The Comfort of the Discomfort Zone


By Teresa Quinlan


Whether we are pushing ourselves, or pushing our team to stretch and achieve goals, being comfortable in the discomfort zone is necessary.


And difficult.


Discomfort is, by its nature, a feeling most people tend to steer away from. However, those who do:

- Fulfill dreams

- Reach their potential

- Grow their facilities toward mastery

- Experience happiness more often

- Expand their toolkit of skills

- Fill their own bucket thus establishing a lifetime of resiliency toward struggles

- Spark joy

- Inspire others

- Broaden their own discomfort zone


How do you go about S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G your discomfort zone successfully.


First, is to know what your discomfort zone is.


Second, is to understand how far you can step outside your discomfort zone without raising your anxiety too high.


Third, bask in the glory of your augmented discomfort zone.


Know Your Comfort Zone

When it comes to emotional intelligence we’re talking about self-regard, knowing our strengths and weaknesses. It’s necessary to know these to clearly define your comfort zone. Because stretch goals are intended to put you into your discomfort zone, and these are the things beyond your strengths.


Knowing your strengths allows you to:

- Play to them, and your talents, for every stretch goal on the table. You must be able to leverage what you’re already doing well when you stretch.


Knowing your weaknesses allows you to:

- Be aware of what may derail you and plan accordingly. If you have a stretch goal that plays to a weakness you’ll need to strategically supply yourself with resources that help you through including: plenty of time to execute, mentors that can show you the way, and education needed to close knowledge gaps.


Managing Your Anxiety

When our anxiety raises there is an increase of cortisol in our system. Cortisol is a response hormone to stress. Stress triggers our amygdala to be on ‘high alert’ with our emotions. This is our nifty reptilian brain that hasn’t evolved much from when we needed to literally survive or die, because danger was around every corner.


Danger isn’t around every corner, for most of us, however our brain still responds in the same way to stress.


When anxiety rises outside a controllable level, our logical brain shuts off so that more blood flow and resources can be directed to our reptilian brain – act fast to respond to danger.


Knowing your current discomfort zone plus knowing how far you can step outside of that zone AND manage your anxiety, means your thinking brain will stay engaged. And lucky for us, our thinking brain is the one we need to grow our discomfort zone – this is where we are learning new things – knowledge, skills, behavioural patterns.


And as we learn new things, we expand our discomfort zone.


A key element to remember…is that our confidence needs to grow at the same time as our capacities. The all too important feedback loop!



This is truly where you expand your capacity to be uncomfortable. This expansion has a direct correlation with the emotional intelligence skills of:

Self-Regard – knowing my strengths and weaknesses

Self-Actualization – pursuing relevant activities toward my growth

Reality Testing – remaining objective to see things as they truly are

Optimism – remaining hopeful and resilient despite occasional setbacks


When you develop these areas of emotional intelligence, your ability to live in the discomfort zone amplifies. You are much more resilient!


The end result is your discomfort comfort zone swells!




Bask in the Glory

Many people miss this part of growth – the celebration!


It is important to acknowledge our growth and development – our self-regard provides us the skills to recognize added strengths and developed capacities, and changes to our weaknesses. Basking in this glory affords us the opportunity to adjust the arena we’ve chosen to play in.


As my capacities change, the opportunities that are open to me change. When I choose not to celebrate my successes, I choose to stay small rather than authentic.


Authenticity must trump; resist the urge to minimize your successes. Instead, humbly live your life to the fullest of your strengths.


And as we let our own light shine, We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, Our presence automatically liberates others.

- Marianne Williamson


Reward systems also provide motivation toward goal achievement. When you set yourself up with mini-rewards on a regular basis, you can be successful in achieving the small steps toward your big goals.


One of my favourite mini-rewards is getting a Starbucks coffee with friends after every Sunday long run.



When approached with a plan, the discomfort zone can be a space that we thrive in, one that we even look forward to. A well-designed plan provides us with the necessary framework to set ourselves up for success.


Emotional Intelligence enables us with the skills for optimistic future thinking in present realistic actions.