The Prison of Knowing – and how to break free of it
There is a comfort in the knowing. We feel safe and in control when we know what’s happening, and what to expect. It’s often why I watch the same movies over and over or return to a favorite meal, or a comfortable well-worn pair of shoes. The nostalgia and familiarity can provide a sense of peace, and predictability. We can rekindle bonds, and revisit conversations that were born through interactions with what we can count on.
Knowing + Safety = Comfort.
This feeling of comfort that comes from knowing is so powerful that marketers have made a science, and a great deal of money connecting the purchase of products and services to the idea of comfort. The messages used to persuade a purchase are designed to make us feel unsafe, hence the rise of doorbell cameras, or suggest that the ultimate goal anyone should have is comfort. Treat yourself, you deserve it! I was in the marketing game for many years and used these techniques to great effect.
This overall societal prioritization of knowing and comfort is exacerbated through the fact that we now live in a world where much of the population can experience every imaginable indulgence, or comfort of home, anywhere. Even when we engage in new things, they are often packaged in highly curated and processed experiences. Back when we could go to large sporting events or concerts, the venues are more like shopping malls, offering a seemingly endless array of comforts.
Comfort + Complacency = Asleep.
Knowing what’s going on, what to expect, and the comfort that comes with that isn’t a bad thing. However, it’s when it’s the only thing, is when it becomes a prison. It reinforces a mindset that there isn’t anything beyond what I already know or have experienced. And if there is, it’s not worth the discomfort to go find out. This “prison” is so pervasive, that when something happens that disrupts our plan, it often sends us into a furious rage expressed through vocal complaints, and worse, aggression toward others. The most unfortunate thing of all is that this mindset is such the default state we don’t even know when we are imprisoned by it.
One thing the pandemic has invited, is the luxury of working from anywhere. Recently, I spent two weeks working and playing with some friends in a house in Vermont. The experience quickly showed me how many of the routines I had at home I was unaware were routines, and how many of them favored the known and the comfortable instead of inviting anything new. I was reminded that it is essential to be able to stand outside of your normal so you can awaken to what it is really like, and use that clarity to design your normal in such a way that favors what you are committed to in your life.
Provoked + Curious = Awake
Breaking out of this prison begins by first, knowing that you are in one, and then shifting your mindset. What if you subscribed to the idea that there are infinite possibilities beyond what you know and have experienced? Sounds simple enough until you consider that stepping outside of the walls of our comfort means inviting the unexpected, unknown, and yes, even the uncomfortable. It also invites the opportunity to expand our experience of the world, each other, and ourselves.
Is it time to break free?
Below are some things you can try to help build the muscles and courage to step into the unknown and invite more surprise and joy into your life.
- Instead of collecting answers, collect questions.
- When something disrupts your plan, don’t get mad, get curious.
- Ask others what you wished someone would ask you.
Challenge yourself to:
- Extend Grace: If a car wants to cut in front of you let it, graciously.
- Invite the new: Ask your server to order what they think you would love.
- Explore insights: As soon as you discover something, even if you aren’t sure what it means, share it with someone and ask what they see in it.
- Invite disruption: If someone invites you to do something or go somewhere that is inconvenient to your busy life – Go!
In the prison of the knowing, there are no guards, no bars in the window, high walls or moats. The only thing keeping you there is you. Freedom is available any moment you choose. And the more freedom you choose; the more life will present you with an opportunity to experience yourself and others in completely new ways.
Find others willing to live life as more of an inquiry, to speak openly and fearlessly to discoveries, and to walk toward, even invite the unexpected. Don’t forget, we are human, which means we were built to explore the unknown – in fact, that frontier is the only place I believe we can learn who we really are and how much we each really matter.
Thank you for this awesome insight into breaking free of your prison. Sharing some practical action steps gives concrete solutions to breaking free from the prison to experience joy, wonder and excitement of life.
Great practices & challenges!
Such a timely word for this hour! Great exhortation. Thank you Brent! Adventures and life-giving moments await us just beyond our limitations of comfort.