The Paradox of Comfort

"In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." -- Albert Einstein

Lately I’ve been pondering some big things in life. I’ve had somewhat of a personal and work crisis all wrapped into one, but I’ve come out on the other side of it feeling better and being more clear about what I want and what I feel I have to offer this world. In the midst of my soul searching, thinking, and journaling on my personal crisis, I stumbled on the idea of The Paradox of Comfort. Yes, it’s a term I’ve made up, but it’s one that exemplifies an all too common phenomenon.

Most simply, the Paradox of Comfort is that if we organize our lives to where we don’t have to do much thinking or do very much at all, we get bored. When experiencing the Paradox of Comfort, we eventually end up with negative thoughts and which leads to struggling with things like boredom, restlessness, and listlessness. In an interesting turn of fate, life can actually become more difficult, not less, as the plan intended. Humans need challenges in their lives. Deep down most of us crave challenge and change and want variety in our lives. I’m not talking about drama, but I’m talking about challenges that get our brains working and into problem-solving mode.

Why many of us set up our lives to work on auto-pilot can actually be linked to a basic function of our brains. The most basic and oldest parts of the human brain want to be comfortable and feel safe. The brain also has millions of inputs to deal with so it’s developed some pretty efficient short cuts and well-worn paths to make a number of functions almost automatic. Examples that come to mind are opening a door, walking, taking a shower, and brushing your teeth. At one point we all learned to do these things, well aware of every part of the process. As we practiced and got better, though, the brain automated these things, and now we do them with little thought. Can you imagine if you had to be cognizant of every little thing that went into opening a door or washing your hair? It would take forever to get anything done!

Many people design their lives to function much in the same way because, of course, comfort and living in relative ease is attractive. People get steady jobs that they dutifully go to daily for years and years. Others have routinized their lives to the point where many decisions aren’t even up for discussion. Of course we’re going to grandma’s on Thanksgiving and then to Aunt Susan’s for Christmas. What else would we do? Or just the way children’s (and by extension, whole families’) lives are so well-structured with the finite school year and breaks and time off. So easy to plan for and plan around. It seems to be a gift, so neatly wrapped up.

And yet… And yet, we humans bore easily. For many of us, just as we set our routines in motion, we begin to tire of them. The trick is finding the balance between an automated life and one that’s harried, with too many decisions. In that balance lies the opportunity to take your power back and live intentionally. Below are my most effective tips for combatting the Paradox of Comfort, should you ever find yourself in it…

How to Combat the Paradox of Comfort:

Shake things up — The first thing you can do if you find yourself bored is to shake things up. Drive a new route to work or shop at a different grocery store. Heck, try Taco Thursday instead of Taco Tuesday one week. The point is to introduce bits of randomness into your routine so that it can become a bit more interesting or exciting again. Begin at a place where you feel like you need to make some type of change. Start by making small changes like the ones I suggested at the beginning of this point. Work your way up to bigger changes. You’ll be amazed at how much of a difference even just the little changes can make.

Look around/be observant — Take your face out of your smartphone and look around. Take in the scenery, and I mean REALLY look at what’s around you. Pay attention to the buildings, the trees, the cars, the monuments, whatever. Start to really see your surroundings and take in those new details and inputs. Something Jeremy and I do is take long walks around our neighborhood and in City Park. We look for birds, mostly, but we also are checking out the park and our surroundings. The goal is to be present and aware. Again, you’ll be amazed at what paying attention and actively observing your surroundings will do for your mental state and your satisfaction levels.

Be creative — Of course, this had to come back to creativity, but I’m suggesting this more broadly. Sure, if taking up a creative hobby is something you’re into, do that. You’ll learn more and increase your peacefulness and concentration by doing so. However, you can also just be creative in your approach to breaking free of the Paradox of Comfort. You know your life, your desires, and your wants/needs best. Think critically and creatively about how you can find new ways to bring more satisfaction and happiness into your life. Rethink limiting beliefs or old rules/restrictions that you might have placed on yourself.

If you find yourself mired in the Paradox of Comfort, have no fear. It’s actually quite easy to shake things up, do something different, or just find a creative solution to your situation. However, you must put forth the effort and take responsibility for yourself and your situation. Address the discomforts or negative thoughts/feelings that may arise from too much monotony in your life. Be deliberate in your actions, your thoughts, and your words. When you take ownership of your life and your particular situation, you take your power back and seize control over the Paradox of Comfort. Make a choice, change something, and adjust as needed. Repeat often. Happiness ensues.