Its that time of year again, the season for new yearly themes! There’s an energy and excitement about starting a fresh new theme and trying something different from that of the previous year. Having committed to a whole year on a single ideal which has guided life there have been many valuable lessons learned and what’s learnt can be applied when deciding on what will be the theme going into fast approaching new year. Being able to tailor a theme for what is important to me is what makes yearly themes such an appealing concept after all.
For months now I had been in deep thought about what could be suitable to shape the next 12 (or there abouts) months of my life. Throwing ideas and concepts at the wall to see what if anything will stick and as always ended up with a shortlist of potential themes for the year 2021. There are any number of possibilities I could have gone with, each different in their own way and each having their own positives but all aiming to achieve to same basic outcome – to change something about the way I currently am for the better.
Over the past 12 or so months I have been actively engaged in my 2020 theme, the Year of Systems, which I would consider a resounding success, it achieved and delivered on most of what I was hoping it would. Changing my own personal operations, making processes more streamlined, requiring less effort and better utilise what limited time I have in order to gain a greater output of work.
While the Year of Systems focused about my interactions with workflow and adapting my process to better to suit the way I operate, the theme didn’t really focus on changing my personal habits or behaviours. Rather it focused more on changing the world around me to better suit it to the way I am and the way I operate. The only real personal change was starting a habit of time tracking. Even this was more for meta purposes so as to better understand what actions and activities were working, what needed attention and what I needed to be avoiding all together. Apart from this there was really nothing inward focused about the theme at all. But it should be said, being meta wasn’t the 2020 themes primary objective.
For 2021, I needed a theme which was fundamentally different to its predecessor. As a result, this year’s theme, the year of anti-comfort, has been chosen to be precisely opposite to 2020. Rather than change the world around me, I will change myself around the world.
A Year of anti-comfort, on face value, seems counter intuitive. After all the themes system is a practice which is meant to be about self-improvement. Why would anyone in their right mind actively pursue and go out of their way to be uncomfortable? This doesn’t sound like improvement at all… Becoming and being comfortable is considered a metric of success in our society, others would presumably structure their lives to steer towards being more comfortable especially in a time of great global, political, financial and social uncertainty. For my theme to make any sort of sense I need to unpack what I actually mean by anti-comfort, where I’m coming from with the idea and where I hope it will take me.
A logical place to start trying to explain this seeming illogical theme is actually defining what I mean by comfort. Comfort obviously can be interpreted many different ways and could mean any number of things to different people but in essences it means to be in a state of ease and freedom from pain or constraint, this could either be physical or mental.
When most think of comfort, the initial thought is actually more so about a particular characteristic of physical objects like a comfy chair (“The Comfy Chair?!”) or cozy bed – those inanimate objects which provide our bodies with a means to be at ease and to be relaxed; Comfort can be purely the physical, such as a pleasant ambient temperature being not too hot or not too cold; And of course, comfort also exists in a mental realm when feeling secure within our own thought, being free from worry and anxiety.
Comfort will mean something different to everybody and most importantly everybody will have differing levels of comfort which they are willing to accept. There will be a point at where this will go from being a state of comfort to being uncomfortable and vice versa whether that is physical or mental.
For the anti-comfort theme, comfort becomes the point of reference where I am content and satisfied. In this case comfort and being content are one and the same and being content equals acceptance. Therefore being in a state of comfort is accepting a particular situation. Without sounding cliche, its my comfort zone and at what point do I consider being in that zone.
What the theme sets to out to do is to change my threshold for being comfortable, to reduce the size and scope of my comfort zone. By setting a higher bar, I should (in theory) be more often in a state of discomfort and non-content, therefore strive to get back to a state of comfort by means of deliberate choices and/or actions.
This theme focuses more about how I go about rationalising the choices I make, examining all aspects of my life and making the correct calls to action based on my long-term goals. It’s far too easy to rationalise and justify lazy and easy actions and/or decisions, actions and decisions I know that may not be in my best interest, rather than making the more difficult, often uncomfortable ones but those which will serve better in the long run.
My brain is wired to want to be content and comfortable and to take the least resistive path in getting to this state, hence lazy and easy outcomes. In certain situations there is definitely an advantage to choosing the more comfortable route and the path of least resistance. If you’ve cut your arm off by accident and need to get to the hospital, then an ambulance is preferable to walking or taking the bus.
This is a basic human instinct after all. The point being that as for a matter of survival we, coming from our hunter gather ancestors, should not expend any more energy than is necessary in order to survive as we did not know when our next source of calories would have been coming from. But since we no longer live in caves or chased by sabre toothed tigers and woolly mammoths but rather live in a modern society with an abundance of resources there is no need to have this mindset. Unfortunately, this mindset can be counterproductive and doesn’t help in the long term. Living for short-term gain will make you feel good in that moment but will rob future value given the chance.
For example: I must be comfortable with the way my body looks and its level of health and fitness therefore I can eat a six pack of Mr. Doughnut doughnuts every day; I must be comfortable with my shitty job therefore I keep turning up to it day after day after day; I must be comfortable with the amount of money I have therefore I am going to spend rather than save or investing; I must be comfortable with my friends as I keep associating with them even though they give me the shits. These are extreme examples to say the least, but I use them to highlight the mentality that I have slipped into over the past few years. If I am comfortable, content and accepting of the current status quo then much will remain the same, however if I am not then things will change, if I increase my threshold then change will occur across a more areas of my life.
Anti-comfort comes from the idea that in most cases there will be multiple options and alternatives for any given situation or scenario which will require a level of mental delegation to make the correct choice for my well being. This could be something as simple as “what do I want for lunch?” or something heavy like “what do I want for my career?”. Wherever on that spectrum of importance, there are thousands of questions each day subconsciously being asked by myself to myself, most of which have a near automatic response answering those questions. Applying the anti-comfort theme will put bias on actions I normally wouldn’t favour. Behaviours which my brains positive feedback loop wouldn’t normally be programmed to encourage are instead being coaxed out. This should result in taking a more resistive, less comfortable path.
“what should I have for lunch” for example, the comfortable option would have an expected outcome along the lines of: “I’ll go through the drive through and get Macca’s for lunch, that way I don’t need to get out of the car and I can just keep driving. Its quick and easy”. The alternative anti-comfort scenario would be: “I’ll make myself a sandwich the morning before work”. There is more effort with the second option but will benefit more so in the long term, option one is the more comfortable way compared to the second anti-comfort option.
What about careers? The comfortable option is to stay with my current Job. Even if I hate where I work, each and every day I keep turning up to a job I hate I am taking the path of least resistance and reconfirming that I am comfortable, content and accept my career choice. Choosing an anti-comfortable path would be: deciding I want to leave that job, upskilling to be better qualified, updating my resume, distributing said resume, going to interviews and meeting new people in management positions, making first impressions and finally telling the current boss that I am leaving, moving on to bigger and better things. All these steps when compared to just staying where I am is much more of an inconvenience, more of burden to achieve and is definitely less comfortable than doing nothing at all. But if planned out correctly and executed in a timely manner it will yield more fruitful results longer term.
In a beta kind of way, this very blog has been putting me into a position of anti-comfort. Writing publicly and with some kind of regularity is like nothing I have done prior to 2020, the year I launched. While I have been using the usual social media platforms, they are in no way comparable to planning out topics to write about, sitting down and drafting a body of cohesive text about a topic and then publishing it openly on the web for all to see. Not only this but whether or not there would be any interest at all in what I would be publishing comes with a degree of fear of failure all to itself. I was perfectly comfortable not to expend the effort bothering with such a project, but yet I still continue on with writing and publishing content. I choose to put myself into situations of discomfort imposing time frames and due dates along with minimum word requirements all while in the back of my mind thinking that these efforts may be in vain and not even get read by a single person. Why? Because doing nothing is too easy, is being content and being too comfortable. Making something with purpose and depth is many magnitudes of difficulty harder but will result in something worthwhile in the end.
It will take some adjusting, as I have become who I am over the course of many years and to suddenly about-face with parts of my personality which are more complacent than others is a tall order. Not impossible but difficult still. This is where the theme system fits in nicely, It doesn’t have to be a hard 180 degree change, say as a new years resolution would be come January 1st, rather a change of mindset and something to work towards over the coming months to a year.
It has been more difficult than I thought it was going to be to write an explanation on what the theme actually is, hopefully I have done enough to make sense of my planning for the year ahead. Anti-comfort is a niche, almost metaphorical topic and to try adapt into a yearly theme could prove just as difficult as explaining to others. This theme will be a real test for my own will power and commitment but will be beneficial in the long term. After all being comfortable in the moment advances nothing. Whether or not I am happy in the situation is irrelevant, I am continuing to make the decision that I am comfortable with a present and current situation compared to potential better alternatives. The more willing I am to accept, be content and be comfortable in that moment the less change will happen. I will end this post with a quote from Marcus Aurelius, he says in a single sentence what I have been trying to say for paragraphs:
“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”