Is Being Comfortable a Positive Thing?

Sarah and I live what I would call a comfortable life. It’s far from perfect – there are lots of stresses floating around – but it’s comfortable. We aren’t in any immediate danger of any kind of financial problems. We have a house that’s plenty big and we have plenty of clothes and possessions. We never lack for the food we want to eat. On the whole, it’s comfortable.

The thing is, many people say that being comfortable is a bad thing. This article from Pick the Brain sums up some of the reasons:

You stop pushing
You stop thinking
You lose motivation
You lose sight of your goals

There’s some truth to that. I’ll be the first to admit that I pushed harder in some areas of my life when our financial foundation was less secure and our careers were less secure. I worked at a full time job in a research lab while simultaneously launching and building The Simple Dollar while also caring for a toddler and an infant at home. That’s a pretty hard push, one that I honestly probably wouldn’t take on today.

It’s not that I’m shying away from hard work, it’s just that in the area of financial security in my life, I have “enough” … or, at the very least, I’m on track to have “enough.” It does not make sense for me to “push” hard in that area of my life.

The thing to remember about this is that “pushing” a particular area of your life comes with a cost. The time and energy you devote to one area of your life has to come from some other area of your life.

I really like Michael Hyatt’s model of the ten domains of life. Here’s his list:

1. Intellectual
2. Emotional
3. Physical
4. Spiritual
5. Marital
6. Parental
7. Social
8. Financial
9. Vocational
10. Avocational

During the period in my life where we were turning our financial life around, I put a huge emphasis on 8 (financial) and 9 (vocational) in my life, with most of what remained going toward 6 (marital).

What happened to the other areas? They went into decline.

Outside of areas specifically related to my work, my intellectual curiosity went dormant. I bottled up my emotions and didn’t deal with them. I let myself get seriously out of shape. I lost touch with my spiritual/religious roots. My marriage ran into some difficulties. My social life withered into nothingness.

It wasn’t a good life. Sure, I saw a lot of professional and financial success, but because I was pushing so hard in just a few areas, all of my time and energy was being used up. I was nothing more than work, money, and parental tasks, and it left me, in the end, feeling pretty awful.

These days, I take a different approach to all of this. I still believe that “pushing” is a good thing, but it should be a sustained push in those areas of your life that you feel are out of balance and neglected. Save your extra time and energy for those things and reassess regularly.

My goal is to be “comfortable” in as many of those areas as possible at the same time. The thing is, the natural course of one’s life causes you to eventually fall out of a balanced state. You take things for granted. You devote too much effort for a while in one area and not enough in another. It simply happens, and that’s a cue to start pushing in a particular area.

Right now, I feel pretty good about some areas of my life – I’m comfortable in those areas – and I don’t feel nearly as good about other areas. My life, on the whole, is comfortable, just as I stated at the start of this article, but in specific areas, I’m not comfortable.

For me, being comfortable in all areas of life for an extended period of time is a wonderful goal, but it’s one that’s essentially impossible to obtain. Even if I manage to reach that point for a little while, life eventually gets in the way.

Here’s another way to look at it: being comfortable in one area of life usually means that I have enough time, energy, money, and focus to work to achieve comfortability in another area of life. If I’m comfortable in several areas, then I know that effort in another area that I’m not comfortable in is really going to pay off for me.

The danger isn’t in being comfortable. The danger is in not reflecting on your life and asking what areas you’re not comfortable in and what you could do to make things better.

Perhaps this is just me, but I’ve never been comfortable with all of those ten areas of my life at the same time. There’s always something that’s not where I want it to be.

The thing is, I’m not just running from fire to fire, either. Over time, my standards of what is “comfortable” in each area have slowly risen. My idea of what’s financially comfortable today would have blown my mind fifteen years ago. My expectation of what’s physically comfortable today would have rocked my world ten years ago. Things I considered completely comfortable then would make me uncomfortable now. Again, I view this as an outgrowth of self-reflection and a desire to have a better life.

The danger isn’t in feeling comfortable with some aspects of your life, or even many aspects of your life. The danger is in feeling comfortable in all aspects of your life, because you abandon all approaches of building a better life.

Look at your life. Ask yourself what makes you uncomfortable about it. Work to fix that discomfort. Repeat. To me, that’s the pattern of a healthy and successful life.

So, what’s the game plan here? Let’s break that advice down into little bits.

Look at your life. This means simply spending time looking at your life, both in terms of what’s good about it and what’s bad about it. This can take a lot of different forms. For me, journaling really works well, but for others, different approaches may work better. My wife Sarah usually spends her commute doing a lot of self-evaluation. My daughter does this practice she learned in life skills class where she lists five things she likes about herself, five things she doesn’t like, and then five ways to fix those things she doesn’t like (which I guess is a form of journaling).

Ask yourself what makes you uncomfortable about your life. What pieces of your life are not as good as they would be if everything were ideal? One good way to think about this is to move through that list of ten life domains earlier in the article. Which of those are you not as happy with as you could be?

Work to fix that discomfort. Identify things you can actually take action on that will improve those areas of your life where you’re not happy. Make a checklist out of them and strive to clean out that list. Personally, I really get value out of thirty day challenges and daily habit tracking. Am I doing this today? Am I doing that today? I like to keep tracking good habits until they become my default routine, which usually means that my life has somehow improved, or I see that they’re drawing time and energy and resources away from other things that are more important to me.

Repeat. This isn’t just a one-off thing. I cycle back to it constantly, starting at the top. I look at my life, ask myself what I’m not happy with about it, and then work to improve it. I do this casually all the time and then much more seriously every three months or so, when I do a quarterly review of my life.

So, if I were to answer the question that launched this article, I’d say that being comfortable in some aspects of life – but not all – is a good thing, as long as it’s paired with a drive to achieve comfort in areas where you’re not comfortable.

If you’re not comfortable with your finances, what can you do to change that? What about your retirement savings? Your emergency fund? Your debt load?

If you’re not comfortable with your body, what can you do to change that? Your weight? Your physical fitness?

If you’re not comfortable with your career, what can you do to change that? Your current job? Your next career step? Your skill set?

Those are among the many good questions to be asking yourself – and answering.

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