Yeah, I do mean you. And me. Because a few years back that’s where I was. But let’s back up a bit, a very crucial bit:
What question didn’t I ask above?
There’s a key word missing from that first paragraph. I’ll give you a hint: it’s not a matter of direction but of intensity. Yeah, I hate cryptic hints too. Guessing games have never been my forte; so, have you figured it out yet?
I didn’t ask if you were happy.
Imagine a graph. The X-axis is your happiness. On the very left you’ve got terribly dissatisfied. On the very right you’ve got deliriously happy. The Y-axis is your willingness to work a change. The plot starts at (0,0). That’s suicide country – you’re entirely dissatisfied with your life and everything around you, so dissatisfied that all your energy is sucked out by how horrible you think your life is. Note that I’m saying “you think”: happiness is relative and internalized – there are examples of concentration camp inmates who lived through finding meaning and happiness (for a good overview of the subject, check out Victor E. Frankl’s An introduction to Logotherapy). But when you’re terribly unhappy you don’t have the energy to affect change.
Then the plot rises. By X=1 (whatever 1 means) your Y has risen. You’re still down and unhappy but you’re able to do something about it. As X increases so does Y – until you hit your comfort zone. There your Y, your willingness to change, plummets. If you’re OK you have very little reason to change. You may not be happy, you may not be overjoyed with what life’s given you, but you’re comfortable.
This is one reason why violent revolution rarely starts amongst the middle class – the middle class is usually comfortable, a great, big mass of people who may not be happy but aren’t about to risk their OK existence in order to combat social injustice. To affect change you need less, or more.
Less is if you’re lacking for something and that something is driving you do dissatisfaction. It can be something as basic as food (French revolution, anyone?) or something as ephemeral as “freedom” (Gandhi and the Indian Independence Movement). It can be artistic freedom, to break with current conventions and create something that’s hovering at the edge of your mind (Doom, Salvador Dali, Pointillism, Dune, millions of other examples). It can be as silly a thing as not eating that last cupcake. But whatever it is you need to be somewhat dissatisfied to drive you to change.
Or you can be very happy with where you’re going. Happiness in itself drives change and motivates you to improve your life, your environs and the world itself. A caveat though: when I say “happiness” I don’t mean “smoke a pound of pot and roll around on the carpet saying ‘duuuuude'”. That, in my opinion, is a distraction making you content, not the overflowing fount of energy that internally motivated, meaningful occupation can bring you. That’s what I mean by happiness, the inner drive that makes you bounce with joy when you wake up.
But back to that big, ugly, comfort trough.
You’re comfortable. You might want to do something but there’s no need to hurry. You can do it tomorrow. That’s the internal cushion that’s stopping you. Or there’s your friends and family to consider, what would they think if you started burlesque dancing? You’re OK, they’re OK, causing any sorts of waves might make lots of people really, really mad at you (hey, mom, you can see my butt-cheeks!). That’s social pressure working on you – other people are comfortable and you risk ruining their comfort (which, understandably, makes them angry).
So what can you do?
Simple: you need to become dissatisfied with some aspect of your life. Whatever it is you want to change, whatever it is you want to motivate yourself with, you’ll need to realize that it’s bad.
That’s right. Your favorite TV show, is it truly worth forsaking your game design dream for? Is the slow, steady comfort of your day-to-day worth flushing your novel writing dreams down the toilet? What do you want to do what you’re not doing? And what’s so great about what you have that it is allowed to pound your dreams into the sand? Set your hair on fire and run around screaming if that’s what it takes but get dissatisfied!
Yeah, I know that’s vague. So here are two tools that I myself have used to get out of my comfort trap:
- Compare your reality to your dreams. What could be better? Imagine yourself living your dream, the embodiment of what you want to accomplish. Savor the moment of your greatest triumph. Paint it in your mind. Then open your eyes and compare it to your dirty dishes.
Realize that your life stinks and you’ve got to do something about that. Like, right now. And if that fails, try again. Imagine what you want, imagine why you aren’t getting it.
The important thing here is to imagine it as your own fault. It’s not uncle Willy not giving you the inherritance that’s stopping you. It’s you not getting your thumb out of your orifice and doing something about your dreams that’s the big issue. So get unhappy, get angry, get fueled up and go, Go, GO!
- Compare yourself to somebody living your dream. What have they got that you don’t? What’s making them so special? Nothing, that’s what! They’re just like you except they started earlier and worked harder. There’s nothing stopping you from doing the same right now. Nothing but yourself and your bloody comfort! Kick your comfort in the head. Stomp those potato chips. Burn the TV. Get moving, damn you!
That’s what go me out of the comfort trap. You can find other ways yourself. Any way is great if it works.
So get going!