Expanding Your Comfort Zone
by Clark Zimmerman, LAc.
Years ago, my wife and I spent some of our honeymoon in Fiji. Most of the time we stayed in a small village called Lavena that was on the edge of a large jungle forest preserve. Though the village had no running water or electricity, the villagers were some of the most content people we have ever met. In so many ways Lavena was the picture perfect paradise that you dream of when you think of a tropical honeymoon getaway. The jungle was wild and alive, the ocean was an otherworldly aqua, and the water was so clean that you could drink it straight from the creek as you swam underneath the waterfalls near the village. However, about a week into our three-week stay, we had a rude awakening: there was a massive hatch of a tropical fly. Suddenly flies were everywhere. It reminded us of videos we had seen of people in impoverished areas of Africa, where the flies would cover peoples faces, crawling in their ears, mouth and eyes. All of the sudden everything we did seemed like an invitation to be covered in flies. It was nearly too much to bear. The locals didn’t seem to even notice. Since they had lived with this as a part of their reality, they had developed the ability to go about their life with minimal bother. It got me and my wife thinking about how specific our comfort range had become.
Traveling to undeveloped countries makes you truly realize how spoiled most of us are in the United States. We live in homes with running water and electricity; we heat and cool our rooms and our cars; we eat food that suits our particular tastes; we sleep in comfy beds; we bathe and wear scents to cover our odor; we wear headphones to hear what we want to hear and earplugs to block the things we don’t want to hear. We control just about every aspect of our environment to make life as comfortable as possible. Most of the time this makes life easier. But what happens when we can’t control our surroundings? For most of us, if something feels uncomfortable, we fixate on whatever isn’t just right. A picnic becomes too hot to enjoy; a walk in the snow becomes too cold; food is too spicy or unappetizingly bland; too much noise or silence can overwhelm us. We have narrowed our range of comfort to a point where almost everything feels uncomfortable. It makes me wonder sometimes if all of these comforts are more of a blessing or a curse. I am not suggesting that you disconnect your air conditioning, but just as you stretch your muscles to keep them flexible, it is a helpful exercise to stretch your comfort zone from time to time. Stretching your comfort zone can be helpful in a few important ways. It can make you more appreciative of all the comfort you enjoy. It is like when you go backpacking and sleep on the hard, cold ground and eat instant food. When you get home your bed feels like heaven and a simple meal can taste like a gourmet feast. It can also help you maintain resilience so you are better able to withstand times when things aren’t as comfortable.
No matter how much you try to control your environment, things periodically will not go according to plan. If you don’t occasionally practice being uncomfortable, the slightest deviation in your day can ruin an otherwise beautiful moment. You can do this by letting yourself get a little hot or cold, fasting part of the day or getting up extra early and watching the sunrise. Just ask yourself what discomfort you are the most adverse to and lean into it once in a while. The benefits will most likely outweigh the cost.
It took a while, but my wife and I finally settled into the flies in Fiji. Once we stopped complaining about them, we figured out times when we could go out when they weren’t as thick. Then after a few days, they thinned out and became much less noticeable. In the end, we thanked the flies as reminders to keep continuing to expand our comfort zones.