My comfort zone is frighteningly small. Sometimes I imagine an actual zoning board reviewing my parcel and I can see them shaking their heads that anyone would want to inhabit such a miniscule area. If my comfort zone were an actual place, it would be a sliver of land with no bugs, no extreme temperatures, and little wind. Only two or three people would be allowed there at a time and they’d need to be extremely nice people – well-meaning, with no hidden agendas.
Like many people, I do not really like stepping out of my comfort zone. This is not something I’m proud of, it’s just a simple fact. And that was probably my biggest concern when I first did the Whole Life Challenge in January 2014.
I have a very low tolerance for discomfort of any kind and when that first challenge started, the thing that soothed me most reliably was chocolate. I was completely freaked out at the idea of giving up chocolate…I didn’t think I could go one single day. I prepared in a way that might horrify many: I bought some very good chocolate and put it in the cupboard so it would be there at a moment’s notice, in case something rocked my small world and I needed to calm myself immediately. People with teeny weeny comfort zones need their security blankets very close by at all times.
Some may consider sugar addiction laughable, but The New York Times came out with an article over the past year that basically said sugar was as, if not more, addictive than heroin – partly because it acts on so very many pleasure centers in our brains. So whether I write about chocolate, or wine, or bagels or the Zappos box that’s sitting in my foyer, I’m writing about the same thing: that "thing" each of us turns to when we think, “Good God, am I actually going to have to endure an unpleasant feeling?”
Chocolate soothes me, and it’s not just in my mind. I eat chocolate and I can literally feel my vital signs change. So a big part of this challenge, early on, became exploring what it feels like to be uncomfortable for a little while and not grab onto the first thing that numbs me. Sitting with boredom, frustration, fury, sadness, fear, anxiety – you name it, I’ve sat with it. And, I’m not going to lie – it’s not ever pleasant.
But the other secret I’ve discovered is that it doesn’t usually last very long. The truth is, feelings pass. And they’re going to eventually pass whether you eat a Snickers bar or not.
We are going to have some very shitty days during this 8-week challenge – because that’s life…sometimes things just suck for a bit. One thing we can do is see what happens – just once – when we sit with the suckiness, rather than mollify ourselves with food.
This suggestion I'm offering is one I continue to struggle with. When things get too unpleasant, I still run for food – even though it’s now compliant food – and even though I don’t hate myself for mainlining chocolate, I’m not crazy about the fact that I’m still fundamentally unwilling to spend much time noticing what the unpleasantness is full of – what it really feels like – and trying instead to figure out what I really need or want in that moment. I believe that most of the time what I'm really hungry for is not chocolate. And when I say "hungry" here, I don't mean the sensation in my stomach. I mean the craving in my heart.
Every time we choose to observe rather than react – to just notice what’s going on rather than reaching for that “thing” we always reach for to calm ourselves – we increase our capacity (even if it’s only a smidgeon) to do it again. And that makes our comfort zone the littlest bit bigger. Soon, our “thing” we’ve forever grabbed at doesn't seem necessary in quite the same way anymore.
Every single person who talks to me about this challenge tells me what she is afraid she can't live without. We are all in exactly the same boat; our cravings are often not about our "thing"at all.
It amazes me to this day that the chocolate I bought exactly a year ago, “just in case,” has remained on the shelf, untouched. I look at it every day. Many days I still want it. But it no longer owns me.
My Big Fat Whole Life Challenge Blog Post