Agghh! Get out of your comfort zone!
Me: “How about going to the movies on Wednesday evening?”
From the response I received, you’d think I’d said something truly blasphemous;
Friend: “I can’t do it on Wednesday evening! That’s when I wash my hair, get pizza delivery and watch TV.”
This was the response I received from a very habituated friend. She’d turned me down frequently. I felt sad as I witnessed her increasing unwillingness to step outside her shrinking comfort zone. Now, even an evening out at the movies had become a big deal.
What is a comfort zone?
Your comfort zone encompasses the familiar tasks you do every day, your habits and ways of thinking. And while many routine practices are beneficial, too many can be dangerous to your health! The more habituated you become, the harder it is to step outside your comfort zone — and your resilience may suffer.
“Nobody ever died of discomfort, yet living in the name of comfort has killed more ideas, more opportunities, more actions, and more growth than everything else combined. Comfort kills!” – T. Harv Eker.
Habits: The good and the … not so good
Repeating a task, noticing and fixing errors along the way, is an excellent approach to embed new learning. You need practice to become proficient. Once you’ve learnt something new, use repetition and practice to merge knowledge and skill. Each time you rehearse a task, you’ll strengthen the related neural pathway. After a while, those neural pathway becomes more like a superhighway. It becomes easier, and that’s when you find you can do the task on autopilot. You’ve formed a new habit.
Thinking processes operate the same way
When you repetitively think the same thoughts, you strengthen the neural pathway so that, after a while, the neural network fires automatically. Your thinking goes into autopilot mode. You might only realise you’re thinking the same thoughts when you’re well into the process!
Repetitive thinking can become entrenched and, after a while, you’ll no longer have conscious control of it. You’ve developed a habitual thinking pattern. If your thinking is holding you back, or keeping you stuck in another comfort zone, then you need to change it — and quickly!
A comfort zone — or a prison?
If you have set ways of doing everything, you’ll struggle to face challenging times with resilience. Habituated people may not have the fluid thinking ability, experience or emotional strength to cope. Their comfort zone of rigid thinking and doing can become a prison within which they’ve become less adaptable.
Continuing to develop and grow; to step outside your habituated behaviours is essential to prevent that comfort zone becoming your prison. It will also prevent you from becoming an exceedingly dull person!
Generate fresh and creative thought
Expand your comfort zone by taking up fresh activities; attend a training course, find different ways to perform the same tasks, drive a different way to work. Remain in your comfort zone and you’ll stagnate. And stagnation causes rigidity and inflexibility.
It’s essential to keep learning, even though the learning process often feels uncomfortable — awkward even. But learning stimulates your brain and creates new neural connections. It keeps your mind active and prevents you from turning into a boring old fart!
If you repeat a new task, it will feel more comfortable the second time. Do it a few more times, and it will feel more natural. Soon it will flow and become part of your day-to-day life. The task now falls within your comfort zone. Your comfort zone has expanded.
The edge of your comfort zone is where magic happens
Do you remember when you learnt to drive a car or ride a bike? Driving and cycling are both quite complicated skills involving many components;
- Precise hand and eye coordination.
- Use of every limb.
- Awareness — not only of what you’re doing — but what’s happening around you.
- Monitoring other people’s behaviour — especially if you have a strong survival instinct!
Once you can competently drive or ride a bike, even those complex coordination skills become an additional part of your comfort zone.
Live a vital, fulfilling and resilient life
Find novel ways to expand your comfort zone. Start small. You don’t have to take up an extreme sport like bungee jumping — but feel free if the urge takes you! Try something much less death-defying, such as cleaning your teeth with your toothbrush in the opposite hand to the one you usually use. Learn a software programme, take up an unusual interest, learn public speaking or a foreign language. Go to dancing or yoga classes. Read a book you wouldn’t normally read. Teach yourself to play an instrument — or try anything unfamiliar that makes you feel a little uncomfortable.
Expand your thinking
Whenever you learn something unfamiliar, your brain grows new dendrites and forms new neural connections. Your thinking expands. Frequently you can apply aspects of what you’ve discovered to other contexts. For example, learning to dance might help your coordination in your chosen sport. Mastering public speaking could help build your confidence for training staff at work or doing sales presentations.
How to know if you’re stuck in a rut
If you resist or resent doing or learning something new, that’s a pretty good sign that you’re stuck in a rut.
A sage once claimed that a rut is just a coffin with an open lid!
Change is a certainty
Change is one thing in life that’s inevitable. It’s vital to build resilience by expanding your comfort zone before you need to. Otherwise, it’s unlikely you’ll have the physical, mental or emotional resources to cope when those changes occur.
It requires stubbornness and determined energy to remain in a comfort zone when everything around is changing. To others you may appear like a giant boulder; solid and immovable. The people in your life will learn to avoid or go around you – or they’ll galvanise forces to leverage you out of the way!
Key points about your comfort zone
- Everyone has a comfort zone.
- Many routine practices (habits) are beneficial and make life easier.
- The edge of your comfort zone is where learning occurs, and the magic happens!
- Learn new skills to expand your brain capacity and increase the zone in which you feel comfortable.
- Learning — and feeling uncomfortable helps you become more resilient to the inevitable changes life brings.
- Continuous learning expands your comfort zone.