Just because something is challenging, doesn’t mean it’s growth-enhancing.
There’s this delusion many people interested in psychology, motivation, and self-help sometimes fall into, that holds that if something is challenging or outside our comfort zone, then that’s a good indication that that thing is growth-enhancing or healthy.
You see it in quotes like “if it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you,” and/or “outside of your comfort zone is where the magic happens.”
It’s true that growth-enhancing experiences do often challenge us. It’s also true that there is value to evaluating to what extent our comfort zone hold us back from seeing and being more.
That said: hardship for the sake of hardship isn’t growth.
Jumping out of our comfort zone jut for the sake of being uncomfortable isn’t growth.
I know, I know, you’ve heard me talk about values and goals and again. I’m a broken record on this subject. But this is one broken record that you’ll want to keep on repeat until it sinks in: the extent to which any experience, challenging or not, comfortable or not, is valuable to us is the extent to which it is explicitly linked to our values and goals.
There are PLENTY of experiences that are challenging that aren’t valuable to us, because they have nothing to do with our values or goals.
There are PLENTY of experiences that will take us way, way outside our comfort zones, but they aren’t valuable to us, because they have nothing to do with our values and goals.
Why does this matter? Because we only have so much time, energy, and focus in a day.
There are infinite numbers of ways we can budget and spend or invest that time, energy and focus; but if we just run around chasing challenging or uncomfortable experiences simply because a motivational meme on the internet told us to, we’re very likely to burn out.
Absolutely, challenge yourself. Absolutely, step out of your comfort zone. But do so for well-defined reasons— reasons that clearly link back to your values and goals.
Our values and goals are who we are.
They define whether we’re wasting our resources, or investing our resources.
It’s virtually impossible to have high self-esteem, let alone to feel good about ourselves on a day to day basis, if we’re not connecting our daily behavior to our values and goals.
Conversely, it’s almost impossible to have low self-esteem if we’re going to great lengths to explicitly, consciously link our daily focus and behavior to our values and goals.
Being clear on our values and goals is more than an an abstract, big picture kind of concern.
Being clear about our values and goals— and devoting time and thought to how we can chase them down in everyday life— has a direct and profound impact on our daily mood and emotional functioning.
Why do some people neglect their values and goals every day?
For one, some people get intimidated. Asking them to be clear about their values and goals, let alone to chase them down on a daily basis, is asking them to truly live with integrity and self-esteem. Some people aren’t quite ready for that.
It sounds ridiculous to say, but many people have been conditioned to believe that they don’t “deserve” the opportunity to chase down their values and goals every day.
They’ve been conditioned to believe that their values and goals “don’t count” as much as other peoples’.
They’ve been taught that it’s selfish to spend the day pursuing their own values and goals as opposed to helping OTHER people achieve their own values and goals.
Think about that for a second: is there anything that, by definition, makes someone ELSE’S values and goals more important or valid than yours?
But in a world in which people have learned that “selfish” is the worst thing to be, they automatically assign their own priorities less weight than other peoples.
Let me set the record straight: pursuing YOUR values and goals, and helping other people pursue THEIR values and goals, is not a zero sum game. I do it every day as a therapist.
Moreover, if you’re living a life that affords you plenty of opportunities to pursue your own values and goals, your mood will be better, your self-esteem will be higher…both of which will render you even MORE useful to other people.
You can’t help somebody else if you’re suffering yourself.
It’s not a bad thing to seek out challenge. Challenging experience do often change us.
It’s not a bad thing to be real about the limits of your comfort zone. Your comfort zone absolutely prevents you from taking certain risks that could be growth-enhancing.
But challenge and discomfort aren’t ends unto themselves.
Use them in conjunction with the two most important tools you have for self-actualization: values and goals.
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