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The Truth Behind Comfort Zones

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

We have all heard about the magic that occurs when you break out of your comfort zone; the growth, the sense of empowerment and the success that is often realized as a result. This could be landing that date with someone you never thought possible, being recognized and promoted at your place of work, implementing a new exercise routine, or even starting a business. The reality is that great things DO happen outside this happy place of comfort, however breaking out if it is what's so difficult. While comfort zones can be physical places like the warm and cozy feel of your own living room, they really are rather associated with a psychological state in which things feel familiar, comfortable, safe, easy, where you are in control, and where no pain exists. No wonder it's hard to break free from. Who wants to leave a “place” like this? Especially since leaving it inherently brings with it a level of anxiety and stress. Not sure about you, but neither of these things are enjoyable to me. So why then? Well, Alasdair White, the individual responsible for developing the term “comfort zones” hypothesized that to achieve high performance, a certain amount of stress is required. Without digging into the research I think this one is quite obvious right? We must push ourselves to work out in order to obtain weight loss goals or put in the extra study time in order to achieve an A on an exam…you get the idea. The problem arises when we stop pushing for more…we get comfortable and we stop improving. If we don’t speed the treadmill up beyond where we feel comfortable we never get faster, if we don’t do the often dreaded burpee exercises because they aren’t easy, we don’t get stronger, and if we don’t take on a new project at work that we know nothing about, we don’t learn anything new nor position ourselves for future opportunities. Still not convinced…let me give it to you straight!

Pushing yourself to do things that are uncomfortable for you releases an abundance of untapped knowledge and skills that likely have always existed within you but you may have never known about. Did I think I would turn red faced, completely forget what I was going to say and look like a fool my first time presenting a key topic in front of a large audience? Heck yeah I did. Did I? Nope! 

Stepping outside of your comfort zone helps you learn how to deal with change. Change is a pretty big deal. Without it there is no growth, no excitement, and therefore everything remains the exact same. In understanding how to embrace change you are expanding your comfort zone and growing as a result.

Letting your feeling of comfort dictate your experiences and ultimately your life decisions is absolutely no way to live. Can you imagine staying at the same company for years because it is comfortable, even though its not something you are deeply passionate about? Or not seizing an opportunity to start a new business even though you’ve thought about it for 20 years, just because you are scared of the unknown? The thought makes me sick.

It literally changes your brain. If you aren’t familiar with Dr. Joe Dispenza; read one of his books or listen to a presentation and your mind will be blown. There is a whole lot of science wrapped up in that initial statement but ultimately the same thoughts, actions, emotions lead to the same exact results. Stepping outside of that and learning something new enables you to make new connections in the brain which in turn leads to new thoughts and behaviors. Dr. Joe explains that without changing your brain, you will continue to go through life as predictable as ever, wondering why the change you seek isn’t occurring as you desire.

So, how do we reap these benefits, and maximize our performance without stepping beyond our space of “optimal anxiety,” a space in which performance actually deteriorates due to anxiety levels that become too high?

Make it a priority to do something outside your comfort zone every day. Ensure that this is more your standard everyday stuff to enable actual follow through. Try a new recipe, say hello to a stranger, do your hair a little different, wear an outfit that you love but you have always felt may be a bit too fashion forward for the office. Of course, ensure that these are not time intensive exercises leaving you feeling like you are wasting your valuable time, but rather small steps that enable your comfort zone to expand little by little.

Take your time when you need to. This one is key for me. I am a planner and need to feel as prepared as possible even though I still ultimately feel uncomfortable. If it’s something like introducing myself to a respected professional at a networking event, I typically have a plan. How will I approach them, what questions will I ask, etc. I don’t rush, but rather prepare, and ultimately feel a bit more in control that way. For other items that are outside my comfort zone that I may categorize as a little smaller in scale, like saying good morning to a stranger in the elevator as an example…

Trust your gut and just go for it. Say hello! Read the situation and do what feels most appropriate. What is important here is to do something! Initiative the conversation, make the move!

I know it can be scary, but what is more frightening is stalled growth and mediocrity. Challenge yourself, however small or large those steps may be. Growth is growth!

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