Do you like getting out of your comfort zone? Or, do you prefer to stay with your familiar, well known routines? Would you take a leap of faith across a gap in your experience and learning or stay put and consider the chasm as an onlooker? How do you mind the gap?
What is your comfort zone?
The term comfort zone is a psychological concept that describes the experience of being in familiar circumstances. It occurs events that present expected challenges can happen and be able to managed with habitual or usual responses. It is a state where you probably do great work – with confidence and a relaxed approach.
Being out of your comfort zone does not mean the complete opposite of this. It can mean being in unknown territory, or one where established routines don’t work and where there are a number of unknowns to deal with. That is not necessarily a bad thing. It may mean you have to stretch yourself more to understand the circumstances and think differently about how to investigate them and develop or find new solutions.
The benefits of getting out of your comfort zone
There are different thoughts about the pros and cons of being in or out of your comfort zone. Most in favour of it, suggest it is what you need to do to grow and develop.
Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.
~ Brian Tracy
Human beings are equilibrium-seekers. We want stability, certainty and predictability in life. When that is disturbed, we do what we can to get back to a stable state. Therein lies the learning. As we adapt and accommodate to different conditions, we “learn”. We experience change which may cause uncertainty and discomfort, or may be experienced as exciting and stimulating. How we bridge that gap between where we were and where we find ourselves, is key to the learning gained.
Minding the gap
Managing the discomfort in such leaps of faith is important. The idea of “productive discomfort” refers to optimal outcomes “in the gap”. We need a certain amount of challenge to motivate learning. Finding that optimum level is a bit like Goldilocks finding the thing that was “just right”, not too much or too little. This is reflected in the stress model developed in the Yerkes-Dodson research of the early 1900s.
On the left side of the curve where arousal levels are too low, boredom is experienced and performance and learning is low. On the right side of the curve arousal levels are too high, creating too much anxiety which also affects performance. So the “sweet spot” is at the peak of the curve.
The idea is to reach our optimal level so our skills increase, we become comfortable with the new level of anxiety, and a new state of equilibrium. This new comfort zone is then expanded. In times of so much change, it is important to be able to “manage” states of discomfort.
Staying in your comfort zone
By trying to stay in our comfort zone, uncertainty, scarcity and vulnerability are minimised. We feel comfortable and in “control” (Brown, 2010 as cited in Tugend, 2011). But can we stay in our comfort zone?
There are times when staying in your comfort zone is important.
- You cannot be dealing with change all the time. Too much change can lead to overwhelm. Perhaps that means choosing the parts or times of your life when you challenge yourself, and those when you don’t.
- You need to know your own change threshold. Some people thrive on change. Others don’t. It is important to know where you sit between these two poles and manage the degree to which you engage in challenging activities that take you out of your zone, and when you don’t.
The risks of staying in your comfort zone
Brené Brown (2010) suggests that staying in your comfort zone presents other challenges. With the current change and instability in the world in social, political and financial systems – our comfort zones become smaller. If we don’t step out of them, we can become afraid of doing so and this fear grows as our reluctance builds resistance.
The vulnerability that accompanies change and resistance to change, is not always comfortable. It can bring up emotions like fear and shame – which are difficult to deal with and often avoided.
Choosing to step out of our comfort zones is hard. Forced change is even more difficult. With the inevitability of change ever-present, it seems that embracing some may actually help to mitigate the risks of resistance.
Embracing change with manageable leaps of faith
If you want to get out of your comfort zone in a manageable way, below are some ways to start. They may seem somewhat trite in the bigger picture of leaps of faith, but consider them as ways of nudging yourself along and minding the gap!
- Try adopting a different mindset for trying new things – looking at them as fun, exciting and learning challenges that you may or may not succeed at, at no dire cost.
- Try changing aspects of your lifestyle eg choice of music, activities, cuisine or reading material.
- Take different routes home from work, perhaps through different neighbourhoods.
- Consider varying your wardrobe or other aspects of your personal style.
- Consider ways to meet new people (and try them) – in professional or social settings other than your usual haunts.
- Chart out future possibilities in all areas of your life (egwork, family, health, social and spiritual interests) and how you might move towards them.
Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them — that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.
~ Lao Tzu
- Molinsky, Andy. 2017. When you should stay right inside your comfort zone in Psychology Today, 5 September 2017.
- Ryan, Liz. 2018 Ten ways to step outside your comfort zone in Forbes, 31 January 2018.
- Tugend, Alina. 2011. Tiptoeing out of one’s comfort zone (and of course back in) in The New York Times, 11 February 2011.