science calls “Optimal Anxiety.”
As with anything in life, too much is not a good thing. But just pushing a little further than what might be comfortable shows to have benefits in our performance, improving our coping abilities, and inspires us to try new things.
Exercise Your Way Out of Your Comfort Zone
You might be asking, “What does exercise have to do with my comfort zone?” The answer is there is a different type of exercise you can do. It’s not the physical kind – it’s the mental kind.
Your brain is one of your most powerful muscles, and exercising your mind is just giving it a chance to grow and expand over time. Exercising out of your comfort zone is nothing more than trying new things, challenging what feels comfortable, and teaching your brain that feeling uncomfortable isn’t so bad.
Once your mind recognizes you aren’t in danger, fear can become minimized, and new things will be compartmentalized in your brain as something to not to fear.
Have you ever heard a point of view or a perception that seemed bold and out of your reach? Do you sometimes see other people set the bar a bit higher, try new things, and accomplish amazing things? Just because you have to work harder, does not mean you cannot achieve greatness.
Take some time to examine a specific area of your life, take one of the six life dimensions, such as physical. See if you can think outside of the box, discover new boundaries and achieve higher goals.
Think about it, anyone who has made a medical breakthrough or reached a new goal has probably done so by working harder, trying new things, and stretching beyond their comfort zone.
The Science Behind Breaking Free
What do you get when you break free and allow yourself to experience those uncomfortable growing pains? While it is not a bad thing to stick to the safety of your comfort zone, science has proven a few benefits behind the perceived madness.
- You can improve your productivity. Comfort kills productivity leaves us doing the minimum just to get by. Learning to push our boundaries, and try new things helps us work smarter.
- You can brainstorm and harness creativity. New experiences, learning skills, and opportunities inspire us to be more.
- You can more easily push future boundaries. With time stepping out of your comfort zone becomes easier creating a new normal.
- Unexpected change becomes easier. Brené Brown says it best – we can’t pretend fear and uncertainty don’t exist. But when we take controlled risks, by challenging ourselves to things we wouldn’t usually do, we prepare for life changes in which we don’t have control.
The one thing I have learned above all else has been to embrace the discomfort change represents. When I allow myself to shy away from what might seem too difficult, or push back because I feel vulnerable, my growth begins to atrophy. Don’t get me wrong, we all need a little headspace from time to time — a place to decompress, unwind and feel the benefits from when we do leave it behind.
As parents, we can help our children grow into adults who feel more secure about leaving their comfort zone by resisting the urge to shield them from discomfort and uncertainty.
I invite you to take a step toward experiencing something uncomfortable. Look for a way to stretch beyond what you think you can do and discover a new potential — because the truth about growing pains is they’re kind of good for you.