ageist EDITORS | december 14, 2017

get uncomfortable

I have been writing about pushing ourselves to do things that may seem impossible but that are actually just difficult or unpleasant. There is another side to this.  What happens if we consistently allow ourselves only to do what is most comfortable? My friend Jonathan tells me he intentionally pushes himself into uncomfortable, unfamiliar places so that he doesn’t become fragile in a time of actual acute need. The idea is similar to muscle building: strength is gained in the small tears made in the muscle from exertion. This is something people in our group understand in a way that previous generations didn’t — total comfort leads to fragility and decay.

Since we are entering the busiest travel season of the year, I am going to make a case for the benefits of pushing the bounds of what you have experienced. We all love a fantastic lux hotel, they’re great for a nice relaxing break, but what did you really get out of it? Maybe try something else. Go somewhere with people that are not at all like you are. Go full Anthony Bourdain-strange food, odd ways, languages not understood.  Eat street food in Asia, take a local bus in South America. If you live in an American urban center go somewhere that is not that. Sure, it may be a bit risky, but how risky is it really and how much of it is not wanting to look foolish? One of the often-true stereotypes about people as they age is that they become behaviorally inflexible. My belief is that they are fearful of novelty because they feel fragile. I know I can get like that. My dismissive judgmentalism is usually a cover for unreasonable self protection.

All of life is either expanding or contracting. Expanding is risky only superficially; it is contracting where the actual danger lies.