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Travels in the Discomfort Zone

Like most of you, I sometimes observe the need to “get out of my comfort zone” in some part of my life. Time to grow and try something new. And that’s a good thing, right? But thinking about a potential stretch seems easier than walking into the “discomfort zone” of transitions. Big transitions are experiences like the loss of a loved one, a major career change, moving to an unknown city or country, or a difficult health diagnosis for you or a family member. Any transition that reshapes your life will lead you through the discomfort zone.

About midway between the old and new way, you may experience a bundle of sensations: ups and downs, confusion, fear, hope, excitement, uneasiness, fatigue, and creative leaps. You may feel you are just creeping through or you are staring into space and have lost track of time. You may be constantly distracted. In one of my big transitions, I forgot the coffee mug sitting on top of my car as I drove off. I did that twice.

It’s tempting to sidestep the discomfort zone, just ignore it, leap over the abyss and start your new chapter. Who enjoys wandering around a strange forest with no certainty about where you will end up!

The feelings of the discomfort zone may last a while, making it hard to live and work in the fast pace of our world. But do not assume you are weak or stuck if you are out of sync with your surroundings. The discomfort zone actually serves the healthy and time-honored purpose of allowing you to slow down and take stock of who you are. Transitions really burn a lot psychic energy, and the discomfort zone offers an internal pace you can manage.

During this time, you can look at the parts of your life. What will you leave behind? What will you take with you? Let yourself think about new possibilities. Assess your strengths and the supports you have. Experiment a bit: trying a new recipe, taking a class, picking up an old hobby, writing in your journal. Be where you are. Unless you cannot function at all or have continuous dark thoughts, “being stuck” or feeling blah or all over the place is a normal response, sometimes an incubator for transformation.

Of all the things I say to my clients during their transitions, I most often say, “Be patient with yourself.”  You really are doing a lot of work beneath the surface, shuffling the pieces of your life. Emotionally speaking, you are catching up to the big change in your life and if you hurdle through the discomfort zone, you will miss wisdom that can enrich the new life chapter.

When you see the transition sign, “Discomfort Zone Ahead,” move into it as part of the journey. Remember to sit in a comfy chair once in a while. Get some rest. Be patient.