Fear vs Comfort – Which is really holding you back?

Most people think that fear is what stops them from moving forward.  Fear of the unknown.  I read an article recently (“How to make big, bold, wildly exciting things happen in your life“) that made me question this, and to consider that comfort is in fact far more damaging than fear.

I’ve had some interesting and in-depth conversations with a friend who’s working through a major shift in her life and the word “fear” keeps coming up as the over-riding problem and now, when I reflect on our conversations, I realise that while fear is there somewhere, comfort is the true guilty party.

She has been too comfortable.  The income good.  The work familiar.  The routine secure and comfortable.  Why would you change anything?

Brainwashing 3, acrílico sobre lienzo, 80 x 100 cms

By Cesar Leal Jiménez via Wikimedia Commons

 Deep down though, you know if something isn’t right, because it will feel like a  compromise, even if it is indeed a comfortable compromise.  The problem is, we are all taught that compromise is a virtue.  That’s how we get along in the world.  We don’t rock boats.  We don’t upset apple carts.  We want to be accepted.

Many of us are unfortunately instilled with some form of “martyr syndrome”.  We have to sacrifice ourselves in order to feel like we are doing any good.   My friend and I have similar cultural backgrounds and upbringing, and I understand how intense the conditioning is.  I used the analogy of being in cult and likened this conditioning to brainwashing, and to accept that it will take some time to undo this brainwashing.  It will take courage, support and persistence.

I’m a bit of a sci-fi buff and the Matrix movies came to mind when I was writing this post.  For those familiar with the plot, you will remember that in a futuristic world, unbeknownst to them, people were hooked up to massive computers that simulated life.

The main character knew that something was just not quite right about his world and was motivated to find out what it was, but most of the people in this fake world just carried on with their fake day-to-day lives.

While the movie takes this concept to an extreme, real life sometimes isn’t that far off.  Are you living a life of compromise or are you living authentically?

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Coach Mi

I'm a business coach passionate about helping women make the impossible possible! Do get in touch. I would love to have a chat to see how I can help.

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Comments 14

  1. I agree that comfort does work in tandem with fear to freeze action from going forward into the new and unknown. Although, I too have heard it said that fear motivates people more. So in essence, fear of moving from our comfort zone paralyzes progress, right.

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      I agree that fear should motivate people more. I had always thought so until I discovered that what a lot of people attribute to fear (esp. fear of the unknown) is not in fact fear.

  2. Very interesting concept. I guess individual responses vary based on what “unknown” versus “comfort” means to you. In my specific case, as a serial expat of 20 years, “moving to the unknown” is what I feel most comfortable. I know this is a paradox but frequently found in children of expatriates also known as global nomad or TCKs. Planning a new move gives excitement and maybe what other people think is comfort can be perceived as boring for people like me.

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      Thanks for sharing Anne. It makes me think of all the usual sayings “one man’s meat is another’s poison”, “one man’s trash is another’s treasure” etc. In this case, one person’s fear is another’s excitement!

  3. Nice post Mi. I think one of the most paralyzing thing about depression is that usually there is some level of comfort in it. This ties in well with your discussion since we are trying to determine if comfort is as great a hinderance as fear. Everyone is different of course, but for me one of the greatest motivators is frustration. I can tolerate a bad situation only for so long before the frustration becomes a catalyst for me and provokes intense action to improve the situation. There is only so much time in one day so you need to prioritize your activities to determine which actions will improve your life the most.
    Thanks for the post,

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      It’s interesting isn’t it, that for some, there is comfort in the devil you know? Thanks for your contribution to the discussion about frustration also being a motivator!

  4. So many emotions or pseudo-emotions feed off on another. While real, healthy fear exists, I think it only really exists at extremes. The “fear” we deal with day to day, that affects the running of our lives and business, isn’t necessarily fear…as you stated. In fact, it’s apprehension, frustration (thanks, Bill), inertia and more, which we roll together to allow us to do nothing at all.

  5. Hi Mi,

    I come from a very strict, reformed christian home and my parents words were law. Comfort is what they were after. Also conformity and obedience. As an adult, that meant not knowing how to deal with conflict and/or fear. Because we were so comfortable and so regimented, we also had no worries or fears. But that’s not the real world.

    Now I’ve learned to fear AND to step out of the comfort zone. My life is better because of it, however, I wish I could give my children a little of what I had as a child. A middle road so to speak, but that’s not possible. They have traveled the world (like Anne) and they now aware of hunger, pain, discomfort and poverty. Compromise, compromise.

    You’ve got me thinking… thanks!

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      Dorien, with two kids, I too hope that I can help my children onto a middle road, one where they are able to stretch themselves. Our conditioning in childhood sets us up in so many ways. Great to hear that you have not let that hold you back!

  6. Hi Mi,

    Absolutely! Stepping out of our comfort zone is so unnatural that most people live their whole lives without ever experiencing what is “just beyond.”

    It takes confidence to make that shift and take a leap outside our own comfort.

    Great insights!

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  7. While its true that fear and comfort can both hold you back I think its a certain type of person who lets these things hold them back (the majority o people) and a really special person who can break free of the kind of thing that hold everyone else back! Most people look for excuses to not take action and then use these excuses as justification for not moving forwrd with things.

  8. Mi, great article. I was just reflecting on this yesterday. In the last couple of years I’ve moved deliberately out of a very settled comfort zone into an arena of growth and passion. Very stimulating, and at the same time, challenging! It was what I asked for, so I’m on track, but some days I have to take a deep breath, and remind myself of my goals.

    Thanks for the reflection time. Sarah

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