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Are you comfortably uncomfortable?

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“It’s the same old thing,” Kathy said as she settled herself in her chair across from me. “I’m not really that happy being with Mike.

“You know . . . it’s the same stuff I talk about every week: We don’t have common interests, he’s financially irresponsible, he doesn’t work full-time like I do but I still end up doing all the work around the house, and sometimes I catch him in lies.”

She paused for a moment and then sighed.

“I just wonder why I stay with him when I’m unhappy.”

I leaned back a bit in my chair and propped my chin on my hand, considering this. “Perhaps you’re comfortably uncomfortable.”

Kathy gave me a puzzled look. “What?”

“You’re comfortably uncomfortable. You’ve been doing the same thing for so long that, even though you don’t like it, you know it well and therefore you are comfortable . . . but uncomfortable at the same time.

“Change is really hard when you’re comfortable. It’s that old adage, ‘The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.’”

Kathy looked at me and cocked her head slightly to the side. I could see her trying to wrap her mind around this new idea. “You know,” she said slowly, “I think there might be some truth to that. I am comfortably uncomfortable.”


What about you?

Do you find yourself vaguely or even actively unhappy, but unsure as to why you’re not doing anything to change it?

You might be comfortably uncomfortable right where you are. Even though you don’t like what is happening in your life, you’re in your comfort zone where it is safe and you know the terrain.

What happens if you step outside of your comfortably uncomfortable spot?

The downside is that it might be scary and will certainly be foreign territory for you.

The upside is that you open yourself up to new opportunities, new ways of being and relating, and the possibility of long-term contentment and well-being. And we know that a sense of well-being is vital to our ability to bounce back from life’s hard knocks.

4 steps toward change

Now, how do you get out of that comfortably uncomfortable place that is lulling you into ongoing dissatisfaction? Try these steps:

1. Acknowledge that you’re stuck.

It’s hard to notice that you’re comfortably uncomfortable. Why? You’re used to it. You’re . . . well, comfortable. In an uncomfortable sort of way. So the trick is to become very honest with yourself and acknowledge the reality of your stuckness. And that’s it. No need for judgment about it.

2. Notice your emotions.

Change is rarely easy so check out how you’re feeling about leaving your comfort zone. You may be feeling some or all of these: fear, trepidation, hope, anxiety, anger, excitement. Welcome whatever your emotions you are experiencing and remember that emotions just are and they tend to be transitory. If you are feeling scared now, it doesn’t mean that you will always feel scared.

Just notice your feelings and try not to have judgment about them.

3. Remember that you have made it through tough times in the past.

Now that you’ve identified your emotions about the change, recall a time in the past when you felt the same way. You must have made it through that time because you’re here reading this now, right? Maybe it was hard, but you did it.

4. Call for reinforcements.

One of the best ways to make a change is to bring trusted friends in on your plan. Kathy eventually decided to end her relationship with Mike, but she needed the emotional support of her sister and best friend before she could actually feel safe enough to do it. Remember that having supportive people around you is a vital resiliency tool and also a great way to provide yourself with an emotional cushion as you step into the unknown territory of change.


Tired of being uncomfortable? It’s time for a change.

You can do it.


Takeaway points: It’s very easy to slide into a place of being unhappy but you are so used to it that you are comfortable. You don’t have to stay there. You can increase your well-being by acknowledging the reality of your situation and gathering up the courage to change. With a little help from your friends!

Have you ever been comfortably uncomfortable?

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Bobbi Emel is a therapist who helps people in Los Altos, Palo Alto, Mountain View and the greater Bay Area manage their stress and develop their strengths.
She is effective in helping people dealing with anxiety, worry and grief; and also those who want to improve their effectiveness and performance.