Ahhh… that feeling of being comfy…lovely isn’t it. Curling up under the duvet after a long day or relaxing in your garden with a good friend on a summer’s afternoon. We all like to be comfortable. And for many of us we try to do all we can to feel this way as much as possible. We live in our comfort zones.
What is a comfort zone?
A comfort zone is a way of living which is familiar and comfortable; we feel calm and competent. Somewhat paradoxically we don’t always actually like our comfort zone. Ever stayed in a job you don’t really enjoy? You don’t like it but it’s comfortable; it’s known, it’s a familiar routine. There can be something quite comforting about moaning with your colleagues for the nineteenth time about how irritating your boss’ voice is!
In order to minimise our fear and stress we often opt to stay in this familiar place. And it’s not a bad place to be. However, we can become ‘stale’; stuck, bored or disconnected if we stay here all the time. We can end up living life on autopilot, going through the motions and pondering on that age-old question ‘shouldn’t there be more to life?’
The stress response curve
Studies have proven that a certain level of stress or discomfort is actually good for us. (check out P Nixon’s Stress Response Curve). With no stress whatsoever we’re not as productive; we can become lazy and lethargic. Too much stress and we can burn out, become ill or just be downright hysterical and on the edge! But just the right amount – now that’s where we’re at our best.
Why we stay in our comfort zones
It’s normally fear that prevents us from stepping out of our comfort zones. Fear of the unknown, fear of looking stupid, fear of failure. Sometimes we’ve taken risks in the past and we’ve been hurt. A relationship may have ended badly, a new job or business venture may not have turned out as we’d planned. So we admit failure, admit defeat and stay comfortably (albeit perhaps discontentedly) in our comfort zone. After all, we know what we get when we’re here.
So why are we so scared to fail? If you ask any successful business person or sports person they will tell you that failure is essential. It’s the best way to learn and improve and actually succeed.
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
Robert F. Kennedy
“Failure is so important. We speak about success all the time. It is the ability to resist failure or use failure that often leads to greater success. I've met people who don't want to try for fear of failing.” -
“I have taken more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I have been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over again in my life; and that is why I succeed.”
Why step out of your comfort zone?
Have you ever done something you didn’t think you could do? Or something that terrified you? Last week I gave a talk to a group of local business people. Standing up and talking to a group of people is really frightening to me. But I made myself do it. Sure, I stumbled on a few words, perhaps I spoke a bit too quickly. But I did it. And I felt unbelievably proud (and relieved) afterwards.
A few years ago I did a mountain trek in China. I’m terrified of heights and this trek started with a 300 metre long, 800 metre high rope bridge. Oh. The. Fear. Later in the week we had to cross a narrow mountain ledge with a drop of thousands of feet to one side. I trembled like a leaf, feeling utterly sick as I stumbled across it. When I got to the other side I went haring off down the slope, arms outstretched like a deformed Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. I was utterly exhilarated. I felt like I could take on the world. It’s a memory that stays with me to this day and is one of my favourite moments of all time.
So the point is, often when you take that leap (or tiny step) out of your comfort zone you open yourself up to amazing experiences and emotions that you never thought possible. You feel truly fantastic. And who doesn’t want that!
“Be the one thing you think you cannot do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire. This is your moment, own it.” – Oprah Winfrey
So what can we achieve by stepping out of our cosy old comfort zones:
We can be far more productive – as research proves – a little stress drives us to achieve more.
We find it easier to deal with change and push our boundaries in the future as we get more practiced at it.
We grow as people; we learn new things about ourselves and new strengths, skills and passions.
We can be more creative as our minds are working in a different way.
Our relationships improve as we become more comfortable with being vulnerable and truly honest.
We start attracting more of the good stuff. As our confidence improves and our mood lifts we’re vibrating at a higher frequency and new people and opportunities will start to appear.
We take control of our fear – yes it’s always there but with courage we can face it head on and stare it down.
We can feel proud of ourselves. Even if we didn’t experience success we were brave and that’s something to be proud of.
We learn from our mistakes meaning we can achieve even more in the future.
We feel ALIVE!
How to step out of your comfort zone
If you’re someone who’s firmly rolled up under that duvet it can be incredibly daunting to stick a toe out. So take baby steps. If you’re already taking steps out of your comfort zone, next time try a leap! Here’s some tips:
Look at the everyday things you do and try a different approach. Take a different route to work, try a different dish for dinner, wear a brighter top. Little things!
Notice when fear is holding you back. Just acknowledge it, even talk to it – bringing your fear out into the cold light of day helps diminish it a little.
Make a list of all the times you’ve done something that scared you, something you were uncertain of or something you didn’t think you could do. What happened? How did it feel? What did you learn from it?
List number two (I like a list): Note down all the things you’re currently procrastinating on; it may be whether to change your job, whether to ask someone on a date, where to go on holiday. And make a decision to make a decision. Give yourself a deadline (end of the day, week, month). And do it! Then move on to number two on the list.
Draw a circle and within it write everything you currently have in your life (friendships, work, hobbies, finances etc). Then outside of the circle write down all the things you want in your life but don’t have. The circle is your comfort zone. The other stuff is outside it. There’s a big hint here!
Congratulate yourself every time you take steps outside your comfort zone. Write them down in a journal. Courage is not for the faint-hearted so you should be proud.
So take one step today, a tiny step or a giant leap. Get out from under the duvet. Because outside of your comfort zone…well…it’s where the magic happens!