I was reminded recently about the powerful lure of the comfort zone. For those not familiar with this concept, basically it is the place that we, at least initially, find it comfortable to be, where we feel relaxed, unstressed, unhurried. This place in our minds whispers comforting thoughts and keeps us there, snug and warm. “You’re safe here, stay a while” it croons.
When we are acting in our comfort zone we are accomplices with that whisperer. We don’t rock the boat, we don’t take risks and chances, and we limit our activities to the safest tried and tested actions possible. Why? Because to step outside this haven is to put ourselves in a vulnerable position, maybe to try a new way doing something, or something new altogether. Risky and scary – ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.' Right?
Well…no. Sadly it doesn’t really work like that. The whisperer is lying to you, so beware. Eventually, if you stay too long in your comfort zone you realise that the thought of getting out becomes more and more unpleasant, that your confidence to take that step diminishes every day. It gets harder and harder. And what happens when something comes along that thrusts you out of your comfort zone, an unexpected hurdle or challenge? When those times are upon us and we do not have the resilience and experience to deal with them then we move from comfort to panic – do not pass go, do not collect £200. Panic is a nasty little place, a pit of pain and horror. And what happens when we feel unable to cope, panicked and stressed? Well we flee, as fast as our subconscious can carry us, back to the welcome arms of the comfort zone. When we are in this cycle, what are we learning? Not a lot. The only message we receive is that life is scary and we shouldn’t stray too far from our comfort zone.
The place we should always be striving for is our stretch zone. This is THE place to be, this is the space in which you learn, grow and develop. When we are acting within our stretch zone we are trying new things, we are pushing ourselves to test our limitations, we are open to ideas and concepts that we previously have not had access to. How else can you learn? You cannot learn sitting in your comfort zone, doing the same stuff over and over again. You cannot learn in your panic zone, mind fuzzy and full of doubt and confusion. You will only learn to fly when you take the chance to spread your wings. You will only learn how to succeed when you risk failure.
So, get up, get out, look for opportunities to push yourself further. Decide on one small, manageable step that will get you started on your journey. Get excited about new projects and you might end up doing some of the things you always wanted to do, always meant to do. Start small, but at least start. Think about the ambitions and goals you have considered throughout your lifetime, what you would like to try, all the things that excite and motivate you. Because if you don’t, you risk getting stuck, being left behind, feeling that maybe this place with its lying whisperer has become very uncomfortable indeed.