Seems like everyone and their grandmother writes about why you need to break out of your comfort zone. Heck, I’ve written about it more than a time or two. It’s as if there is a cult of personal development and leadership bloggers proselytizing the evils of the comfort zone. Even worse, if you dare stay within your comfort zone, you might as well shrivel up and blow away into irrelevance now. Sounds like fun, right?
Here’s the truth: Your comfort zone serves a purpose and it’s not your enemy. Your enemy is your fear that this is it, the end of the road, the buck stops here, (add your favorite cliche here). Does that mean that most people are consciously cowering and shaking in their comfort zone? No.
Let’s get one thing out of the way, sometimes our comfort zone is intensely uncomfortable but we stay put anyway… a bad relationship, poor eating habits, terrible boss. In these cases, from the outside, most people would argue change is not a choice. From the inside, it’s far more complex. There are some exceptional pieces out there to help you tap into your mental toughness through seemingly impossible change.
5 Reasons the Comfort Zone Isn’t Your Enemy
1. It feels good… And it’s okay to feel good. You have permission.
Simply, it feels nice and cozy in your comfort zone. You’re at ease, there’s no stress, in fact, there’s often mastery. Frequently I’ll describe it to my clients as their sweet spot.
I’ve had a few clients tell me that their comfort zone is when they’re in crisis. Crazy to hear but it’s when their serenity kicks in, and they thrive on solving challenges. When there’s no tension, they’re bored, which is totally outside of their comfort zone.
Others have described their love of a particular sport, like swimming. In the pool, they are most in flow emotionally and physically. Ask them about running and their entire demeanor changes. Their discomfort with even the thought of running is palpable.
There’s something wonderful about feeling masterful. Knowing your stuff and making a difference is important.
I love to bake challah from scratch whenever I get a chance. Our family only needs one, but I bake three or four loaves every time. (Clearly, I have no clue how to halve a recipe). One of my favorite parts about the baking is the sharing. I bring loaves to neighbors, teachers at school and give them to random delivery people who happen to come to our home at the right time.
Recently, my neighbor asked me what other breads I make, and I responded with the truth, none. I have no idea how and more importantly, have little desire to branch out from my favorite. The smell alone grounds me in family, love, community and all sorts of wonderful feelings. A nice rye or sourdough wouldn’t do it for me.
Allow yourself to enjoy feeling good. As long as it’s not stopping you from living or engaging with the world at large and people who matter, do it. Feel the ease. Be safe. Rest up… because change is always coming.
2. Your comfort zone is not a forever zone; it’s ever shifting
For some of us, leaving the comfort zone is a leap, like moving overseas. For others, it’s at a snails pace, so slow, they don’t even know it’s happening.
Here’s the one thing you can count on: You comfort zone is on the move.
When I moved from the USA to the Australian Outback people thought I was insane. Talk about making a leap. Three years in and I have new routines, new favorites, new safety zones and a whole new comfort zone. Yup-A-Rooney.
Instead of running away from your comfort zone in an impossible game of hide and seek, notice it, acknowledge it and accept it. Engage with your new comfort zone with intention. Explore and get to know the boundaries, the intricacies, and the holes that you desperately try to avoid.
I’ve worked with new coaches in the field for several years. Coming out of their coach training program, they use their new skills and processes by the book. Not only do they understand them, but have demonstrated them to achieve professional recognition and certification. However, every new coaching client brings fear of walking outside of the path that they practiced over and over in the classroom.
Then something slippery and wonderful happens… the blend. They realize that their lifetime of experience is blending beautifully with their new skills. Their levels of confidence, competence and creativity are on the rise, and they see opportunities to go “off book” and make an impact. Their comfort zone has made a leap, and if you ask them when it happened, they can not pinpoint a single moment it time. It happened in the living of it, not only the learning.
Take a moment to do a mental inventory of where you’ve been, where you stand today, and where you most want to go. Chances are, you’ve moved. Ground yourself here, lean in and celebrate your new mastery before stretching towards what’s next.
3. Change thrives with rest and recovery
If you’ve ever started a new workout routine, you know that it’s easy to take it too far. You went from couch potato to the treadmill and lifting, pulled something and retreated to couch potato once again. Was it a bad move to step beyond your limits? No, but there is a stretch and a breaking point too.
Rest and recovery aren’t what losers do when they’re just too tired, lazy or afraid to keep pushing forward. It’s what top athletes do to increase their performance. It’s a key element of self-care, and it’s non-negotiable.
Recovery within your comfort zone enables repair, mobility and focus on core strength. Funny how physical training overlaps with personal development best practices.
You tried a new approach and fell flat? Reflect and regroup.
You couldn’t sustain the effort? Go for smaller steps instead of giant leaps.
You received negative feedback? Let your ego recover.
There are times when you take a step back to move forward. It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, use your time in your comfort zone for rest and recovery, then try again.
4. Danger Will Robinson! Danger!
Your comfort zone keeps you safe and yes, you can argue that’s a bad thing or a good thing. Assuming the comfort zone isn’t your enemy, let’s take a closer look at the good.
How do you separate our the fear from true danger?
Your gut. It knows.
Gut: This is going to be hard.
Fear: Oh my gosh. You can’t do this.
Gut: I need to prepare.
Gut: I will need help.
Fear: I’ll definitely fail if I try.
Gut: This is going to hurt and I need to get stronger.
Fear: I’ll never be ready.
Gut: I’m not ready. Here’s what I need to do.
Gut: I’m nervous and it’s worth it.
Your comfort zone is a pretty grounded place. Your gut is loud and clear in here, even when the voice of fear tries to drown it out.
Fear sounds irrational. You know those crazy thoughts we all have from time to time.
Gut sounds like the truth. It reaches beyond the fear to keep you safely moving forward.
It’s not a choice between being constantly being airborne or holding on for dear life. Experience the edges, prepare, and leap.
5. You’re not alone in here
I’ll shout it from the rooftops again, the comfort zone is not your enemy… but your saboteur sure is. Make no mistake, your saboteur is lurking in the comfort zone with you.
Wait, what? Should you call the exterminator?
Unfortunately, the only person who can banish your saboteur is you. Above, I wrote about the shifting comfort zone and your saboteur probably wishes you never read that. Your saboteur doesn’t want you to change or grow and will feed you lies about why you can’t. Lies.
Your saboteur is not your gut keeping you safe; it’s that voice of fear again.
Ready for a cool trick? You can actually ask your saboteur to leave. Show ‘em the door and slam it in their face. Sounds so corny, right? It works.
Your comfort zone shouldn’t be your place of “less than” thinking. Be your big, bad, totally awesome self to the max in here. When you grow to the point where you feel suffocated in your current box, you’ll break out… and your comfort zone will grow with you. And you don’t need to wait, you can always leap.
Most of us will spend our lives weaving in and out to push forward to new comfort zones, one after another. The ever-shifting comfort zone allows us to breathe into new mastery and experience more of what life has to offer. Good stuff not only happens on the outside of your comfort zone, but also right where you are now.
Do I still believe that we need to break the frame? That you have to break out of your comfort zone? Let go and try something new? Absolutely. This is not a call to play it small but to appreciate that your comfort zone has a purpose. Acknowledge it before you move on.
If you didn’t have a comfort zone, how would you know when you leaped forward, were in your sweet spot, or just treading water?
Love to hear your thoughts.