OPINION — In recent years, I’ve become a strong believer in the idea that the best things that happen in our lives take place, for the most part, when we’re outside of our comfort zone.
Believe it or not, this was on my mind as I was undergoing a root canal last week.
I’m not trying to make the case that we should consider embracing the grim model of spartan living that Lycurgus required of his people. I am suggesting that if we allow comfort to become our highest priority, we risk missing out on the experiences that could bring our best qualities to the surface.
Looking back on some of the greatest opportunities I’ve had for personal growth or understanding, virtually none of them took place in conditions of ease and leisure. The most memorable chapters of our life stories won’t be about the times we sat and vegged out in front of the television or computer screen.
Most likely, our genuine defining moments will comprise the times we were pushed into unfamiliar circumstances and had to exert ourselves to deal with them.
For example, I’ll never forget how, in the earliest stages of labor, my wife and I sat in her delivery room awaiting the arrival of our first child. Just down the hall, we could hear a woman screaming in pain as her own baby arrived.
As Becky and I looked at one another with wide eyes and apprehension, I’m sure the nurses in the maternity wing were having a good chuckle at our inexperience and discomfort. When our daughter arrived, the pain and fear instantly vanished and were replaced with an overwhelming joy and love for our little girl.
By the time our fifth child was born, Becky and I had become a well-trained team. I knew the exact pressure points on my wife’s back and when to press on them to help ease the growing pain of her contractions.
Being present at the birth of each of my kids was always a joyous occasion but the stress and concern for my wife and for the baby’s wellbeing was as real as could be. Still, each of us learned things about ourselves that couldn’t have been learned in any other way.
The concept of allowing ourselves to leave the comfort zone needn’t apply solely to big ticket life events like births, deaths, marriage or other major shifts. Sometimes it can come down to the choices we make on seemingly small matters.
James Walpole recently penned a highly thought-provoking column in which he makes a powerful case for how to make life choices that add depth and meaning to our lives. When faced with a choice between doing what’s easy and doing what’s memorable, he counsels to choose the thing we’ll remember the most.
This isn’t an invitation to take up skydiving or to run with the bulls in Pamplona as a way to enhance our life’s story. It’s a reminder that, one way or another, each of us is creating a story that is uniquely ours.
The stories of those who prized comfort above all else aren’t likely to be to be remembered with any sense of satisfaction or accomplishment. More than likely, they’ll be a source of regret for missed opportunities.
As Walpole explains:
What makes for the best story? What makes for the life story you’ll be proud of? You are a player in a story, after all, and you get to choose the quality of your time on stage.
The key here is to be willing to do things that are memorable rather than simply coasting along on autopilot.
There’s a scientific basis for this approach. Neuroscientists have found that when faced with something that either threatens our life or that pushes us beyond where we’re comfortable, our brain kicks into overdrive in recording the details of our experience.
The more information our brain is processing regarding the experience, the more memorable it becomes. Anyone who has complained about how time seems to speed up as we grow older can appreciate how this works.
When we’re young and experiencing so many new things for the first time, the experience is anything but routine. We can recall the tiniest details of these new experiences as a result.
As we grow older and our experiences become familiar and even routine, our brains tend to process less information since it no longer counts as memorable. The less information our brains record, the faster time seems to go.
Encouraging people to leave their individual comfort zones is easier said than done.
It’s human nature to find comfort in the routine and few people seem willing to stray from the path of least resistance.
Embracing discomfort can bring a quality to our lives that the comfort of the mundane never will.
Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through what he calls the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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