Think about a problem, a question, a desired change, a toleration, or an unmade decision you’ve had in your life for a long time. (Hint: if you feel that nagging “UGH—still stuck!” feeling when you think of it, you’re on the right track.)
If you know in your head, heart, and gut what your next tiny or huge step or steps should be—if you have been contemplating forward movement for a long time, but not committing to action—ask yourself this powerful question:
Am I waiting until moving forward is comfortable?
If the answer is yes, know this:
If you’re waiting to act until acting brings you no discomfort whatsoever, you may be waiting forever.
I’ve uncovered this blockage with many of my clients, and I’ve seen it in my own life. We know that a step needs to be taken, a decision needs to be decided, a change needs to be made…but we don’t move forward. Instead, we (usually subconsciously) hold out for that someday when making the change or taking the step will be comfortable.*
What would it take for it to be comfortable? Usually, this boils down to one of the following:
- We want guarantees/certainty.
Maybe you’re totally ready to change, IF your results are guaranteed. You tell yourself you’ll act as soon as you figure it all out—as soon as you have a guarantee of what will happen next, and next, and next—and know how it will turn out beyond the shadow of a doubt. Uncertainty and the unknown are just too scary.
- We want to know the unknowable, or we want the unchangeable to change.
Maybe you’re ready to make this decision, IF you can just know certain unknowable factors or variables. You’re unwilling to move forward without that information that you may never have. Or, you resent the aspects of your current situation that are making this change hard, or that are driving your need to make a change in the first place. So instead of moving forward, you hope the problems in your current situation will just somehow disappear, without a change on your part.
- We want validation/permission/instruction from some seemingly omniscient other.
You wait for someone else to TELL you what to do, or tell you that what you want or need to do is okay. You don’t trust yourself to get into action according to your current best judgment, and then handle whatever the result is.
- We want to get a different result without actually having to do the work of changing ourselves or accepting the loss of what we’d need to give up.
Maybe you’re ready for this change, IF you can have it and also get to keep doing (or not doing) things the way you’ve always done (or not done) them. You want to keep your old habits, even the ones that are holding you back or sabotaging your goals. You want to keep the things you like about your current situation. You don’t WANT to do the work of learning new skills or breaking through the resistance or taking disciplined action. You’re waiting until you can get what you want without the effort required to change the beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors of the one person you CAN control: you.
Change is inherently uncomfortable. That’s why we choose, day after day, to stay in the sub-optimal situation we know, rather than taking steps to move into an uncertain—but possibly way, way better—future.
We do this when we fear the change will be painful, but we also do it even when the prospect of the change is exciting and positive—when the change seems to present a fantastic opportunity for growth or movement toward the lives we want. We prefer the current pain or dissatisfaction of the known to the risk of the unknown.
If you’re waiting for going after your goals to be comfortable, I’ve gotta tell you this, and even though it’s scary as hell, you may ultimately find it freeing as f@#k:
This may never be comfortable for you.
Ending that relationship. Investigating that career change. Starting to date again. Making the investment to hire that coach or work with that therapist. Beginning to write that novel. Taking those steps to become physically healthier. Addressing that conflict with your friend or family in hopes of resolving it. Calling that number or sending that email you’ve been putting off. Taking that trip. Making that move.
Taking just the first tiny step to pursue or explore any ONE of these goals.
It may NEVER be comfortable. Even if it’s EXACTLY what you need to do to move forward towards the life you want.
We wait for uncertainty to be gone—but it will never be gone. We wait to get hard information about certain variables we feel we NEED before we move forward—but some things are never going to be known ahead of time, because they hinge on things we can’t predict or control (even if we can do our best to influence them). We wish things would just be different, and we wait for them to spontaneously change—but they don’t, and may not ever. We wait for an external decider—but while other people MAY tell us what they think we should do (and can be helpful thought partners or information providers as we try to figure it out), it is our responsibility to make our own decisions, and only we can truly know what’s right for us. We wait until we can stay the same and still get the change we want—but the vast majority of the time, GETTING something different involves DOING something different, or differently—giving up some of our deeply ingrained habits and patterns, and developing and practicing new ones.
So, if you’re caught in the Comfort Waiting Game/Holding Pattern, dragging your heels on deciding to change, what can you do instead of waiting to arrive at this mythical Comfortland that may never appear?
Consider that the best gift you can give yourself is to acknowledge with compassion your discomfort, commit to making the best decision or taking the best action you can given what you know now, create an action plan that moves you forward at a pace or risk level you can tolerate, while addressing your fears, and trust yourself (and fortify yourself) to handle whatever the outcome may be—so that you know that no matter what, you’re going to be okay.
As for that comfort ideal you’re clinging to?
Just let go.
Stop waiting for the comfort that may never come.
And know that you’re not alone. We all long for certainty. For guarantees. For knowledge of what can’t be known. For validation. For ease. For comfort.
People who make huge, awesome changes in their lives are those who feel the discomfort…and do it anyway.
So take a breath. Take the next step. If you’re uncomfortable as you do so…well, you’re in good company.
Are you ready to be uncomfortable and get into action anyway? Want some support and accountability? Schedule an introductory coaching session now.
*In this article, I’m talking about the kind of discomfort you have even when you KNOW you need to move in a particular direction. Of course, if you’re feeling discomfort with a change because it’s WRONG for you, that’s different! Learn to check in with yourself and ask, am I uncomfortable because it’s scary to move forward, even though I know I need or want to? Or am I uncomfortable because my intuition is telling me to move away from this, and it’s wrong? You may need some help sorting out that distinction.
Photo by Jim Champion