The transformative power of being uncomfortable

Boxer Harry Garside is a big advocate for getting out of one’s comfort zone. This month, the Very Uncomfortable Challenge invites everyone to confront their limits.

Not speaking for 50 hours. A full month without technology. Going on a date with a girl who didn’t speak English. Difficult conversations with loved ones. Reading aloud in public. Thirteen hours straight on a stationary bike.

These are some of the uncomfortable challenges Olympic boxer Harry Garside has set himself over the past few years, and which he says have helped him grow as a person.

This March, as part of the Reach Foundation’s Very Uncomfortable Challenge, Harry has committed to subjecting himself to rejection on a daily basis.

“He wants to learn more about how he responds to rejection, and how that shows up in his life,” Reach Foundation chief executive officer Louisa Keck says.

Louisa has challenged herself to run 100 kilometres throughout the month.

“This is making me uncomfortable in a different way,” Louisa says.

“Getting sweaty and really pushing my body to its limits, but also just the practice of showing up for myself each day and making that time for my physical health.”

What is the Very Uncomfortable Challenge?

In its second year, The Very Uncomfortable Challenge encourages Australians to step outside of their comfort zone and commit to an activity they find confronting.

The challenge not only helps raise money for the Reach Foundation – an organisation committed to youth wellbeing – but facing our personal fears can also help us grow as individuals, psychologist Dr Marny Lishman says.

“I think we don’t realise until we do uncomfortable things how strong we really are,” Dr Lishman says.

“While (confronting fears) can feel really uncomfortable, we have to be able to tolerate those uncomfortable emotions and push through, and once you do, there’s endless possibility because you’re able to conquer that challenge, and then you’ve got a formula and the confidence that you can use in other areas of your life.”

Setting challenges to face personal fears has been a technique the Reach Foundation has used for decades while working with youth to help them realise their potential.

“It started with a belief in the potential of young people that when you give them a space to step outside of their comfort zone and try something different, just how much growth can happen,” Louisa says.

Why do we have a ‘comfort zone’?

“Our comfort zone is more about the known and what our brain, at some level, feels is safe for us,” Dr Lishman says.

While we may think it’s a cosy space to be in, Dr Lishman warns comfort zones are not comfortable over time.

“(Comfort zones) end up becoming quite uncomfortable,” she says.

“We’re made to grow as human beings, and if we don’t push ourselves, all sorts of other negative emotions turn on – resentment, regret, or more anxiety.”

How to start your Very Uncomfortable Challenge

Louisa says each person’s uncomfortable challenge should be personal to them.

To help you leave your comfort zone, follow these steps:

1. Commit to self-reflection

Louise recommends beginning with a practice of honest reflection and evaluating the limits of your own comfort zone.

2. Challenge yourself

Think about some things you’d like to develop confidence in.

“Is it speaking to new people, or trying a new sport, or asking for feedback at work?,” Louisa suggests.

“Once you’ve identified that, it’s coming up with a plan to try and challenge it.”

3. Hold yourself accountable

To stay accountable, Louisa suggests writing down your personal challenge, or letting family and friends know, or registering with the Very Uncomfortable Challenge.

4. Acknowledge your achievements

When you do step outside of your comfort zone, Louisa says it’s important to remember to be kind to yourself and recognise how far you’ve come.

While the Very Uncomfortable Challenge runs through March, it’s an exercise that can be started at any time.

“We encourage people to fundraise, but the real idea is to create this mental health movement in getting people thinking about the things that are holding them back, and how they can step out of their comfort zone in a safe and supported way, and be able to grow and benefit from doing so,” Louisa says.

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Written by Claire Burke