There are loads of inspirational quotes about the comfort zone and how not much really happens in it. These are wonderful captions for your social media photos when you’re atop a glorious mountain doing handstands or swigging Grey Goose at a wild party.
You know the ones – the ones that tell you new heights await beyond boring, and that the only one keeping you from doing something marvellous is the big fat bore inside you.
But truly breaking out of that safe space is not that easy to do, is it? The thought of going against the norm makes your butterflies wig out and the idea of taking risks points a laser sight weapon at everything you’ve worked hard for. These feelings of uncertainty are normal for human beings and without the comfort zone to resort back to the world would no doubt be an absolute fruitcake of a place. We’d all be in a constant state of anxiety; just a bunch of jitterbugs roaming around looking for the next socially awkward encounter to get off on.
Loads of thoughtful folk with more credibility than me talk about the psychology behind the comfort zone, this article describes the c-zone as “a behavioural space where your activities and behaviours fit a routine and pattern that minimises stress and risk”. It says it “provides a state of mental security” and that you benefit in obvious ways like “regular happiness, low anxiety, and reduced stress”. Those benefits sound tremendous and you can certainly see why people stay in it. But guys, we’re not on this planet to fuck spiders and among the lovely la-la of the comfort zone you’ll find some bastard restrictions too.
For example, this 100-year-old psychology experiment talks about how feeling a consistent state of comfort typically makes us perform averagely, while a certain level of anxiety optimises achievement. If you’ve ever worked under a deadline I’m sure you can appreciate how this would work, but let me spell it out for the people sitting at the back.
That sense of security you feel when you relax every night after getting home from the same job you’ve been doing for ten years – too much of that feeling is not good for personal growth. But that little ping of stress you get when you’re cooking enchiladas for twelve people? Oh, that one is great.
On the other hand, if you step too far out of your comfort zone and cook for twenty people, you risk becoming a stress-riddled mess and might set the kitchen on fire. If this happens it’s likely you’ll be left with the notion that stepping out of your comfort zone is a stupid idea and you might destine yourself to a life of microwave meals for one. And that would be sucky because if your brain becomes too hardwired to playing things safe, you is gonna miss opportunities.
Opportunities are important and life is much better when they’re around. And there are simple ways to attract them by telling the comfort zone to go screw itself in boring missionary position, without getting yourself too deep into major lifestyle renovations. Hey, here are some ideas:
Stop what you’re doing
It’s scary to stop doing what you’ve been doing for as long as you can remember and I know working like a race horse is more productive than playing World of Warcraft. But taking a break will help you refresh your objectives – which is particularly wonderful for individuals who are stuck in a routine of wondering if there’s more to life than this. We can’t all feel yabba-dabbo-doo 100% of the time because we’re not the people on infomercials, but if you never feel it, something’s gotta give. The point of stepping out for a while is not to change your life completely, but to just see how you feel when you do it. It’s like a one step back, two step forwards kinda deal. I just took an entire year’s break from my career and while I was plagued by anxiety about it at times, my new goals are clearer than the clogged pores I got from landscaping to make ends meet.
Stomp out preconceived notions
Preconceived notions are actually friends with the devil. They all sit around stabbing lambs and laughing about how preconceived notions start wars. It’s the negative views riddling our minds that limit our potential – because why would we engage in something or with someone we have already decided we hate? If you’ve never tried something, you can’t really know for sure that you’re a hater. Getting uncomfortable by going against what you think you know is a sure way to gain new knowledge and fresh perspectives. Trust me, I know, I spent a week trying not to be a judgemental asshole.
Stay totally focussed not on the future
If your mind is busy thinking about things in the future, you risk stressing yourself out. You might want to do something totally outrageous and comfort-zone breaching, but then you overthink it and go limp. This is a major barrier in people’s ability to do life better; an inability to control thoughts. Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment is a credit to this concept. The book talks about how unease, anxiety, tension, stress and worry are all caused by thinking too much about the future and not focussing enough on the present. These are the exact negative emotions that are going to cause you shy away from doing that uncomfortable thing. Try watching your thoughts and discipline them. Keep an eye out for that feeling of dread, and cut off your mind when it’s yapping on before it gets carried away and makes you vomit.
Steer away from the idea of normal
If you’re only thinking and doing what your friends, family, colleagues, peers or society accept as normal then you might never be a transexual Muslim marrying an orthodox Jew at a heterosexual wedding in South America. Sure it’s disconcerting to do things no one else is doing, but at the end of the day, when we have itches that need scratching, the sense of relief you get from medication far outweighs untreated herpes. Do good things that feel right to you and let idiots hate you, who cares. The more we push against the norm as individuals the better society will become as a whole. Like, if you ordered laksa at a breakfast business meeting because that’s what you felt like eating at that time of day, I’d think you were a legend. Don’t take “the norm” too seriously.
Ultimately breaking out of your comfort zone comes down to the benefit of productivity and progress. The more you stretch yourself, the more confidence you develop to become a bigger deal in your world. Ride that wave of anxiety and take a plunge with it. Make friends with opportunity and punch uncertainty in the face. Life’s just too strange to be normal.