Is it a bad thing to have a comfort zone? When is it time to get out of your comfort zone?
You’ll hear a lot of talk in coaching and counselling about challenging your 'comfort zone’. But what does it mean, really?
Here’s the surprise - it’s not always to do with actually being comfortable. In fact some people’s comfort zone is decidedly uncomfortable!
Our comfort zone is the way of being that we are accustomed to, for better of worse. Unless we learn to challenge and change it, it’s generally created from the experiences we had as a child.
In this way a comfort zone is a psychological state where we feel at ease, not necessarily as things are good. But because it is what we are used to and feel we can control.
If you have a healthy comfort zone, full of good relationships and activities that are good for your self-esteem, then it’s fine to spend a lot of time in your comfort zone. We all need to recuperate and enjoy life sometimes.
Of course it isn’t helpful to always be in our comfort zone. A comfort zone means we are not trying new things, not pushing ourselves, and also not learning or growing as a person.
And for many of us, we actually, even if we don’t realise it, have a negative comfort zone.
An example is if we grew up with parents who were always fighting and didn’t show us real affection. Without realising it we will gravitate towards partners who leave us feeling unloved, telling ourselves, ‘but they feel like home!’ We need to ask ourselves if this is a comfort zone we should be perpetuating, or need to question.
Recognising what your comfort zone is can require brutal honesty and some careful self monitoring.
It can be helpful to spend a week writing down what you do with the hours of each day, including the choices you make and what each choice/activity makes you feel.
Then sit down and journal about things like:
And once you have those answers, try to make some good conclusions:
There is no need to leave yourself so anxious in your attempts to get out of your comfort zone that you are a mess. Take things step-by-step.
Sometimes we say no to things as we think we are afraid, because we feel a bit buzzy. But next time that happens, ask yourself, "Is this really fear? Or is it a little bit of excitement? What if I let myself feel excited and kept going forward a little?"
Train your brain to start accepting differences by introducing small changes to your routine. Aim for one small change a day.
Often we don't leave our comfort zone as we are worried we’ll fail. So the idea here is to train your brain to not be scared of failure.
Pick something you’ve never done that you don’t think you’ll be good at. This could look like baking a cake, doing a painting, or writing a poem.
And then allow yourself to do a terrible job, enjoying the mess you make. Notice how you feel after. Did the world fall apart just because you are not perfect at something? Or did you maybe learn something or have fun?
Making mistakes improves our ability to leave our comfort zone. A study on resilience found that learning from our mistakes increases our coping and confidence.
Facing all your fears at once is going to end up backfiring and seeing you retreat.
So pick one thing you fear and start slowly. Let’s say you are afraid of talking to new people. First of all, question how true the fear is:
Once you have a better idea of what your fear is really about (let’s say you realise you are actually afraid of the opposite sex at parties, despite actually doing okay with colleagues and people who are older and younger than you), question the fear itself.
Make a list of all the things that could help you face the fear and pick the easiest one. (Join dating site, talk to strangers at a party, throw a small dinner party where friends all bring one new person, join an interest group where everyone already shares things in common with me). Then actually do the one that feels the easiest.
It can be helpful to have others encouraging us when we are trying to move out of our comfort zone and grow as a person.
Therapy can be this support. A good choice here would be cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It helps you learn to change the very thinking that holds you back in life. And then uses your present day challenges to help you take new, more positive actions that can move your forward.
Ready to stop being stagnant in life and to step out of your comfort zone and into your better self? Book a therapist now and find your way forward.