Growth in any way can become addicting. It’s that rewarding sensation you feel when you reach the next level, or when you run your first marathon, or when you write that first book. The reward centers of our brains start firing, and we feel prouder and bolder. We might even start looking forward to the next big victory.
The same thing happens to me when I do something that I used to be afraid of.
In my last few posts, I have been writing about getting out of our comfort zones and taking baby steps towards the things we fear. At first, this doesn’t feel good. That’s why we have “comfort zones.” Anything outside of that can be uncomfortable. Some things may always be uncomfortable, but we can still get used to them. Maybe, like that burn you get after a work-out, you even start to like the discomfort because of the reward that comes from it.
I want to clarify that I’m not referring to the kinds of things that are truly uncomfortable. G. K. Chesterton writes in “On Running After One’s Hat” that there is a difference between real pains and inconveniences. Real pain is suffering, whether physically or emotionally, while inconveniences are only as bad as our responses to them.
Some of my fears are real pains. I can’t practice exposure to those. But some things are only scary because I have worked them up to be scary in my mind, or I have convinced myself that I am not capable of overcoming them. Those are the things that I can move closer to until I feel more comfortable. Sometimes, incredibly, facing these small fears make the real pains seem less scary as well.
My husband and I have been working out a lot this summer, but I took a two week break because I’ve been busy. After a few days, I felt weak and lazy. Just a few months before, I dreaded workouts. Now, I wanted to feel my muscles again—to feel like I was growing.
When I start facing my fears, it can be hard. I sometimes get what I call “delayed anxiety” where my anxiety kicks in the day after I do something—just like my muscles sometimes don’t feel sore until day after a workout. But then I feel only relief and pride. I realize that my fears were unfounded, and that I am capable of more than I thought.
After reaching that next level, I realize that my comfort zone has opened up a little, now encompassing other things that I didn’t think were possible before.
This is how growth becomes addicting.
You start to realize that you are capable of more than you imagined, and every time you face a fear, your courage grows exponentially. Because, if you’re like me, it’s not just the “things” you are afraid of. You’re afraid of your own inabilities. So when you prove to yourself that you are capable of one thing, you realize that you are capable of many things.
I’m not suggesting that we all just start checking off our fears one by one like they are a to-do-list. I think it’s important to work through these things gradually and, preferably, with counseling. But I have experienced the empowerment that comes from taking baby steps towards bigger and bigger victories over fear.
I have felt that assurance that I overcame something, and I have felt that excited curiosity, when it is all over, about what I can try next.
Overcoming fears is scary. But what if even “scary” didn’t bother us as much anymore?
Oh yes, we’ll think, that’s scary. But I can do scary things. And usually it ends up being fine. Sometimes it even ends up being fun.
When you’re addicted to growth, “scary” might just become a challenge to face so you can keep growing.
Maybe you’ll hate it. That’s okay. Sometimes we face fears because we need to, and it’s more about getting through it then enjoying it. You’ll at least know you can do it when you need to. I don’t like getting blood drawn—in fact, I hate it—but I have grown to be all right with it, and I love the feeling afterwards when I can be proud that I did something that used to be scary to me.
On the other hand, you might learn that you love roller coasters or road trips or being pregnant or that job you weren’t sure about.
Either way, you’ll be able to say you did it, and you’ll start thinking of what you can do next.