What is our ‘comfort zone’?

Stepping out of our comfort zone is for most people something that can lead to feelings ranging from anything like slight discomfort to a strong fear and this can hold us back in taking steps to make changes in our lives or trying something new. Lifehacker defines our comfort zone as “behavioural space where your activities and behaviours fit a routine and pattern that minimises stress and risk”.

I think that the simple expression “stepping out of our comfort zone” is enough to bring about resistance as our minds don’t like to go away from things that are familiar to us. What is your reaction to the expression?

However, what we forget is that we didn’t start like this, with this resistance, because as children we were forever trying out new things, testing boundaries and taking risks came very naturally. The change came about as we grew up and our limiting beliefs started to be formed and this results in us behave in in ways that hold ourselves back.

I found this wonderful quote in an article on line by Royston Guest:

“Just like a ship is not designed for the confines of the safe harbour, neither are human beings. We are designed to sail the wide open oceans, to push the  boundaries of what we can achieve to unlock the latent potential lying dormant and to discover we really do have the potential from within to reach places we didn’t even know we were capable to getting to.”

In the article he goes on to say that we also need to remind ourselves that one of the six fundamental human needs we all need fulfilling at some level is the need for growth. To do this we need to be growing in ourselves and that means pushing those boundaries to unlock our potential.

(Having said that as I write this I also realise that we do also talk about setting our boundaries with others to maintain our health and wellbeing so it is not surprising our minds get confused!)

Why is it good to get out of your comfort zone?

Certain amounts of anxiety can bring out your best performance and with that you can be more creative, better at dealing with change and better at improving what you do.

In 1908 psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson discovered that humans maximise their performance at elevated levels of anxiety. However, there is a point where we can feel it is too much or notice stress and anxiety kicking in. This is when we are too far out of our comfort zone and no longer able to get the best out of ourselves, where this occurs is different for different people.

When I discuss this with clients we often look at it as if we are stretching the elastic band of our comfort zone enough to take you a bit further but not enough for the band to break. For some they like to take steps to make the comfort zone bigger rather than stepping outside of it. Others want to jump right out.

How can you help yourself when you are going out of your comfort zone?

Here are a few things to consider when you face that resistance but know you want to go ahead with something new:

  • Think about what is it that is preventing you – often it is about fear of the unknown – get to know that fear, understand it and the feelings it brings up for you and work with it rather than against it, so that it doesn’t feel a strange and is a part of you so that you can push it a bit more each time.
  • The fear can often be about being scared of things going wrong but perhaps you could think of it in a different way – whatever the outcome it will be a way of getting feedback and even if something isn’t a success it might lead us to a different and better path but without taking action to get that feedback we wouldn’t know.
  • Remind yourself of other challenges and times you have gone out of your comfort zone and Remind yourself that you have done it before so you can do it again.
  • Think of your why and what it will mean to accomplish it, what changes and improvements could it make to your life.