Comfort Can Get You Killed

Have you noticed how often we’re encouraged to pursue comfort?

We’re bombarded by advertising that lures us with promises of our own home, comfy clothes, pleasurable relationships, easy money. We are offered insurance policies for every conceivable hazard. It’s no wonder, in our modern world, that we tend to view comfort as a universally positive good.

Do you realize that comfort has a dark side?

Too much comfort deadens. It lulls us to sleep; pleasantly numbs us to any challenging circumstances. It’s the perfect mood – in limited doses — for rest and relaxation from the daily scrum of life.

But if we make the pursuit of comfort a top goal in our lives, it can start us on a downward spiral in terms of energy, vitality, and brain activity; a spiral that takes us away from living exuberantly.

On a recent trip to the Amazonian rainforests of Ecuador with my daughter Sara, I discovered that “comfort” is not at all what the native Achuar people pursue. It’s not even in their language.

Comfort as a state of mind can get you killed in the jungle. The mood of the Achuar is to be awake and alert. They choose to be engaged and present with all that is around them. To be instantly responsive to whatever appears. For them, being fully alive is the only way to stay alive.

Our modern asphalt and “online” jungles present us with a constant barrage of challenges. Let’s look at a few easy ways to “stay fully alive” at work and at home.


Do you value routine and habit over spontaneity, mystery, and surprise? Big mistake. I spent 10 days with a remarkable man named John Weir in 1994. John was 80 years old and had the mind and body of a man 20 years younger. His secret to mental and physical agility? To “change things up” every day so that he had to respond to constantly varying challenges. He was a living testament to the energizing benefit of staying alert for the next unexpected event. Frankly, John was having a lot more fun in life than most people at any age—and it’s quite easy to copy his approach.

Do something out of the ordinary every day. It could be as simple as wearing a pair of colorful socks. Saying “yes” to an invitation that makes you nervous. Ordering something you’ve never eaten before rather than “the usual”. Taking a different route to work. Surprising someone you care about with a gift they would never expect. Writing a note of appreciation to someone for something that you’ve been taking for granted.

Sign up for adventure. Initiate that project you’ve been putting off because it isn’t “realistic”. Expose yourself to cultures that are new to you. Travel to places outside your comfort zone. Experience the adventure – and fulfillment – of a service trip. Hang out with people who are stretching their own boundaries.


Are you choosing the “comfort” of avoiding conflict over dealing with tough topics directly? You may avoid the anger, frustration, and fear that can come with raising difficult issues, but at a heavy cost. You will miss the joy and intimacy that come from resolving tough things together. The deepening of relationship and confidence that comes from being in the trenches together.

Say “no” more often. Stop saying “yes” when your heart says “no” or “not now”. Limit your time with people who bring you down. Let go of those who live as constant “victims”, always blaming and complaining, never taking responsibility for their lives. Say “no” when your plate is already too full.


Don’t book yourself too tightly. Leave some white space in your calendar. Combine focus with variety. Ask yourself “when is the last time I did something for the first time?”. And then say “yes” to doing something for the first time.

Become a little more unpredictable.

Are you settling for well-worn routines in your closest relationships? Chances are, in earlier times, you came up with inventive ideas to “light up” that special person, show your best self, and share experiences that you still tell stories about. Be a source of consistent surprise.

Include more people in your life who are unlike you. Expose yourself to different points of view, a kaleidoscope of life styles, diverse age groups, cultures, races, and places of origin. Trade chit-chat for provocative conversations.


Discover your full capacity for resilience when you stretch and challenge yourself. Do it in the company of others and experience the thrill of “we did this together … when they said it couldn’t be done”.

Make more mistakes. Are you sticking your neck out, experimenting, making mistakes and learning from them? If you’re thinking “nah, I really can’t, I have too much invested in the status quo to make a change now”, watch out. Recognize that life is a game. By choosing to “hold-em” you may slide to “folding-em” way too quickly. Be curious, build up your courage and keep on playing.

The late management guru, Sumantra Ghoshal, when talking about the amazing track record of “accidental innovations” (such as Post-It notes) at 3M quoted some 3M managers as saying, “We always seem to stumble on to these things …”

Ghosal’s observation? “You have to be in motion to stumble.” Don’t just stand there, keep moving!

To live exuberantly is to embrace everything that life brings, including the uncertainty and disappointments along with the unexpected miracles. Consider it all as your “scholarship to the school of life”. Each pain and struggle is key to your education.  And … will provide you with a great story for your grandkids.

People will ask “are you comfortable?” You can answer with a vigorous

“No. Thank God. I’m not comfortable at all. But I am awake, alert, and fully alive!”