You step your little toe out, your little toe in, out, in, out, shake it all about. That’s the Hokey Pokey. That’s what it’s all about.
This version of the popular campfire dance is about getting out of the comfort and into the stretch zone. It has to be the little toe because I have to test the water.
I’m very explicitly talking about long term zones of being. I recognise that daily routines of comfort and soothing are an essential part of the growth path. The difference for me is aligning to a long term vision. A comfort zone is a long term vision of being a person who wants an easy life. I was this person; any chance I got I wallowed in comfort, hid in film and TV, lazed around on the sofa in sadness and frustration, or covered myself up in a relationship — being anyone they wanted me to be.
Change is hard; the uncertainty is great; stretching yourself can be a ‘no-return’ zone. There are very few people who dive headfirst into the stretch zone.
No matter the risks, the rewards are more generous. Comfort zones can keep you stuck in a place that does not fulfil you. In a state that will eventually stagnate, where you won’t know how to proceed, and you won’t be able to stay there.
There’s a certain amount of the beauty of life in this space; you won’t be able to stay in that stagnation. The pain, or the anger, will push you out of it. Energy doesn’t disappear, it transmutes.
E = mc2, the equation from Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity that expresses the fact that mass and energy are the same physical entity and can be changed into each other.
I say stagnation like it’s possible, it’s not technically. Life is dynamic. Similar life states are perceptions that we return to over and over again; that we recreate with our beliefs and energetic imprints. Every day we wake up telling ourselves an individual story, the people in our life are in on it; they play along.
It helps everyone to feel safe and secure.
We have the power to change this. It’s just we all need a little help on the way.
I’ve gained inspiration from Trust: Mastering The Four Essential Trusts by Iyanla Vanzant. All the quotes below will be from that book.
Here are five simple truths to how the comfort zone keeps you stuck:
Comfort zones don’t guarantee comfort.
As long as you are comfortable, you are not growing.
The way to fulfilment is not through comfort. It’s through growth. The only way is through.
The soul wants to expand. The ego wants to stay where it knows. The soul will always win this particular longterm dual.
Part of the intrigue of having an ego is that it wants to confirm that the world is a certain way; an identity. To stop us from moving towards something that is perceived as a threat, because it’s not what “I” would do.
When I come across parts of life that don’t fit this particular way, I can respond in one of two ways:
- I have to get reactionary to deny that reality. I get angry or dismissive.
- I embrace it and expand my paradigm of life.
Staying in comfort, within the ego, is sufficient for the times when the world suits this narrative. However, it creates such shock and friction to the inevitable times when life throws me something that forces me to reconsider my paradigm.
Eventually, I managed to cultivate a comfort zone or a state of ego where I embrace change curiously.
Most comfort zones will prevent you from trying or considering anything new.
Until and unless you become willing to face your fear of the unknown, get comfortable with taking risks, become willing to be vulnerable, and perhaps look like a fool in the process, you will stay comfortable and stuck.
There isn’t much I can add to this quote; it quite simply is the truth. Any form of change will involve fear, and any fear will require incentive, and courage to overcome.
There are specific tools that you can build in facing fear:
- You can lean into it, and take it step-by-step. The first step is to take one.
- You can align with the universal principle of having faith that life is working for you, and whatever comes up at the moment you’ll be able to deal with it.
- You can know that any fear that you deal with only in the mind doesn’t progress your life, it is when you step into fear and deal with the practicality of it, that you resolve and dissolve any issues in your being, and your environment.
There’s a difference between control and comfort.
Until you are courageous enough to venture beyond what is known and familiar, a comfort zone can become what you impose on and require of others, not to keep you safe but, rather, to keep you in control.
The scenario can play into the drama triangle of persecutor, rescuer, and victim. It can seem that you are ensuring your safety and security and forming healthy bonds with others when, in fact, you’ve created a persecutor and victim mentality.
Some of the signs of this are rigidity in your actions; never being flexible, having a sizeable emotional charge, and extreme reactions around changes in ‘the plan’. If the person in the relationship to you always agrees with you, then that is a cause for concern, because no human being will agree with absolutely everything someone else says.
Staying in the comfort zone because you need to control your life will not lead you to a rich and fulfilling life. Control is an illusion.
Comfort zones are often closed and unconscious.
The dangerous thing about many comfort zones is that they are created in response to fear and are smoke screens in disguise.
Anything that I perceive as fearful will garner resistance from the mind. It’s simply how the process works.
The mind will try to distract and comfort you away from moving into the area it perceives as a threat. This is good when there’s an actual threat, not so good when it’s a perceived threat that’s outside of the comfort zone.
It’s easy to live life in this state of unconscious distraction, and it’s not until I recognise the patterns of this behaviour that I even recognise I am distracting myself from something. Next, I ask myself: ‘O.K., so what am I feeling?’
It’s common for fear to come up.
The stretch zone is leaning into the fear, pushing my energy into curiosity and moving towards the discomfort and resistance; dipping my toe into a hot bath to see if the water’s too hot. If it is then some more cold water goes in. Eventually, it’ll feel like a comfort zone, then it all starts again.
Comfort zones often stunt growth.
While in some cases comfort zones may promote slow growth, and personal or spiritual development, others stunt growth, create a false and limited perspective of reality, and rob you of the possibility of discovery and adventure.
If you’ve never scuba dived, then the thought of getting into all that gear and sinking to the bottom of the ocean to watch some fish might seem full of uncertainty.
It’s unlikely you’ll do it unless you’ve seen the glossy pictures of silky smooth blue, and the vibrant colours of the exotic fish and coral down there. I’d recommend going soon too before all the bright coral dies out.
The mind gets frantic around uncertainty. Unless I can understand the possibility of excitement or adventure in an activity, I will very likely not do it. That is unless I cultivate an incredible trust in my natural unfolding in life.
The other frantic place for the mind is possible social rejection. The irony is that stepping into the stretch zone is inspiring and connecting. People will admire you for your courage and vulnerability. And if they don’t, then it’s probably a sign of something to be addressed in the relationship.
Comfort zones stunt growth because we are habitual animals in part. Neurones that fire together wire together, our experience of life is deeply grooved into our personal, familial, and generational practises. These make up cultures and every culture has their version.
It’s possible to exist in these grooves for your whole life, and live well. I’m not knocking that if it’s your path. I’m speaking to the people who feel stuck right now, and want to grow.
Therefore, comfort zones are counterintuitive to the growth and fulfilment of you in your journey. They are spaces that we can rely on a quick occasion, to rest and recuperate. However, if I rely on them as a principle of life, I will invite stagnation and frustration. I will invite a shock, discomfort, and reactionary tone to new experiences.
Life is full of new experiences, and I honestly believe it is such a shame for anyone to live within a limited frame. There are so many rich and textured experiences out there to enjoy. Life in the stretch zone is exciting as well as scary.