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In the fall of 2010 I embarked on “Ride Of Your Life” – a 6000 mile solo motorcycle trip from New York to California, and a journey to finding inner peace. On My ride I met with researchers, practitioners, and authors like Barbara Fredrickson, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Caroline Miller, Phil Zimbardo, and Byram Karasu. Each of them provided me with a different perspective on the topic of comfort, surfacing some common insights that have led me to the following conclusion: “comfort kills”.
Let me try to explain.
Phil Zimbardo, one of the main figures who have shaped psychology over the past few decades, grew up in the South Bronx, an environment that ignited his fascination with human psychology. He believes that in a sad way, being privileged denies you access to some of the more interesting aspects of life. If you are born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you never have to learn about hustlers, wheeler dealers, and influence agents. Zimbardo thinks that poor people, immigrants, and minority people in general are situationists, because it’s the only thing that makes sense. Hunger (whether physical or mental) motivates you to attribute your poor fortune to your situation, and motivates you to change it. On the other hand, if you are enjoying good fortune and so does your family, you may tend to attribute this success to yourself, and possibly even to your genes.
Conclusion 1: The hungry become social psychologists and the well-fed become personality psychologists.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, a leading positive psychologist and the author of the book The How Of Happiness, told me a funny story about her parents. They emigrated from Russia when she was a child and often go back to visit. When they come back they always say: Oh, America is so boring! Everything is so easy: you drive to the supermarket, park, get beautiful and fresh groceries for a reasonable price, put them in your car, and drive home. In Russia the same shopping trip is a huge challenge. Not only do you have to go to ten different stores to get what you need (and half of them are probably out of stock) but you also might get mugged on the way there. There’s mafia everywhere. They say it’s a “high” to be there.
Conclusion 2: Lack of comfort brings excitement, comfort brings boredom.
Caroline Miller, a leading positive psychology coach and best-selling author asks her clients: “looking back on life would you regret not taking this risk”, and clients instantly say “yes – I have to do this”. There is an important issue of time perspective here: In the short term people regret (or fear) the risk and prefer to be comfortable, but in the long run (from an entire life perspective) they regret not taking the risk.
Conclusion 3: Comfort is short sighted.
Getting “outside your comfort zone” is not a means to an end, but rather a goal in itself. As soon as you choose to leave your comfort zone, you form a direct friction with life, go towards the pursuit of your dreams, and in short – really start living. In my five weeks on the road, I was surprised to discover that the best days of my trip were the ones I rode in pouring rain.
We live in a society where comfort has become a value and a life goal. But comfort reduces our motivation for introducing important transformations in our lives. Sadly, being comfortable often prohibits us from chasing our dreams. Many of us are like lions in the zoo: well-fed but sit around passively stuck in a reactive rut. Comfort equals boring shortsightedness, and a belief that things cannot change. Your comfort zone is your home base, a safe place not to stay in, but to return to, after each exhausting and exhilarating expedition through the wilderness of life. Take a look at your life today, if you are enjoying a shelter of comfort, break through it and go outside where life awaits.