Your comfort zone will kill you

This photo made me feel odd the first time I saw it. I’m not sure it’s the most ideal representation of getting out of your comfort zone, as it looks a lot like someone standing on the edge of a train platform. However, beyond that, it’s pretty punchy. I like it because one of the reasons we often shy away from taking risks, speaking up, doing things that scare us etc is because of the potential harm that could do to us. That might be something emotional like rejection or it could be fear of physical harm like getting hurt doing crossfit. There is actually evidence now that our brains recognise emotional harm like a physical pain so both of these are likely to have much the same impact – and that’s the reason that we will frequently stay put, exactly where we are.

And that’s why I like this image so much. Because doing that – staying stuck – can have really negative consequences and mean you end up doing half the living that you could have because of the stranglehold that your mindset can have. So, I am not a fan of comfort zones. And, as a resilience coach, one of the tasks I have most often is helping ease other people out of theirs.

A note: I would define a comfort zone as a place in which we feel ok being complacent, not really making an effort and not trying to evolve or grow. I don’t see this as the same thing as taking time out to rest, recover or recuperate. Being gentle, compassionate, still – these are not your comfort zone. Numbing behaviours, abandoning yourself and what you want from life, avoiding challenge or change – these are the signs that the comfort zone is firmly in place.

What are the benefits of getting out of your comfort zone?

  • It will improve your confidence and your ability to cope with the changes and challenges of life.
  • It tends to make you more creative. Habitual thoughts and behaviours are the definition of a comfort zone – when you step outside these ingrained patterns you tap into, and feed, your more spontaneous and creative side.
  • You’ll become more adaptable. Each time you step outside your comfort zone you increase the size of it. So, there will gradually be more and more things you feel comfortable with and you’ll get more comfortable being in that place of feeling stretched.
  • It’s good for your mental health. Staying inside your comfort zone is like spending days in bed with the curtains drawn watching Netflix. It might feel safe but after a while you’re going to get bored, disconnected and a bit sad. The more you are outside your comfort zone the easier you’ll find it to deal with stress and discomfort and the less these will weigh you down and undermine you.
  • That uncomfortable feeling can trigger improved performance. Sometimes, the anxiety we feel when we take steps like this can actually motivate us to do better, and go further.

Tips to get outside your comfort zone

  • Expect anxiety. Everyone always experiences anxiety (or fear) as soon as they step outside their comfort zone. It’s ok to just sit with this discomfort and let it be there – but carry on anyway. If it feels like it’s going to keep you stuck then try making a list of pros and cons of taking the leap so you can clearly see the benefits.
  • Step back into the comfort zone if you really need to. It makes no sense to completely pull the rug from underneath yourself – it can take practice to get comfortable with discomfort so you might need to step back in a few times until you’re ready to stay put.
  • Give yourself a break. We all fear uncertainty and there are all sorts of factors that are working on keeping you exactly where you are, from social conditioning to self-imposed limits on what you think you’re capable of. If you fall, scream or rush out of your comfort zone it’s totally fine – it doesn’t matter if it’s messy or undignified, just do it.
  • Keep a record of your progress. It’s easy to lose sight of how far you’ve come if you’re not tracking it. Find a way to keep a record so that, on the days when it feels hard, you can focus on what you’re already capable of rather than how far it feels you still have to go.
  • Take small steps. Start with something that feels a bit uncomfortable (a stretch) rather than something that feels like you’re standing on the edge of a precipice. Build up slowly and each stretch will make you feel more like taking the big leap at the end.
  • Involve others. If you know someone is as stuck as you are then get yourself a growth buddy – social accountability is a very powerful thing when it comes to sticking to plans and promises.

Your comfort zone may not kill you but it is certainly where most of our growth and goals go to die. Taking steps out of it – no matter how small – can make a huge difference to your overall experience of life. And how you feel about yourself.

Resilience coaching is a supported and guided way to help move beyond the barriers of your comfort zone. Book an Intro Call with me if you’d like to chat about your challenges.

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