If there’s one thing you can do for yourself that has the potential to change your life, it’s learning how to get out of your comfort zone. What prevents most people from living a more fulfilling life is that they become too comfortable with the status quo. As the saying goes, it’s easier to stick with the devil you know than to take a chance on something new.
What is a Comfort Zone?
Before we discuss how to step out of your comfort zone, we have to define what a comfort zone is. To put it simply, a comfort zone is a type of emotional “bubble” a person chooses to reside in to avoid anxiety. It’s made up of habits, behaviors and routines that are familiar and unchallenging.
To a more adventurous soul, this might sound terribly boring. But the person who’s content in their comfort zone couldn’t care less. They would rather take the “safe” and comfortable route, than assume any risk at all in the pursuit of happiness.
A comfort zone can affect any area of a person’s life. People everywhere are stuck in unfulfilling relationships, simply because they’re afraid to see what else is out there. The same can be said for peer groups, especially when they’re made up of youngsters who feel they’re unable to attract a better group of friends. Untold numbers of people struggle in the wrong careers, afraid to fail in a “foolish” attempt to follow their dreams. To put it simply, if you can’t bring yourself to make a needed change, you’re probably stuck in a comfort zone.
Is It Really That Bad?
The thing about comfort zones is that they exist for a reason. Thus, they can’t be all that bad. The problem isn’t so much with comfort zones themselves, or even the behaviors that comprise them, as with the fact that people get stuck in them so often. So if your goal is to take your life to the next level, you’re going to have lots of trouble doing that if you’re too comfortable where you’re at.
Life Outside the Comfort Zone
Those who are able to break free from their comfort zones experience the freedom of removing a huge burden from their lives. The most noticeable difference is that they have an easier time dealing with change. Change is something we all have to live with, whether we like it or not. It behooves us to be able to pick up and move on when the winds of change blow through our lives.
Another area of life that tends to improve is productivity. When you’re too comfortable, it’s only natural to want to do as little as you can get away with. This lack of urgency kills your drive, draining you of the ambition necessary to reach for higher goals. It’s not unusual to convince yourself that you’re too busy to take on something new, when the truth is that you’re just too comfortable floating to bother with swimming.
Creativity tends to rise, alongside productivity, as you begin seeking out new and interesting experiences. You feel better about learning new skills, knowing they can open new doors you could have scarcely imagined months before. Once you begin trying new things, you may find that they challenge some of your previous assumptions. An outlook like this can actually inspire you to view old problems through new eyes.
As “comfortable” as a comfort zone can be, it does create a certain level of anxiety. This is because you KNOW you’re capable of more, but something’s holding you back. When you’re finally able to escape this prison once, you become free to push your boundaries and find out what you’re really made of. While it’s unlikely that you’ll never get trapped in another comfort zone, you’ll find that they’re easier to get out of, once you know how it feels to live free.
Tips to Help You Escape From It
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the average Joe should attempt to swim the English Channel. That would be the polar opposite. While it might do the trick for some, it would be too much for someone lacking the appropriate skills. However, there are simpler ways to get out of your comfort zone. It is possible to make small changes that lead to noticeable improvements in quality of life. Here are some tips that can help.
Examine Your Values. This requires a bit of self-reflection, but there is a reason for it. You can’t expect to get out of your comfort zone if you aren’t aware of where it begins and ends. There’s no reason you can’t make positive changes in your life that exist in harmony with your values and beliefs.
Be honest about your inconsistencies. Yes, we all have them. They’re part of what make us human and once you’ve examined your values, you’ll probably find a number of them don’t match what you’re doing in your life. Take a look at your daily activities and ask yourself whether you really enjoy them or whether you’re only doing them because they’re what you’ve always done, or what your friends are doing.
Identify your fears. Make a list of all the different things you’re afraid of, including any phobias. Are you afraid to disappoint your family? Write it down. Scared of heights? Write it down. Afraid of failure? Write it down. All of it.
Start changing it up. The whole point of getting out of your comfort zone is to open up your life to new possibilities. Now that you know where you stand and you have begun to think differently, it’s time to start acting differently. You have to start somewhere, so you might as well begin with the little things you do that make up your day. Try going for a walk and leaving your phone behind. Turn the tv off for an hour each day and read a book. If you’re not used to cooking, try your hand at a simple recipe. It doesn’t matter if you screw it up. What matters is that you’re willing to attempt it.
Do something that scares you. No, I’m not talking about starting a fight in a bad neighborhood. The point of this is to take the mentality you’re developing with smaller activities and cranking it up a notch. If you’re attracted to someone and too scared to ask them out, try striking up a random conversation. For all you know, it could lead to a life-changing experience that might not happen otherwise. Do you enjoy traveling? If you’re not used to traveling alone, take a short day trip by yourself. It doesn’t have to be a trip across the country. The point is to attempt new experiences at a manageable pace, so you won’t scare yourself out of ever doing them again.
Read. This is far more important than you might realize. Reading exposes you to new people, places, concepts and worlds. It increases your vocabulary, making it easier to express your goals with increased confidence and clarity. You’ll stumble across ideas and perspectives you may not have considered before, which can lead your life in a new direction. Your next vacation could be inspired by an idea you read about, which could lead to a decision to move to a new city. These things tend to happen to people who read regularly, as their imaginations expand. Keep in mind that television actually stifles your imagination by appealing to all of your senses at once. You don’t even have to picture what the characters look like, because tv has done it for you.
Learn something new. This often begins as an extension of reading, since you’re likely to stumble across new interests while doing so. Have you always wished you knew how to play a musical instrument? Take some lessons and devote some time each day to an activity that is both fun and good for your brain. While it’s true that children learn these types of skills faster than adults, it’s never too late to get some enjoyment from it.
Evaluate your circle. There’s no sense in doing all this work to better yourself, if you’re hanging around with people who aren’t going to help you grow. There’s a saying about how you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with and it couldn’t be more accurate. Are they going to laugh at you for trying to make improvements in your life? Are they going to think you’re nuts or accuse you of thinking you’re “better” than everyone else? Then get rid of them! People like that are nothing more than a cancer in your life and you’ll never escape the comfort zone as long as they’re there to drag you back in.
Keep in mind that in order to maintain balance in your life, you have to return to your comfort zone now and then. This gives you a chance to process your experiences and the various changes going on in your life. When you spend too much time challenging yourself, the overstimulation can lead to a point where you’re always seeking more, because nothing impresses you.
“Hedononistic adaptation” is the proper term for this phenomenon and the best example of it is how the Internet is no longer as exciting as it once was. Once upon a time, it seemed incredible to have access to so much knowledge. Now that we can put this power in our pockets, it seems far less impressive.
Keep in mind that the point of this is to get you to engage in life. Don’t just let life happen to you. While that approach might seem easy and inviting, it leads to a state of quiet desperation. No matter what your religious beliefs are (or aren’t), you have only one life you can actually remember. It’s up to you to shape it by making things happen.