Our Comfort Zone
Comfort Zone. We have all heard that term. It gets thrown around a lot these days but have we ever actually looked at it’s meaning closely? How many people actually think about what their comfort zone is?
The truth is that a lot of us, at least on a subconscious level, have a vague idea of this space, but we like to live in protective bubbles where everything is safe and familiar. In this space, nothing unpleasant happens and we can navigate it with our eyes closed. That unfortunately is the comfort zone.
The problem is that it can some times be hard to figure out how to get out of it. How wide is it? Is it a few feet or miles across? The edges blur out and we cannot tell. You might have a person who generally wants to get out, but they have been inside for so long that they do not know how.
I can remember when I first started my journey to changing my life. I would lay in bed and wonder, “Did I step out of my comfort zone yet? Was I able to do it?” It kept me up at night because I truly did not know or at least I told myself that I didn’t know. My restlessness was driven by the fact that I knew the answer to that question but did not want to face it.
If I had to ask myself if I had stepped out then that meant that I had not.
I eventually faced that fact and with it I redoubled my effort. The truth is that in reality, while I knew that I had not stepped out of that comfort zone, I truly didn’t know where the exit was and so I tackled it like I tackled every problem. I broke it down so that I could better understand it and that all it’s edges edges would become crisply defined.
WHAT IS THE COMFORT ZONE
It is a place where everything is familiar. There are set patterns with known outcomes. It’s an easy place filled with routine and predictablity. It is the pattern that a person automatically moves to in a given situation.
That makes some vague sense, but that was not enough. How would a person recognize that place? To answer that question, I had to think of all the times that I felt too comfortable. I listed EVERYTHING i could think of that could even remotely seem like it belonged in the comfort zone. Was it ever uncomfortable — and that told me that I was going in the right direction. My mind was physically repelled at the idea of tackling this. It felt like felt like trying to stare down the sun. I desperately wanted to look away but I persevered.
Eventually I came up with :
“The Comfort Zone is a state of being that manifests itself through negative emotions, familiar mental patterns and physical locations.” What did that mean though?
Negative emotions in the comfort zone are familiar responses to negative situations. A person who always has a predictable response to a given situation, especially in the negative, is operating within their comfort zone. They are responding in a familiar way and expecting a familiar response. This person may dream of having the response they get change but they will never actually think of changing the one they give first. Examples of negative emotions in that familiar space.
feeling sorry for one’s self,
avoiding the issue,
accepting without trying,
A person displaying familiar responses could step out by trying to change their perspective. They would need to be able to recognize that their response is a familiar one and look at the situation differently. This is hard to do because changing perspective invites the chance that that person might end up seeing fault in themselves, it could change a relationship in an unfamiliar way or even worse, it might call their values into question.
A familiar pattern is an automatic series of actions a person takes to a given negative situation. They practically operate on auto-pilot and get confirmation from their minds that they deserve whatever outcome they originally got.
And example of a Negative Pattern
Eva believes that she will fail at a task
Eva tries the task with the expectation to fail.
Eva performs the task amazingly but misses one thing out of dozens
Eva then proceeds to ignore the fact that the task was completed successfully
Eva ignores the fact that no one will even notice that the one thing she missed was missed
Eva’s inner monologue starts to berate and belittle her, telling her that it knew that she would fail. That she always fails
Eva desperately tries to convince herself that this is not true.
Eva instead notices the few tiny mistakes she makes and ignores the many many successes
Eva’s inner monologue becomes deafening after weeks of this
Eventually this monologue starts to tell Eva that she shouldn’t be around wasting other’s time
Then something nice happens and the inner yelling becomes another dull roar
Eva is given a new responsibility at her job
Eva believes that she will fail at the task…
This is an extreme example of this. There are many others that showcase familiar patterns
binge eating when upset or stressed
drinking when upset or stressed
drug use when upset or stressed
destructive behaviours when upset or stressed
sleeping or not sleeping
watching TV/YouTube to escape
breaking good habits when upset
self harm as release
over-indulgence to numb
Familiar Patterns are usually triggered by a negative emotion. It can then become a feedback loop or trigger a new equally damaging emotion. A person looking to stop a negative pattern simply has to disrupt the thought process by doing something contrary to the emotions they are feeling. The problem with that is that the response is so familiar that most people do not even recognize that they are in a familiar pattern.
A comfort zone can also be a physical location. To name a few the bedroom, the home, a hangout, a workplace. A lot of people cannot be productive in their homes let alone their bedrooms. Think about it, home is where most people decompress. A person is fully comfortable at home. They are so comfortable that they are able to lose consciousness and become vulnerable for hours at a time there.
A workplace can also be a comfort zone. A person who has big dreams might find themselves settling because their dream is uncertain but their workplace is familiar. They know that every two weeks they will be getting a guaranteed paycheck.
The thing about the comfort zone is that it was not necessarily a “comfortable place” in the traditional definition of the term. It’s comfortable in that it’s predictable, its familiar. In fact, most people who live in the comfort zone are very uncomfortable.
No one actually wants to go to a job where they do not feel valued. No one actually likes having to live paycheck to paycheck. But they feel trapped because of self imposed locks.
There are certain locks associated with the comfort zone. These are the factors that contribute to why even though we hate it where we are, we continue to stay there, most of us through out our entire lives.
- Certainty and Familiarity
While most people might not like where they were, they knew where they were and they knew the script. They knew what happened when this move was made and when this other move was made. The idea of change was frightening. [To learn more about how fear of change controls us, read my e-book “The power of escalation”.] Our minds rebel against the very idea and it keeps us trapped in this miserable force field out of fear of what MIGHT happen because it is unknown or uncertain.
Fear is one of our most powerful emotions. It controls our actions and can even freeze our body. The fear of what lays outside that field can keep us hovering over the edge never taking the all important step.
- Doubt and Anxiety
We have evolved to question things and while questions are great, they push us to discover and explore. Questions can also take a negative turn. When doubt sets in, it can create a miriad of questions all with impossibly grim answers and that can stop anyone in their tracks if they give in to it.
Ultimately the keys to opening these locks follow the same pattern:
You might wonder why uncertainty could move a person to step outside of their comfort zone, after all it’s similar to doubt. This is where I would point out that the human language is very nuanced. While the two might seem similar they couldn’t be any more different. While doubt leaves you crippled with questions, Uncertainty forces you to act. Lets look at an example.
Bob works for a company who pays on a two week schedule. This means that Bob is certain that every two weeks he will get paid. He does not like the company but he knows without doubt that every two weeks he will get paid
Last week the company sent out a memo. 80% of the people in Bob’s department are to be let go. With that high a percentage, Bob is pretty sure that he might be in the group of those fired. It is unreasonable to assume that he will be in the 20% who are safe. Now Bob’s pay check is not certain anymore. Will Bob sit around waiting for the off chance that he might not get fired? No, Bob has a wife and kids. He has debtors that aren’t going to sympathize with his plight. Bob will go out looking for a job to ensure that his stream of income does not end.
The same example applies to many scenarios. When people are certain things will stay the same, they will not move. The moment that certainty becomes less so, they will take action
It amazes me how many people think that courage means the lack of fear. There is not a being on this earth who can escape feeling fear especially of the unknown. Some more than others and some for different things than others. Courage therefore cannot mean the lack of fear. Courage must then mean the ability to act inspite of that fear.
I like watching videos where everyday people are asked upon to do extraordinary things. Imagine you are going about your day and before you stands a life changing decision. Do you answer that call or do you walk away? We all have in us courage, we just need practice letting it out.
Determination / Purpose
I believe that we are all born with a purpose. A need to do what you know you must do. It is that one thing you were made for and it will scream at you and annoy you and bug you to get you to move. If it is strong enough, it will guide you to that place that you need to be.
So many people never question how one person can find dirt fascinating and another can create music that brings you to tears. There is no big or small purpose. There is just Purpose and if we can learn to listen to the one calling out to us insistently, we will be able to take the big step to meet it. You’d be surprised at what we can do when driven.
HOW TO GET OUT OF THE COMFORT ZONE
The first thing you need to do is recognize yours. What are your mental patterns, your emotional responses and your physical locations that trigger that state of being?
Then you need to figure out how you can interrupt them.
When the negative voices start to fill you with doubt or fear or any of the other negative emotions, you can either disrupt the pattern or you can block it out.
When I am about to do something that terrifies me, I employ the Block and Leap method. This is where I create a mental wall between myself and the negative voices/locks (block) and then make it so that I can’t back out (leap). I do this on roller coasters. I distract myself until I am locked in and the ride starts it’s slow ascent. It’s too late for me to back out by this point. I might as well go through with it. I used this method when I flew again for the first time in years, when I have to visit the doctor and basically anytime I have to face something that terrifies me.
When I do not have the luxury of using Block and Leap, I use Disruption. Disruption is a little harder because it requires you to be brave. You need to be able to let the negativity in, recognize it for what it is and cut it off. If I find myself in that place, I will usually find a room with a mirror and employ some tactics:
- Smile and stand tall continuously,
- Try to laugh
- Give myself a stern talking to. Reminding myself why my thoughts are BS and why I must do what I want. I pretend I am a child and the reflection is a parent chastising me for something.
- Do some power poses or super hero poses.
- Sometimes I will say sharply NO! or STOP! Or clap loudly. Just anything to disrupt my thought pattern.
EXAMPLE OF RECOGNIZED COMFORT ZONE:
No matter how productive I felt. How determined I was, the moment I stepped into my room, my productivity dropped to a negative one and all I wanted to do was watch Netflix and eat junk food.
Recognized comfort zones:
- My bed room
- My laptop
- My grocery list
- Change location: Viable option public library
Change surroundings: Change how the room looks, place items that motivated me to work, create a work space that could be identified as it’s own
- Make Netflix a reward for completing set or certain tasks.
- change snack options and make the junk food a weekly treat for completing tasks.
Use escalation to slowly make the work space feel like a workspace:
- For a week do one hour of work per day at the workspace then enjoy Netflix
- next week do 2 hours of work per day at the workspace then enjoy Netflix
- repeat until desired number of hours are reached
My extra step
I made my workspace into an actual workspace by pretending to work for a company. I emailed myself an employee sheet and an email from my “boss” with my schedule and tasks to be completed and even email response when tasks were completed.
I figured I was willing to go on time and work several hours for another person’s vision so why couldn’t I do the same for myself.
Recognizing your own Comfort Zones.
In your journal or in a notebook, fill out this form for up to 5 comfort zones.
Name up to 5 comfort zones, they can be physical locations, familiar patterns, familiar emotions.
Describe how you react while in each of those comfort zones
How could you disrupt that familiarity?
Detail your escalation for each. Do not start too high or too low.
That’s about it. Please forgive my writing. I’m not the best but I know that if I tried to perfect this with my limited skill, it would never come out. If you liked the topic but think you can volunteer to edit it better, please email me at email@example.com.
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