Is Your Comfort Zone a Friend or Foe?

By: Costa Provis, LCPC

Someone once told me “only a wet baby likes change,” and as silly as that sounds I have found these words to be pretty spot on.  Why are we so resistant to change?  Is it really change that we resist?  I don’t believe we are actually afraid of learning and experiencing new things, because newness usually brings something positive.  Sometimes an adventure, a challenge, a little bit of fun, experiencing new things tends to enhance life.  It seems to me that what we actually fear is the idea of stepping outside of our comfort zone.

Do you sometimes find yourself feeling limited or bored?  What role does your desire to stay within your comfort zone play in this?  Leaving the familiarity and safety of your comfort zone can be difficult and scary, but by figuring out ways to challenge yourself and take steps beyond it, life becomes immediately more interesting and fun.  If you think about it, as safe as it can be your comfort zone mostly serves as a limitation.

It can be an anchor shackled around your ankle, weighing you down.  Limiting yourself like this typically ends with inactivity and stagnation.  It seems like a pretty huge sacrifice; that fear must be really intense.  Whether its fear of looking foolish in the eyes of other people, or feeling inferior because you are struggling to learn a new skill, or fear of being rejected by someone you’re attracted to, staying inside your comfort zone is limiting your life.

So what can you do to help get beyond your current comfort zone?  Let’s start by acknowledging that no one likes the discomfort of being outside their comfort zone!  This isn’t an exercise in convincing yourself you like that discomfort.  Instead I am asking you to challenge yourself in the reaction to the discomfort, because after all “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”  How can you challenge yourself (and are you up for the challenge)?  Try these three steps:

  1. Have a goal(s) that you want to achieve.

Without a specific goal, it can be difficult to find the motivation to endure the discomfort of struggling through the early challenges.  Don’t forget, this is all about how you choose to react to discomfort and giving up is not your objective!  Besides, life is all about passion and without a goal that you really want to achieve where will you find that passion?!  Search your soul and try to identify that goal you really want to work towards.  Maybe you want to start working out, or get back into the dating scene?  Whatever the goal may be, it represents the finish line and is a necessary component to getting outside of your comfort zone.  It takes hard work but you can reach the finish line.

  1. Create measurable actions/steps .

Anyone who has seen the movie What About Bob, is familiar with the concept of “baby steps” and that’s exactly what is needed to successfully achieve your goals.  That doesn’t mean that you lower the bar to avoid struggling, but rather that you focus only on the next small step while trying to reach the finish line.  Making these small steps measurable helps you to be accountable to yourself (or your therapist/life coach).  For example, if your goal is to lose weight then the measurable steps could be what days you go to the gym, what exercises you do, a meal plan, etc.  By having measurable small steps that you can focus on one at a time, before you know it you are well on your way to your goal.

  1. Challenge your thought process that keeps resisting change.

Quite often when we experience discomfort our narrative focusses on the fact that we are not comfortable.  Have you ever found yourself struggling with a new challenge and thought something like ‘I can’t do this’ and you instantly want to quit.  You tell yourself ‘I feel like an idiot, I’m never doing this again.’  You have already given up on your goal all because of your reaction to the discomfort you are feeling.

Instead, maybe you can shift your thoughts to something like ‘by struggling through this moment right now, I will be one step closer to my goal.’  Give yourself permission and patience to learn something new, and then give yourself a pat on the back when you complete each step along the way.  It doesn’t have to last very long but at least take a moment and let this achievement soak into your mind.  Your narrative is extremely important so try not to get down on yourself along the way as you try to reach your finish line.

In conclusion, I think it’s important that you think about your comfort zone, and ask yourself what am I so afraid of that I would need to limit my life?  Your comfort zone isn’t really as helpful as you probably thought it was, and in fact is probably slowing you down.  You don’t have to sprint away from it, but instead take some time to reflect on your goal(s), the steps you can take along the way, and your narrative while you’re struggling through the learning process.

Remember, it’s all about how you react to the discomfort while you are taking steps towards the finish line.

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