What exactly is a comfort zone?

The comfort zone is the known, the familiar, this which we can do automatically, without too much thought, without too much difficulty. It is where we feel comfortable, sheltered and pleasant. Wherever we feel that we are not in any danger. Where we do not need to try, therefore we do not need to spend any energy.

Although it is often blamed, there is nothing wrong with the comfort zone. It is essential and sometimes indispensable. It often provides us with an oasis of tranquility, relaxation and replenishment. It is the charger we are all looking for when our batteries are going low.

So why can we not stay in the comfort zone forever?

If our mobile phone always needs to be plugged in, it is not a mobile anymore!

There is a reason why we cannot stay for long in our comfort zone. That is, that human needs are much more than just having food and fun. Give a rabbit some carrots every day and it will never ask you for anything else for the rest of its life. Humans however, are equipped with imagination and creativity. Imagination gives birth to ideas and as soon as a good idea sparks, the need to bring it into reality arises. A quick look around, reminds us of all the miracles human civilization has achieved: science, constructions, technology, socialization, art. All these, could never have been made possible by people locked inside their comfort zones.

A cost-benefit relationship

There is an obvious cost-benefit relationship in the process of moving out of our comfort and into our growth zone. Generally, we take the leap whenever the benefit is higher. Whenever the cost is higher, we stay where we are.

As we remain in our comfort zone, the benefits are small but guaranteed. We are having a good time and we are in no danger. Yet, we cannot expect anything spectacular to happen. If we linger there for long, boredom will inevitably strike. People get bored eating crisps and watching TV all day. If they are solving the easy crossword for months, sometime they will feel the urge to try a harder one.

When our comfort zone becomes practically identical to our boredom zone, then there is no more joy. No satisfaction. No benefit. When there is no more benefit, we start feeling the desire to move towards our growth zone. The comfort zone is a pleasant place to be, however, not much is growing there. When we have eaten all the grass around us, we will need to search a little farther away.

Stress, fear and resistance

Usually, we have to pay something in order to buy something. Accordingly, there is a fare to pay in our trip from the comfort zone to the growth zone. Eventually, we have to pass through the zones of fear and learning. The fear zone makes us anxious, lowers our self-confidence and increases procrastination. There are two forces within us. One wants us to move while the other wants us to stay still. One is pushing us forward, the other is pulling us backwards. The first is our creative brain which pushes for changes and improvement. The second is our animal brain which fights to make us stay where we are. Excuses are the way the two of them negotiate. The creative mind provides logical arguments for the potential benefits of change, whereas the animal brain brings up all the excuses, difficulties, problems and obstacles.

Any attempt to depart the comfort zone poses a risk and can lead to an adventure. Therefore, it is quite reasonable to be accompanied by an increase in fear and stress.

In other words, whenever we intent to go out of our comfort zone and try something new or difficult, we have to expect with absolute certainty that stress will step in. Consequently, we have to reassure our mind that everything is fine. In this way, our mind will not be taken by surprise and will be less resistant.

Transform your stress into enthusiasm

A nice trick to use, is learn to perceive stress as enthusiasm. These two seemingly different emotional states are in reality one and same. Stress and enthusiasm cause almost the same chemical reactions in our brain. The actual way however we perceive them, our attitude, makes a huge difference. Stress is blocking us up as it tries to protect us from defeat and failure. Enthusiasm opens us up so we can pursue success and win.

“Success is the ability to move from failure to failure, without losing your enthusiasm”

Winston Churchill

Enthusiasm is a pleasant feeling of emotional excitement. It is the active interest, the mood for adventure and risky behavior. Isn’t it very similar to stress? We all know the difference between creative stress and pathological stress. The first is pushing us forward, the second is holding us back.

Exercise: trick your brain by changing hats

Whenever you feel the stress building up, takeoff your stress hat and wear the hat of enthusiasm. Remember that both hats are almost the same, only their name differs. Now, just act as you are full of enthusiasm rather that stress. After you do this for a few times, you will see that it’s not so difficult. Τhe result on your stress levels is quite impressive.

The four zones in detail

The Comfort zone

We already talked a lot about this zone. Here, we have a sense of safety and control. As nothing really interesting is happening, there is not much we need to control. This is the area of relaxation but can also be a stagnation place. If we stay in this area for long, we will eventually feel boredom and apathy.

The Fear zone

As soon as we open the door and step out of our comfort zone, we find ourselves in the zone of fear. The further we walk away, the stronger our fear gets.  Often, we are so frightened that we regret and return back. At the same time, we usually start complaining, focusing on problems and obstacles and finding all sorts of excuses so we can ease off the embarrassing retreat. Our self-confidence hits rock-bottom and our procrastination celebrates.

Comfort zone and personal development

The Learning zone

If we managed to come any close to the learning zone, we have already achieved our first win: we passed through the fear zone. Here, we are facing our challenges, we focus more on the solutions rather than problems, spot new opportunities and acquire new skills. Most importantly, we have expanded our comfort zone and feel more comfortable and secure than before.

The Growth zone

The more time we spend in our growth zone the more our comfort zone expands. Old fears slowly fade away. On the other hand, some new ones may appear. We have increased our resilience and we are setting more ambitious goals. We honored our talents and developed our skills. As our personal development continues, our life gains a lot more meaning. Progressively, we find our higher purpose and start to create a long-term vision. Our self-motivation ability is also considerably improved.

Get out of your comfort zone with baby steps

The most effective way for growth seems to be leaving comfort zone in baby steps. Expand your boundaries in a progressive, gradual manner.

If anxiety comes in a high dosage, it may block you. But if it comes smoothly in smaller dosages, you can use it to build a healthy immunity, which in turn will help you drive further away, more often and with more confidence. With practice, you can do with ease, what some time ago seemed impossible.

The concept of Desired Discomfort

Let’s look at it backwards. We could say that leading ourselves purposefully through adversities, will help us develop and grow faster. No-one has ever excelled in too much convenience.

The lack of difficulties makes us soft and weak, while discomfort in healthy dosages will make us strong and resilient.

Get used to welcome the difficulties which you will inevitably meet. Learn to make peace with discomfort. Understand that anxiety is just a normal emotion which we feel as we grow. Then, passing through the fear zone will become quite straight-forward.

The theory of plasticity of the brain coming from neuroscience, confirms that our mind is a program which continuously learns, changes and improves. It creates new neurons, new paths, new subprograms. It self-upgrades daily depending on our thoughts, actions and behavior.

Therefore, walks away of our comfort zone helps us develop new skills and grow.

How do we move out of our comfort zone effectively?

Here are a few tips:

  • Reading and gathering new knowledge
  • Asking ourselves clever, open and challenging questions about how and what we can improve
  • Expanding our limits by trying every day something new, even if it’s not easy
  • Traveling and meeting new people
  • Acquiring new skills or exercising those we have new line creating and make a note
  • With systematic self-reflection
  • Creating art and innovation
  • Soothing our animal brain and relieving our fears
  • Replacing our perception for stress with enthusiasm
  • Establishing a better relationship with failure and disappointment
  • Learning how to welcome discomfort and life’s inevitable adversities

Exercise: Epic Failures

  1. Write a list with your biggest life failures so far.
  2. Can you think of something positive in each one?
  3. What lessons have you got?
  4. In what ways have you become better after each failure?

If you want to delve deeper into how you can transform the stepping out of comfort zone into art, read the article How often do you experience Flow?