Why comfort will ruin your life | Bill Eckstrom | TEDxUniversityofNevada

Why comfort will ruin your life | Bill Eckstrom | TEDxUniversityofNevada

Translator: Peter van de Ven
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney So, I was on a roll. I was an executive with a nice salary, annual bonuses, and stock options, all the perks. Everything was on track. And on Monday, January 7th, 2008 at three o’clock in the afternoon, in a small conference room
on the top floor of our building, the president of the company
wanted to have a quick meeting with me, which wasn’t unusual since he was my boss. But the meeting turned out
to be even more brief than expected. He fired me. And I’ll never forget how his words
just sucked the breath right out of me, and I left the conference room
in a dazed state, and I went home and curled up in my bed
in the fetal position for three hours. And while I could go on
in vivid detail about how I felt, what it did to my self-esteem,
my finances, and so on, what I now realize is, while that event created the greatest
amount of discomfort I had ever felt, it was that discomfort, the departure from my ordered life, that forever changed it for the better. You see, friends, what makes you comfortable can ruin you, and what makes you uncomfortable
is the only way to grow. Let me say that again: What makes you comfortable can ruin you, and only in a state of discomfort,
can you continually grow. Now, I suppose if on January 8th,
had somebody come up and said, “Gee buddy, getting fired is a good thing
because now you’re really going to grow!” I probably would have smacked them. But, pretty quickly I became motivated
to start a new journey, and after a couple years
of work with my new team and a PhD friend
at the University of Nebraska, we had this epiphany on how to illustrate and apply
the science of discomfort and growth. We called the concept: the “Growth Rings.” The Growth Rings represent
living environments that promote or hinder growth. And that includes everything
from your place of work, to even a fishbowl. You see, what dictates
the size of a goldfish is its environment. And while this goldfish
lives in a very safe environment, it’s also very limiting in most every way. And when placed
in a more robust environment, like, say, a small pond,
this can be the result. Now, it also means he could be eaten. But friends, this is you – the environments
in which you work, live, and play, they’re all a proverbial fishbowl
that dictates your growth. So, the first Growth Ring represents
a low-performing, low-growth environment, called stagnation. Stagnation is understood
by having to follow too many steps, and permissions, and minutiae. That stifles creativity,
independent thought, and action. To imagine an environment such as this, think no further than our state
and federal governments. Now, the antithesis
of stagnation is chaos, also low-growth and low-performing. Chaos can be caused by internal
or external events or conditions. We see chaos occur at times
in business mergers, natural disasters,
and horrific events like 9/11. Chaos is having
zero predictability or control over inputs and outcomes. Coming back down the Growth Rings, next to stagnation is
the most desirable environment: order. Order is knowing that what you do,
or what is happening in your environment, leads to a predictable outcome. And in predictability, comfort is found. But comfort is also
what makes order so dangerous. Because science shows that anytime
you continually do something, or even think about something
the same way, you’ll eventually stop growing. And this applies to every living thing – even our dog. You see, if Aspen had a chance, she’d choose comfort six days a week
and twice on Sundays. (Laughter) But too much growth-limiting order would have prevented her
from becoming a therapy dog, and had this been allowed, think of the lives this gentle soul
would not be touching today. So, before your order continues
to limit the way you think and act, remember what I said earlier: Growth only occurs
in a state of discomfort. Now, think about the power of that phrase: Growth only occurs
in a state of discomfort. I can unequivocally state,
I wouldn’t be standing on this stage today without my uncomfortable,
order-disrupting day, nine years ago – by the way I’m not recommending you go
get fired to see if it leads to a TEDTalk. (Laughter) When you feel discomfort hit, that means you’ve entered
the complexity ring. Complexity is nothing more
than changed order, but when your order is changed,
outcomes are no longer predictable, and it’s unpredictability
that makes you uncomfortable. And while most times your visceral response to discomfort
is not just “No” but “Hell, no,” you can actually learn
how empowering it is to consciously acknowledge discomfort, and then, when appropriate,
choose complexity over order. And I know seeking discomfort sounds odd,
and not many people do it, but you have to learn to embrace it because it’s the only environment where sustained
or exponential growth can occur. Okay. To weave high-growth complexity
into the fabric of your lives, there are three primary ways
it can be triggered. Complexity trigger number one
is it can be forced upon you. When I got fired, I didn’t have
a chance to stay in order, complexity was selected for me,
and when this happens, how much you grow
depends on how you respond to it. Now, I could have remained angry,
I could have used it as an excuse, but what I actually learned
is that I suck as an employee, and I’m much better off accepting
the risks of running my own company. Complexity trigger number two:
Someone can help you get there. This is the role of parents,
teachers, coaches, and bosses. Because left on their own, people will consciously or subconsciously
select the comfort of order. And they then need to be
pushed into complexity in order to continue growing. My youngest daughter
spent most of her high school life training to play tennis, and her coach was
pretty familiar with our work on complexity and the Growth Rings. So, I called him up one day
to check on Maddie’s progress, and I was able to phrase
my question like this, I said: “Hey, Lee, how long has it been since Maddie’s been pushed
deep into complexity?” Lee’s response: “Hmm, funny you’d ask Bill.
We got there yesterday. She broke down into tears
on the tennis court.” “Huh.” Well, knowing how tough my daughter is,
and the fact that she never cries, told me she was deep into complexity. But, friends, this is where critical
developmental decisions are made because the old Bill,
the pre-Growth Ring Bill, would have intervened and wanted to know
what was making her so uncomfortable. Then I would have done everything I could
to try and get her happy again. What I really would have been doing is removing the complexity,
and putting her in order. I actually would have been stifling
her development. But the new, post-Growth Ring Bill
relished in his daughter’s discomfort. (Laughter) And it was the coach’s next words
that told me everything I needed to hear. He said, “Bill, I’ve got to tell you,
it took a heck of a lot more to get her to the limits
of complexity this month, than it did last month.” Discomfort was causing her growth. Okay, but what if you’re not lucky enough to live or work in a robust
high-growth environment? What if you’re stuck in order,
even worse, stagnation? Well, the great news is, everyone can trigger
complexity at any time. So, complexity trigger number three:
Trigger it yourself. Take a journey with me
back to Montgomery, Alabama in the 1950s. Imagine, if you will
a young girl, who’s black, and she attends an all-black high school. And she takes the city bus
to get there and home, which wasn’t unusual in that era. And on March 2, 1955,
she boards a bus to come home from school, and she sits near the back, in the first row of seats
where blacks were allowed to sit. And as the bus continues
to fill with white people, there’s eventually
no more room in the front. And according to local law she needed to move further back
to create room for white people to sit. You see, Montgomery had an order in place that when followed,
led to a very predictable outcome: repression of people with little conflict. But 15-year-old Claudette Colvin had just spent the last month
in high school studying black history, and she was understandably fed up
with the historic and existing atrocities. And so on this day, she decided
she didn’t like Montgomery’s order, and by refusing to give up her seat, she sent a community, our laws,
and our entire country into complexity. Yes, nine months before Rosa Parks
made her famous decision to stay put, it was a 15-year-old girl that was handcuffed, dragged
from the bus, and taken to prison. It was Miss Colvin, not Rosa Parks,
who first fought the law, and by the way, was also the star plaintiff to testify
in the famous lawsuit that went all the way
to the US Supreme Court. So, I use Claudette’s actions
not to heighten awareness of race issues, although that’s not necessarily bad, but I used it as an example
of every issue, of every situation
in an ordered environment. It’s a real and perfect example
of complexity forcing people, our communities,
and our courts into discomfort, and the downstream impact that can occur anytime someone elects to move from order. Dr. Serene Jones, in a recent book,
summarizes this concept very eloquently. She said: “The constant facade of order hides the wilderness that is craving
to seep out and teach us that life wasn’t created
to be what we think it is. Beyond words, we must
experience the wilderness to be taught what cannot
be otherwise known.” So, friends, it’s not the discomfort of losing a job, it’s not having a child break down
on the tennis court, but it’s order you should fear the most
because it is a threat. And order-disrupting people like Jesus, Galileo,
Claudette Colvin, Aspen’s trainer, and maybe even a few of you
have already proven – now, think about this – it’s not the complexity-triggering
individuals or events you should fear the most, but it’s your own willingness
to accept or seek discomfort that will dictate the growth
of not just you, but our entire world. Thank you very much
for allowing me to be a part of this. (Applause)

Comments (100)

  1. I got an ad of solaire mattresses before the video, talk about irony

  2. That was beautiful ??

  3. Still watched this, even though I "thought" I knew what it was about. Thought I did, I still heard it in a different way of thinking that expanded my knowledge of the topic.

  4. 1.8k+ people didn't understand this speaker.

  5. The most comfortable thing in the world is sleep. if you sleep forever, then you are dead. Comfort = Death

  6. This is the same idea as flow state.

  7. If you want to achieve, discomfort will be your best friend! Nice speech

  8. I adore confortable

  9. Does he got lipstick ?

  10. Entire lecture based on the false assumption that growth only occours whem you are disconfortable. Clearely growth can happen in a confortable enviroment as long as you have others stimuli. Disconfort is just one of them, and is the one i would less recomend for obvious reasons.

  11. If we have a dream and want it becoming true.. We will struggle or get pain to achieve that…

  12. That last sentence rings. How though can this Titanic be turned around? The stagnation ring is my left arm, my phone, my face, and my right arm

  13. You need to balance your life in order to be happy and healthy

  14. Oh, I needed this right about now..thank you..

  15. Good luck China you have order maybe food complexity.

  16. So I guess the real question is HOW MUCH growth / discomfort do you want?

  17. I am writing a pitch deck, and I am broke while doing projection for a $50 million idea. I am tempted to get a job to please my surroundings, your talk will help me continue to strive for exponential growth even if that means passing through the corridor of complexity .

  18. “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
    ―     Nassim Nicholas Taleb,   Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

  19. If we can only reach our full potential by engaging in discomfort, then I ought to be at my best potential, but I beg to differ. I have yet to have a single good thing happen in my life to make it worth living.

  20. Very struggle to understand for not-native English speaker. But that "no pain, no gain" I totally figured out.

  21. This insight was priceless… amazing.

  22. Discomfort is the wrong word…anyone can adjust to uncomfortable situations… but is that growth ?..I guess if you only had good jobs and good friends…you wouldn't know how bad it could what did you learn..challenge is a better word..

  23. Everything in it's time. Cycles come to mind…..constant discomfort is stressful and lowers immune function.

  24. I remember my fathers frustration at me for being stubborn and not listening to his advice, but every generation has to make their own mistakes and learn the hard lessons which only pain and discomfort can teach!! So true what this presentation says about pain and learning, only through mistakes and necessity do we learn the valuable lessons of life. You appreciate success more if you have to struggle for it!!!


  26. Well, this idea of discomfort inducing growth in a person was said 1400 years ago by Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) when he said that If Allah intends good for someone, then he afflicts him with trials. (Sahih Bukhari). It's amazing that what people discover now was already informed 1400 years ago.

  27. Wow… there is real wisdom and motivation in this speech… thank you heartfully ?

  28. Typically the kind of "insight" you get when you think too much. It is not about (dis)comfort, it is about how naturally you live. Growth is a natural proces that happens when there is accordance with the natural environment. It has nothing to do with discomfort. He is clearly mistaking growth for change. He did't grow, he just changed.

  29. Needed this today. So grateful and thankful for Ms. Cloven' s mention!

  30. To the 1.8K people that disliked this video are the ones "Comfortable".

  31. Growth only occurs in a state of discomfort

  32. Amazing. No words. ❤

  33. Rich 1st world Mayonnaise problems. Life is plenty complex in most places. People will kill for mundane

  34. I needed that
    Thank you ted talk

  35. Don;t blame others for your position in responsible for your own thoughts and decisions…shape yourself to be the best you can…never stop learning and sharing…gratitude for the life you have as over 1 million people don;t wake up in the morning!!! Thx Iman i just joined your program to realise having no regrets, leave a legacy……xn Oh yes avoid like the plague the 1.8 negative people above…

  36. Chaos is a ladder!

  37. Well,I dare to take risk 🙂

  38. Now imagine that discomfort for 39 years.

  39. Is this a secret campaign talk from Yes Theory?

  40. Comfort breeds weakness

  41. Moved from Watch Later to Favorites!

  42. I quite agree that people should face more challenges instead of staying at a
    comfort zone if people want to chase growth .

  43. he is wrong. growth happens through hard-work. especially when the hard-work is enjoyable and not discomforting.


  45. It's best to live life in-between order and chaos. I think Jordan Peterson would approve.

  46. I watched this video while forcing myself to sit in front of the 90 degree sun of Texas. Trying to get my vitamin D ?to keeps myself healthy.

  47. You can change your order of thought and action without the catalyst of a discomforting experience, though typically we wait until one to do so.

  48. 生于忧患,死于安乐。

  49. I wonder what his daughter has to say

  50. His discomfort : I had to sell my Rolex to pay my credit card's minimum due.
    50% of America's population's discomfort : I can't get a job to feed myself

  51. Bad example – The 9/11 controlled demolitions were very well tunned, saddly and the outcomes were exactly what the Ind Mil Comp ever wished for, TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS + TERRORIST ACT – ETC

  52. Well dang, then I have been growing for 25 years

  53. Excellent video

  54. Do you people realize what you do

  55. You should have owned him, not him owning you! Always stay one or preferably two steps ahead!

  56. Growth rings? Oh you mean like the concentric rings on a tree that show times of plenty and scarcity but taken together show the iterative growth of even the most mighty redwood or oak? No, I mean 4 things that I am calling rings for some unknown reason.

  57. Discomfort: lifting weights
    Growth: bigger muscles

  58. This is an old sales technique. "Doing things outside your comfort zone = personal growth"

  59. He didn't mention that breaking order can get you executed. Jesus, Galileo and Rosa Parks were either killed or close to being killed.

  60. So the taliban are not fighting the American soldiers rather they are attempting to break the order from the USA?

  61. Boy I can tell by his circumference he still rolls in a lot of comfort

  62. 5:10
    The pause for laughter was cringe.

  63. I like to live no chaos no change, smooth and easy way. I dont need to go in a disconfort at all, i like to be in a comfortable zone

  64. I can see why he got fired. Good luck though.

  65. What if what makes you uncomfortable is the possibility of a deadly car accident, how do you get out of your comfort zone by facing your fear?

  66. Sheesh the language he uses to express his ideas isn’t very intuitive.

  67. What if you're comfortable with discomfort? ??

  68. The La-Z-Boy life leads to immobility and disease.

  69. I too was fired and it thrust me away from a successful career path to one that required a GREAT deal of discomfort with promise of future success. I'm loving it though. I'm getting by, but my new work is fun and exciting and has a better balance of time off and work.

  70. The survivorship bias is real.

  71. Awesome Talk. Thank you Mr Bill Eckstrom. Very insightful.

  72. my sister lives in norway she told me, when winter comes, young people commit suicide due to depression, a rich country, that is what happens to people who are not used to the hardships of life when trouble will come

    Compared to the poor country of the Philippines, parts of the Philippines are always flooded when it rains, but young people who are accustomed to poverty and happy playing in the flood still learn to smile

  73. one of the deepest talk
    speaking from personal experience

  74. "Chaos is a Ladder"

  75. Discomfort and growth are over rated, just ask someone with cancer.

  76. I watched this video in 144p on an iphone 4 while running 20miles with no shoes , no sleep and no food for the last 34h just to be extra uncomfortable.

  77. True. I would say almost everybody is being forced into a state of discomfort. Rarely someone willingly chooses it.

    Triggers may be:

    1/ you are being fired from your job

    2/ your spouse cheats on you and leaves you

    3/ your partner is being beaten down in front of your helpless eyes

    4/ your family is being killed by a cruel regime

    5/ you understand that your life is being sucked out of you at your daily job and you finally find the courage to quit

    THAT usually provides enough motivation to trigger real change and send you on a mission for personal growth

  78. one of the best Ted Talks !

  79. Bill it is a very heavy step to take. Your philosophy is sound but to what end.

  80. I agree with it and have lived my life accordingly.

  81. My takeaway
    Do what I planned and suppose to do and
    My mind says don't do.. ?

  82. In the modern world, easy actually means hard and hard actually means easy. Comfort leads to hardship, yet hardship leads to comfort. Sit on that one for a while.

  83. someone should ship the speaker to africa where he can get aids. then we'll see how good his life is

  84. This talk made me very uncomfortable lol

  85. Sadly, discomfort will only happen to you through an external event you have little control over. No one will consciously seek out great discomfort for a chance at self-improvement


  87. Yes sir…
    Comfort will ruin our life… Bcz we can't learn any thing new in comfort zone…

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