I’d like to talk a bit about our comfort zones and how we can learn to gradually expand them because if we don’t, opportunity, or even our dreams could pass us by.
So, we all know what a comfort zone is, I’m sure, but I still feel like I should sort of officially define it just to be clear. I came across a definition that I think should work for everyone. Simply put, your comfort zone is a behavioral space where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk. It provides a state of mental security. You benefit in obvious ways: regular happiness, low anxiety, and reduced stress.
Our comfort zone, is our safe place. Whatever ‘normal’ looks like for you, whatever you’re not even thinking about changing — that’s your comfort zone.
Now I don’t know about you, but I spent some time in taverns as a kid and grew up around dartboards. I know it sound strange, but we lived in an apartment building where there was a tavern on the ground level so they let me go in and out. Plus my dad had a part time job as a bartender, so that helped.
But if we look at our comfort zone as a dartboard we might be able to shed a little more light on how we tuck in that comfort zone into many levels of our behavior. It was explained to me this way. The bulls-eye is your comfort zone. The next ring out, is your ‘Stretch’ zone, the one next to that is your ‘Risk’ zone, and everything outside of that is your ‘Die’ zone. Now I’m not talking about actual dying, but that you’ll totally die to ‘self’ and abandon your fears to do a specific task.
Each time you move into a new zone, you have to go through a little fear, a little anxiety, because you have to think differently about yourself and what you’re capable of.”
In the book ‘The Obstacle is the Way’ by Ryan Holiday, he puts it this way.
‘You will come across obstacles in life-fair and unfair. An you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure. You will learn that this reaction determines how successful we will be in overcoming- or possibly thriving because of –them.
Where one person sees a crisis, another can see opportunity. Where one is blinded by success, another sees reality with ruthless objectivity. Where one loses control of emotions, another can remain calm. Desperation, despair, fear, powerlessness-these reactions are functions of our perceptions. You must realize: Nothing makes us feel this way; we choose to give in to such feelings.”
So what are the pros and cons of our comfort zone? Well in a practical, day to day sense, we can just live out our entire lives in ‘the zone’ as I’ll call it. But it seems to me that a life of not stepping out, a life of not taking risks, of playing it safe can be sort of a risk in and of itself, isn’t it? Isn’t it risky to not take risks?
So what would that risk be? What on earth am I talking about?
Well, I’m talking about the risk of never following your real passion, your real dream. I’m saying that the risk of never taking risks can be the biggest risk of all.
Think of someone you know that took a risk and it paid off for them. I’m not talking about Elon Musk or Jeff Bazos. I’m talking about someone you know. I’m sure there’s somebody that you actually know that took a risk and it paid off for them. And we’ve all heard it said that the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward, right?
You see, we lose the drive and ambition to do more and learn new things. We also fall into the “work trap,” where we use “busy” as a way to stay in our comfort zones and avoid doing new things and taking even moderate risks.
Now, I’m not talking about eliminating the comfort zone, but just stretching it; bit by bit, in small increments. You see, when we stretch our comfort zone, we usually find that what we just did wasn’t so bad after all, and all the worry or stress we just put ourselves through was all really unnecessary and we just ended up with a bigger comfort zone.
Pushing your personal boundaries and stretching that zone can help you to have a more fulfilled life, yes, but also can help you to reduce the regret you’ll have because you’re doing the thing, or things you always wanted to do but didn’t have the courage to step out and do.
You’ll have an easier time dealing with both planned change as well as the unexpected changes that happen. You’ll find it easier to dream about the possibilities that could be your new future.
So let’s talk about that dart board again. The first ring out was called the ‘stretch zone’, right?
So for me, doing this podcast was considered stretching the zone. I had never done anything like this before. I didn’t have a radio or broadcasting background. I don’t even know anyone who’s done a podcast.
But I didn’t let that stop me. I did some research and reached out to some people on LinkedIn that did podcasts and got some advice. I listened to other podcasts that helped me to understand the process and not only the benefits of doing one, but the risks of not doing one too.
How Cozy is Your Comfort Zone?
In other words, I didn’t let the ‘I’ve never done that before and I don’t know how to do it’ excuse stop me. There are plenty of things that I’ve never done before in my past that I learned how to do quite well. Every time you change a job, you’re forced to learn new things, and we expect it. And we’re OK with that.
So why are we not OK with taking the initiative to stretch the zone and learn new things. Why is it OK to be forced to learn new skills with a new job, but it’s not OK when we choose to do it on our own terms?
Remember in episode 37 of the podcast when I talked a little about the soundtracks we listen to in our head and how, as Jon Acuff calls it, ‘an epidemic of inaction, a tsunami of stuckness’?
Well think about what you’re thinking about when it comes to what you’re telling yourself on what you can and cannot do.
You CAN stretch the zone.
You CAN learn new things.
You CAN pursue your dream.
You CAN be successful.
You CAN figure out a way and make a way. If there is no way, then make a way for you to be successful. Am I talking about sacrificing everything to get what you want? Of course not.
Henry Ford invented of the automobile assembly line. But he stepped out of his comfort zone and what others were telling him to do because he wanted to carve a new way for his dream. He said ‘If I listened to what everyone else wanted, I would have tried to come up with a way to have a faster horse.’
So when you stretch the zone and stretch the zone and keep stretching the zone, you’ll find it easier to push those boundaries that you have in the future. Once you start stepping out of your comfort zone, it gets easier and easier, over time.
The benefits you get after stretching your comfort zone can have some lasting effects. There’s the overall self-improvement you get through the skills you’re learning, the new, expanded perspective you’ll have about yourself, and how others see your possibilities and your potential as well. There are also the soft mental benefits you get from broadening your horizons.
Outside your comfort zone can be a good place to be, as long as you don’t tip the scales too far. It’s important to remember there’s a difference between the kind of controlled anxiety we’re talking about and the very real anxiety that many people struggle with every day. Everyone’s comfort zone is different, and what may expand your horizons may paralyze someone else. Remember, overcoming some anxiety can bring out your best, but too much is a bad thing.
Again, I’m not talking about people getting rid of their comfort zones, in fact, you want to have the largest comfort zone possible — because the larger it is, the more confidence and control you’ll have in more areas of your life. When you have a large comfort zone, you can take risks that really point you toward success and turning your dream into a reality.
Remember, your dream is the goal and your passion will get you there.
Would you rather listen to a podcast episode? Try episode 41 ‘How Cozy is Your Comfort Zone?’
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