Each one of us has its own “Comfort Zone”, a concept that is not limited to a real place but rather is a psychological construct that defines our routine in everyday life.
The concept of comfort zone goes back to a classic experiment in psychology conducted in 1908 by psychologists Robert M. Yerkes and John D. Dodson, who explained that a state of relative comfort generated a constant level of performance.
However, they also pointed out that to improve that performance we need to experience a certain degree of anxiety, go out and conquer a space in which the stress increases a little. They called that space “optimal anxiety”, and indicated that it is just outside the boundaries of our comfort zone.
What is the comfort zone in which we live?
The comfort zone could be the sofa in the living room where we prefer to stay instead of going out to explore the world, the shops where we always buy, the work we have been doing for more than 10 years or the tourist destination we return to year after year. However, it is also our way of responding to a criticism, to face the opportunities that involve risks and even the way to relate to our partner and/or parents.
The concept of comfort zone refers to a psychological state in which we feel safe and do not experience anxiety or fear. It is a “space” that we know completely and in which we control almost everything.
The habits that we follow with assiduity are those that allow us to build that comfort zone since we know exactly what we can expect from each situation. By minimizing uncertainty, we feel that we have everything more or less under control, so we believe we are safe.
To stay within the comfort zone we must avoid the risks and the uncertainty, which means that we adopt a passive attitude towards life. That feeling of security is costly because we are also losing the incentives to live and fall into the clutches of monotony and apathy. That is the reason why we stick to certain places, traditions, habits and/or people, avoiding any element that introduces novelty because it also means uncertainty and chaos. Therefore, we can say that the comfort zone is a space that we have been conquering but that in turn has also conquered us.
Signs that we are stuck in our comfort zone
Since the comfort zone is a space that we built slowly over the years, many times we do not realize that we are trapped inside. We are so accustomed to our habits and lifestyle that we do not realize how they limit our possibilities to grow.
Some signs that indicate that you must leave your comfort zone are:
– You do not grow from the emotional and intellectual point of view but you experience a deep apathy
– You feel deeply unmotivated, no new project or plan encourages you enough
– You close yourself to new ideas since these do not fit with your perfectly structured belief system
– You are afraid to take risks, so you prefer to let good opportunities pass with the excuse that you could lose more than what you can win
– For months or years you have followed the same routine, so it’s been a long time since you have experienced that incredible sensation of being alive that makes you try new things
– You feel more isolated and you begin to think that everything is meaningless since you do not find anything stimulating in your daily routine
– You do not learn anything new that can bring a touch of different color to your life because you feel that you are well that way, although deep down you experience a great emptiness, as if you needed something more
7 reasons to leave the comfort zone
The American writer Max DePree said: “We can not become what we want to be, remaining in what we are today.” However, there are many other good reasons to be encouraged to leave the comfort zone.
- You will be prepared you for difficult times. As safe as we feel in our comfort zone, that space will not protect us from the problems, which usually appear in life in an unexpected way generating great uncertainty. If we are not used to changes, these problems can destabilize us and even generate psychological disorders. Learning to live outside the comfort zone, dealing with novelty, unforeseen events and uncertainty will make us people emotionally stronger who can better handle adversity when it occurs.
- You will be more productive. Comfort kills productivity because without that small dose of anxiety that accompanies deadlines and expectations, we tend to do the minimum necessary to achieve mediocre results. In short, the comfort zone leads us to mediocrity, to content ourselves. Another possibility is that we fall into the “work trap”, pretending that we are “too busy” as an excuse to stay within our comfort zone and avoid new things. Going a little beyond our limits can make us recover the necessary stimuli and improve our productivity in a thousand possible ways, even resorting to creativity.
- Your limits will be wider. Once we step out of our comfort zone, it expands, which means that we become more open to change. Adopting this attitude allows us to be able to deal with the “optimal anxiety” without this bothering us, on the contrary, we learn to use it to our advantage, taking advantage of the energy that reports to us.
- Your creativity will increase. The comfort zone represents everything we know. Outside is another world to discover. In the comfort zone there are no great ideas or new discoveries, it is necessary to leave the known to find the inspiration that stings creativity. Only then will we be able to generate new ideas, see old problems from a different perspective and establish original connections. In fact, a study conducted at the University of Florida found that students who spent just one semester outside their country scored better on creativity tests than those who had been studying at the same university.
- You will gain self-confidence. Leaving the comfort zone is a bit scary, but when we do it and achieve our goals we experience an incredible feeling of empowerment. In practice, when we are able to deal with situations that frighten us a little, we understand that we are much stronger than we think, which reinforces our self-concept. In addition, as we overcome obstacles we gain skills that become part of our backpack of tools for life.
- You will feel more alive. When leaving the comfort zone we meet new people and live new experiences. Some of these experiences will not be positive but others will become a driving force that gives us new energy. Soon we will discover that the feeling of emptiness disappears, simply because we learn to enjoy more life.
- You will age better. A study conducted at the University of Texas revealed that leaving the comfort zone helps us preserve cognitive abilities as we get older. Keeping the mind active and considering new challenges is essential since it represents an important source of stimulation both mentally and socially. Therefore, staying within the comfort zone means being outside the area of improvement.
How to get out of the comfort zone without hurting ourselves?
Once we know what the comfort zone is and the problems that can cause us becoming too attached to habits and known things, it is clear that it is necessary to get out of that vicious circle in which we entered ourselves. For this we must assume that experiencing a little anxiety from time to time is positive because it keeps us alive, strengthens us and helps us grow.
However, it is also important to keep that level of anxiety under control, which means that there is no need to jump into the void without a parachute, we can leave our comfort zone one step at a time, stopping when we feel that anxiety and fear begin to grow in intensity.
There are people who can leave their comfort zone taking a big leap because they can manage that level of anxiety. Others need to take small steps slowly. The important thing is not how you do it or the pace you take, but that you are able to expand your horizons more and more.
In all cases, the secret lies in finding a balance in which this anxiety for the new and unknown generates a positive state not making us feel bad.
It is not convenient to live eternally outside the comfort zone
It is important to leave the comfort zone, but neither should it become an obsession. We must bear in mind that we can not live outside of our comfort zone all the time. From time to time it is useful to return to that space where we feel safe to process calmly our experiences.
In fact, if we make the mistake of completely forgetting about that comfort zone, we fall into the risk of suffering what is called “Hedonic Adaptation”, which means that new things and experiences cease to impress us and no longer make us feel alive, because we have become accustomed to the adrenaline rush they produce. That is the reason why the incredible becomes ordinary in a very short time.
Therefore, we do not have to see the comfort zone as our enemy, as many Personal Growth gurus affirm it is an opportunity to grow but also a space to comfort ourselves.
And if you want to know more about how to exit the comfort zone you can check out these 15 exercises to get out of the comfort zone.